Sourdough Starter Discard Cake with Banana and Dates

Bread Baker’s Date and Banana Tea Cake

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With this recipe, we welcome Jennifer Latham to The Perfect Loaf as a contributor. Jen is the author of Baking Bread with Kids, former Director of Bread at Tartine, and a long-time sourdough bread baker. I couldn’t be more excited to have her expertise on baking, whole-grains, nutrition, and more here for all to read!


When I started working at Tartine at the original location there were three to four bread bakers on deck per shift. The country bread that Tartine is known for is time intensive and making it took up most of our shift, but there was always a little bit of a lull during the few hours that it was fermenting in bulk (before it was time to divide and shape the loaves.) That slight break in busyness happened in the early afternoon, when most of the croissants had been sold and the pastry case had been emptied by the morning rush. The challenge we all felt around that time of day was to try to refill the case. We bread bakers developed a few recipes that we could make during that lull in our schedule to help ‘fluff up’ the case, and this sourdough starter discard cake was one of my favorites. 

There were a few parameters that these bread bakers’ bonus treats had to fit. Obviously, there was a time constraint, since we had just a short break from the demands of the country bread. We also had to be able to make them without electric mixers because the mixers were completely occupied by various components of pastries at every moment of every day between 4 am and 4 pm. And we were always trying to develop recipes that used whole grains and ancient grains and sourdough since those were the things that we geeked out on. We all also liked to use natural sweeteners whenever possible.

Sourdough starter discard cake with dates and whole grain spelt flour
Whole-grain spelt flour and molasses give this sourdough starter discard tea cake a deep color and rich flavor.

This date and banana tea cake was ideal because it takes just two bowls, can be done by hand, and can be paused at any moment (things could always come up in the busy Tartine kitchen). One person would measure out all the wet ingredients and another person would measure out all the dry ingredients. We’d stir it all up with a spatula in the biggest mixing bowl we had, divide the batter among pans, and pop the pans into the oven during any brief window of available oven space.

Sourdough starter discard cake with dates and whole grain spelt flour
Photography by Jennifer Latham.

The starting point for this bread was whole-grain spelt flour. It doesn’t shine in spite of being made with whole grains; it shines because it is made with whole grains. It gets much of its sweetness from molasses and dates, so it has more complex notes than white-sugar-only cakes. It also has a slight, pleasant tang from the buttermilk and the sourdough discard, which adds to the complexity. This is a rich, moist, dark, sultry version of banana bread that fits squarely in the cake department.

It doesn’t shine in spite of being made with whole grains; it shines because it is made with whole grains.

This simple cake is great to make ahead—I think it actually tastes better on day two, so I like to make it the night before and have it for a coffee-time treat the next day. But it tastes the very best on day three, as the flavors intensify and it stays incredibly moist.

Bread Baker’s Date and Banana Tea Cake Recipe

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Sourdough Starter Discard Cake with Banana and Dates

Bread Baker’s Date and Banana Tea Cake

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  • Author: Jennifer Latham
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 60 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Yield: 1 loaf cake
  • Category: Dessert, Breakfast, Brunch
  • Cuisine: American
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Description

The starting point for this bread was whole-grain spelt flour. It doesn’t shine in spite of being made with whole grains; it shines because it is made with whole grains. It gets much of its sweetness from molasses and dates, so it has more complex notes than white-sugar-only cakes. It also has a slight, pleasant tang from the buttermilk and the sourdough discard, which adds to the complexity. This is a rich, moist, dark, sultry version of banana bread that fits squarely in the cake department.

(This recipe is adapted from Tartine Book No. 3)


Ingredients

  • 85g / 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing
  • 80 g / ¾ cup walnuts (optional)
  • 150 g / 1 ¼ cup whole grain spelt flour (see Notes)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 80 g / ¾ cup sugar, plus 2 teaspoons for sprinkling
  • 133 g / 1 cup chopped pitted dates
  • 170 g / ¾ cup mashed ripe bananas (from about 2 small or 1 1/2 large), plus 1 whole banana, for
  • topping (optional)
  • 75 g / 1/3 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 112 g / ½ cup ripe sourdough starter or sourdough starter discard
  • 53 g / 3 tablespoons molasses
  • 100 g / 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 8.5 x 4.5-inch loaf pan with butter and line the bottom with parchment paper or a silicone liner.
  2. Spread the walnuts (if using) in an even layer on a sheet pan. Toast until fragrant, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool completely. Roughly chop the walnuts.
  3. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Whisk in the sugar. Add the chopped date pieces and toss to coat (this keeps them from clumping together in the dough.
  4. In a separate large bowl, using a large fork, mash and stir together the melted butter, bananas, buttermilk, sourdough starter, molasses, eggs, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour mixture and the walnuts (if using). Using a large spatula, stir until well combined. Scoop the batter into the prepared loaf pan. If you like, you can slice a banana thinly longwise and lay the slices over the top of the batter. Sprinkle the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar over the top.
  5. Bake until the center of the cake feels set, 60 to 70 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let the cake cool in the pan for 30 minutes. 
  6. Run a butter knife or offset spatula around the sides of the pan to make sure the cake is loose, and then unmold the cake and put it on a plate. Let the cake cool completely. The cake will keep well wrapped or in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days. I think it’s actually best on day 3.

Notes

If you can’t find whole grain spelt flour, whole wheat flour will also work well.


What’s Next?

After baking this sourdough starter discard date and banana tea cake, see a roundup of more sourdough starter discard recipes for ideas on what to do with leftover starter, including a batch of incredibly delicious sourdough starter discard sugar cookies (I dare you to try and eat just one).

Picture of Jennifer Latham
Jennifer Latham
Jennifer Latham is the author of ‘Baking Bread with Kids’ from Ten Speed Press and co-author of Bread Book with Chad Robertson. She is the former Director of Bread for Tartine Bakery. She studied philosophy and journalism at UC Santa Cruz before following her love of dough into professional kitchens. She lives, climbs, surfs and hikes in Northern California.

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