3 Ways Sour Cream Makes You a Better Baker—Plus, a Cookie Recipe to Prove It

3 Ways Sour Cream Makes You a Better Baker—Plus, a Cookie Recipe to Prove It

Tapping the magical properties of sour cream to satisfy your sweet tooth.

November 21, 2019
● 5 min read
3 Ways Sour Cream Makes You a Better Baker—Plus, a Cookie Recipe to Prove It

3 Ways Sour Cream Makes You a Better Baker—Plus, a Cookie Recipe to Prove It

Tapping the magical properties of sour cream to satisfy your sweet tooth.

November 21, 2019
● 5 min read

Chef and confectioner-extraordinaire Valerie Gordon likes an uncomplicated cake. One that can hang out on a countertop for a few days, moist of crumb and golden-hued, begging to pair off with a cup of afternoon coffee. She also has a soft spot for an old-school cookie or two, sturdily stacked in a cookie jar. 

Know what makes those things possible? Sour cream. 

Sour cream, as its name suggests, is cream that has been “soured”—the term for a bacterial fermentation that takes place after a lactic acid culture has been added to the base dairy—and you probably know it best for its starring roles atop a baked potato or inspiring that salty onion dust on your favorite chips. As good as those are, sour cream would like you to know that its resume is far more extensive.

FLAVOR

Not only does sour cream boost the shelf life of baked goods—that’ll be the lactic acid quietly humming away, and the lower overall water content—it also helps to create a better backbone of flavor. Food scientists have long studied the effects of fat on how we experience different flavor compounds; when you use sour cream, Gordon says, vanilla tastes more vanilla. Lemon tastes more lemon. For a baker, that’s as close to magic fairy dust as it gets. 

TEXTURE

When it comes right down to it, who among us is not obsessed with the texture of cake? Whether we’re mulling it over for most hours of the day, or for the 3.2 minutes it takes us to wolf down a slice, crumb is make-or-break for overall happiness. “There’s nothing sadder than a dry cake,” Gordon says solemnly. The same could be said of a cookie—though lots of us like to argue on the finer points of a crunchy snap versus an undercooked ooze. 

Regardless, it all comes down to your batter, which comes down to your choice of moisture. Too runny, and the batter may not hold onto the pockets of air that form in the dough. Too thick, and it runs the risk of not expanding at all. Sour cream cruises right down the middle of that road, bringing all batters together with greater ease; Gordon will frequently sub out whole milk or buttermilk for sour cream, opting for an even higher level of richness and moisture in the recipe at hand. Muffins? “Heaven.” Coffee cake? “Phenomenal.” Same goes for any kind of quick bread, like a banana bread or a chocolate loaf bread.

AESTHETIC

Not only does sour cream give frosting an amped up level of glisten, it makes it easier to spread. “If you’re a newer baker, something like royal icing can be very intimidating,” Gordon says. “Once you’re dealing with egg whites, people get freaked out.” Though egg whites shouldn’t freak you out, Gordon has a point: Sour cream, like its brethren cream cheese, is a not-so-secret weapon when it comes to a professional finish. It gives you those classy, soft waves, with none of the sickly sweetness that makes your teeth hurt.

Gordon’s last point is a little more philosophical: If you’re using sour cream, go full-fat. “This is a treat,” she says. “Put the full-fat glory in it, and enjoy it.” Plus, without said glory, desserts become overly sweet, she adds, since the fat is precisely the thing responsible for balancing out any kind of sugar. Sour cream, with a fat content usually hovering just below 20%, is very, very good at this. So, remember: No fat, no flavor backbone. No dessert deserves such a fate.

Old Fashioned Sour Cream Cookies

About twenty-four 3-inch cookies

For the Cookies:

1 stick (4oz) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla 

1 large egg

½ cup FAGEⓇ Sour Cream

2⅔ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

For the Icing:

2¾ cups sifted powdered sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

½ cup FAGEⓇ Sour Cream

1 teaspoon vanilla 

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

Natural food coloring as desired

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 375℉. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or lightly spray with cooking spray.

  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla, then egg, then sour cream until combined.

  3. Into a medium bowl sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

  4. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients until combined. You may need to finish stirring with a spatula. 

  5. Cover and refrigerate dough until firm, at least 2 hours.

  6. Transfer dough to a well-floured surface. Roll dough out to ¼” thickness, then cut with a 3” round cookie cutter and place onto prepared cookie sheets. Dough scraps may be rerolled one time and cut again.

  7. Bake until just starting to turn light golden brown, about 10 minutes.

  8. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

  9. For the icing, in a medium bowl beat together powdered sugar, butter, sour cream, vanilla, and salt. Add food coloring as desired.

  10. When the cookies are cool, spoon about 1 teaspoon of icing on top of each cookie and spread it with the back of a spoon. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

As recipes go, this one’s fairly easygoing, so Gordon’s main bit of advice is the same as any chef who’s learned this the hard way: Mise. En. Place. Measure everything out first and your cookie-baking pleasure will increase tenfold. 

Want even more sour cream goodness? Watch Gordon make an incredible Sour Cream Cake in this video, then make it with this recipe:

Sour Cream Cake with Mixed Berry Compote

8 servings

For the Cake:

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

1 stick (4oz) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons

2 teaspoons vanilla 

1 large egg

1 cup FAGEⓇ Sour Cream

For Mixed Berry Compote:

1 pound mixed berries (for strawberries, slice crosswise)

¼ cup sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9” cake pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper.

  2. In a medium bowl whisk to combine flour, baking powder, and salt. 

  3. In a large bowl with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in lemon zest and vanilla. Beat in egg until incorporated, then beat in sour cream. 

  4. Add dry ingredients and beat just until batter is smooth.

  5. Spread batter evenly in prepared cake pan.

  6. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes.

  7. Let cool completely, then invert cake pan to allow cake to gently fall out, and remove parchment paper. 

  8. For compote, in a large bowl place ½ pound berries.

  9. In a medium saucepan, combine remaining ½ pound berries and sugar. Cook over medium heat until berries soften and release their juices. Pour cooked berries over raw berries and stir to combine. Let cool to room temperature, stirring every 5 minutes. Serve over the cake.


Related

Sour Cream Cake is the Only Holiday Gift You Need to Give
Watch
2:15

Acclaimed LA pastry chef Valerie Gordon is wise in all things sweet, including how to give the ultimate expression of care to a loved one: a homemade dessert. Her sour cream cake with a berry compote sounds fancy, but with a few tricks from her and an extra helping of FAGE sour cream to take it over the tangy top, you will be making it all season long.