Letters from Mara: Sour Cream Cake

Growing up I was always exposed to good cooking. My mom mimicked the eastern European recipes she had seen her own mother create – techniques that she never had the chance to formally learn due to her mother’s early passing. And my dad, well, he just has a natural ability to season meat.

Early in my teens, I too felt the need to get into the game of the kitchen. With my parents occupying the main roles of meal prep, I turned to pastries to gain the attention of our dinner party guests. I experimented with croissants, layered cakes, and my greatest achievement is perfecting the éclair.

Cooking has always been a sentimental topic in our home. When my mom was 19, her mom took a trip to Israel to visit her dying father. My grandmother, Mara, left my mom with some recipes that she could put together while she was gone. The list included essential items: schnitzel, vegetable soup, a sour cream cake. Little did my mother know that these notes would be the only insight she would ever get into her mother’s methods.

My grandmother died when she was 48. Upon returning from her trip to Israel, she had a heart attack at the airport and passed away two years later. By all accounts, the dentist by profession was brilliant in the kitchen. I was born shortly following her death and was named after her.


Thankfully, I was given more than just my grandmother’s name. I use her rolling pin when I bake and about two years ago, curiosity led me to her recipe books. I just hungered to know how to make the coffee cake I grew up hearing everyone mentally drool over.

Mara kept notes on many of the things she cooked, but a lot of them were so vague and given my limited Russian, they were slightly confusing and dated. Coincidentally, my mom always reminds me to be an unfussy cook: “Make things accessible. No one has time to spend hours in the kitchen,” allowing me to realize that all these recipes needed was a revival and a heavy sugar reduction.

In this series, I’ll put a modern twist on my grandmother’s recipes. Bringing back to life the letters from Mara that hold secrets to the best of the best in cooking and baking. I can’t wait to share them with you!


Sour Cream Cake


For some the key to a great meal is a balanced plate; for others it’s bold flavour – in Russia it’s sour cream.


Sour cream is to Russian cooking what peanut butter is to jelly. A component so essential that Leo Tolstoy included it in his depictions of all great feasts. Mara’s sour cream cake is delicious, impressive and simple; meaning that you should be able to get it right on your first try. I’ve altered her original recipe by reducing the sugar and using a lighter sour cream, but the cake tastes just as good heavier with 14 per cent sour cream.



Base of the Cake

  • A container of margarine (227g)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 2 tsp of sugar
  • 2 cups of flour


Sour Cream Layer

  • A container of margarine (227g)
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 500 ml of 3% sour cream






Preheat the oven to 375C.

  1. Prepare the base by mixing margarine, eggs, vanilla, baking powder, sugar, and flour in a large bowl. Evenly place the contents on the bottom of a glass dish and place it in the oven for about 50 minutes.


Sour Cream Layer


  1. While the base cooks, prepare the next layer by mixing a container of margarine, sugar, eggs, sour cream.


Cake Construction


  1. Once the base is ready, remove it from the oven and use a spoon to scrape off the top layer. These crumbs will act as the top layer of the cake.


  1. Pour the sour cream layer onto the remaining base and use a spoon to even out the mixture.


  1. Sprinkle the crumbs onto the topping until the cake is completely covered.


  1. Place the cake in the fridge for at least 3 hours. For best results, keep the cake in the fridge overnight.


Once you take the cake out the fridge it’s ready to eat. Enjoy!