Last Updated on January 15, 2022
Sour cream is a very functional ingredient, but what is the best substitute for sour cream in cake specifically? And, how do you use it?
We have assembled a list of some of the best sour cream substitutes for making a cake. These substitutes are easy to find and easy to use! And, we have even included instructions for making your very own sour cream using only 2 ingredients!
What Is Sour Cream?
Sour cream, or soured cream, is a dairy product that is made by allowing regular cream to ferment. This fermentation process is aided by specific strains of lactic acid bacteria. When this bacteria is added to the cream, it immediately starts to thicken it and give it a very sour flavor.
Today, you do get different types of sour creams sold at the market. The most common way they differ is in the fat content. You can get full-fat or regular sour cream, light or reduced-fat sour cream, and fat-free sour cream.
Regardless of which sour cream, you are using, they all have similar characteristics. All of them will have a very thick consistency. We'd say somewhere between thick (or heavy) cream and cream cheese. The texture is very soft, smooth, and naturally, super creamy.
And, when it comes to taste, it has a definitive tangy and tart flavor with hints of rich cream.
Functions Of Sour Cream
Sour cream has a surprising amount of functions when it comes to baking specifically.
First, it is a fantastic way to add moisture to your baked good without the batter itself becoming runnier. If for example, you add plain water, it will immediately make the batter very thin and change the final texture of your item. When looking at substitution for sour cream in cake, this is arguably the biggest factor to consider.
Another function of sour cream is the fat that it adds to the cake. Fat itself has a very essential function. First, it helps improve the texture of the crumb. It is also a tenderizing ingredient and will soften any hardiness of your product by shortening the gluten strands.
Sour cream also helps control browning during baking. It will help ensure that not too many sugars caramelizes which will result in your product being extremely dark.
It is also an acidic ingredient that helps activate baking soda in recipes. Alkaline ingredients (like baking soda) need acid to help activate. Without it, it won't be able to help the batter rise and create a fluffy and soft texture.
Finally, sour cream adds an acidic flavor to the baked item that helps balance out the sweetness and create a unique flavor of its own.
Is sour cream necessary for cake?
While sour cream isn't the main ingredient for lots of cake recipes, it does have a ton of extremely beneficial qualities it adds to the texture and flavor of the cake. We would highly recommend substituting ingredients like milk or water with sour cream.
Ultimately, sour cream will help make your cake moist, rich, and create extremely tender crumbs.
So, we wouldn't say that sour cream is necessary for cake, but you should highly consider adding it.
Can I Use Milk Instead Of Sour Cream On A Cake?
We get asked this question a lot, "Can I use milk instead of sour cream in a cake?"
The answer is a bit complicated. You can use milk instead of sour cream, however, it will drastically affect the texture and flavor of the cake. Milk isn't acidic at all and has a very runny texture.
This means that it won't have an extremely tenderizing effect on the cake, it won't help balance out sweetness, and it will not activate alkaline ingredients in the recipe.
So, you would have to alter the recipe itself to accommodate for the changes milk will make. This includes adding an acid (if you have alkaline ingredients present) and increasing the dry ingredient ratio (usually the flour amount).
Alternatively, you can make sour cream using cream or full-fat milk. This will help thicken the milk and create an almost DIY sour cream with similar characteristics to store-bought ones.
Substitute For Sour Cream In Cake
So, now we can start looking at some sour cream alternatives for cake. As we have discussed, sour cream has specific functions when it comes to baking.
So, when looking at a sour cream replacement in baking, it is important to first decide what needs to be substituted. Is it the acidic flavor, the addition of moisture, the tenderizing characteristics, or the ability to activate alkaline ingredients?
If for example you want the acidic flavor and to activate alkaline, then you would have to choose a similarly tart ingredient. But, if you only want to substitute the creaminess and addition of fat, you can choose a non-acidic fatty ingredient like cream.
Crème Fraiche is possibly the closest substitute for sour cream in the cake. It has a similar fat percentage, a very similar consistency, and a slightly tart flavor.
Now, the only adjustment that you need to make when using crème Fraiche as a substitute, is potentially having to add more acidity to the recipe. But, this is only necessary when you want to help activate an alkaline ingredient like baking soda.
Plain (unflavored) Greek yogurt is an excellent substitute for sour cream, and depending on the recipe, can be used as-is. It also has a tart flavor and a thick creamy consistency.
This ingredient will help tenderize your cake, help balance the flavors, add moisture and creaminess, and can even activate baking soda.
Now, if you test a recipe and it comes out too runny, you should definitely try it again. But, this time, strain the yogurt before adding it to the other ingredients.
Yogurt has a much higher moisture percentage as compared to sour cream, so you sometimes need to strain the whey.
Buttermilk is a dairy product that is made in a very similar way to sour cream, so naturally, it will have very similar characteristics. This product is also made by cream being inoculated with lactic acid bacteria to produce a thick texture and tangy flavor.
The main difference between these two ingredients is that buttermilk is a thick liquid. So, when substituting, start by only using ½ the amount of buttermilk than what was called for. For example, if the recipe needs 1 cup of sour cream, only add ½ cup buttermilk first. This way you can slowly adjust the consistency of the cake batter.
Cottage cheese is a fresh cheese produced from whey. The whey is essentially curdled using an acidic ingredient. Then, the mixture is strained and the leftover product is cottage cheese.
It has a soft and very creamy texture and can be blended to produce a consistency very similar to sour cream. However, you have to add an acidic ingredient to cottage cheese to enable it to function in a similar way to sour cream.
When blending the cottage cheese, add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice per cup of cottage cheese. You can also add between 2-4 tablespoons of milk to adjust the consistency.
Our final substitute is a non-dairy and vegan one. Now, instead of coconut cream, you can also use other milk alternatives. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that it will definitely affect the flavor of your cake.
To use any of these vegan substitutes, we recommend choosing only thick ones. And, always add some acidic ingredients along with them. This can be vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice.
If you found this article informative or have more sour cream substitutes for us, let us know in the comments below! And, don't forget to share this article with family and friends who may find it useful!
Lindy Van Schalkwyk is a culinary specialist with a background in Advanced Cooking, Advanced Pâtisserie, Media Communications and Nutrition. She has gained invaluable experience in the culinary industry having worked in some of the top restaurants in Africa in 2016 and 2017. Her expertise in nutrition has enabled her to develop recipes for special dietary needs. In 2018, Lindy began working in the Food Media industry, focusing on recipe development, recipe writing, food writing and food styling.