• Hazelnut maple chocolate cake (Murdoch Books / Ben Dearnley)Source: Murdoch Books / Ben Dearnley

A naturally leavened cake with a lovely, fudge-like texture which is not overly rich.






Skill level

Average: 4.5 (14 votes)

Using leaven as a rising agent conditions the flour to make it more digestible, creating a gentle lift during baking. Baking at a low temperature also keeps the cake moist and prevents it from doming or cracking. I refer to this as an ‘all-food’ cake – just a small piece is all you need to satisfy. Serve with a cultured cream.


  • 100 g (3½ oz) pitted prunes
  • 250 g (9 oz) just-boiled water
  • 300 g (10½ oz/2⅓ cups) unbleached white spelt flour
  • 100 g (3½ oz) best-quality Dutched cocoa powder
  • pinch sea salt
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 200 g (7 oz) maple sugar or grated palm sugar (jaggery)
  • 125 g (4½ oz/⅔ cup) light brown muscovado sugar
  • 75 g (2¾ oz) ground hazelnuts
  • 100 g (3½ oz) float-tested leaven (see Note)
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 250 g (9 oz) unsalted butter, ghee or coconut oil, melted then cooled to room temperature
  • 5 eggs (weighing approximately 60 g/2 oz each), beaten

Raw honey glaze

  • 100 g (3½ oz) dark chocolate (at least 70 per cent cocoa solids), broken or chopped into small pieces
  • 175 g (6 oz/1½ cups) raw honey, at room temperature
  • tiny pinch fine sea salt

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Setting time: 1 hour

Rising time: 6-10 hours

You will need to start the rye leaven 3 weeks before making the cake. 

Soak the prunes in the boiling water for about 10 minutes, or until softened. Grease a 24 cm (9½ in) springform cake tin with butter and line with baking paper.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, sea salt and cinnamon into a large bowl. Add both the sugars and ground hazelnuts, and combine. Pour in the leaven and use your fingertips to rub it into the dry ingredients, forming a slightly crumbly mixture.

Put the prunes and their soaking water into a blender or food processor and blitz with the vanilla, cooled melted butter and eggs to form a smooth mixture.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Gently fold together the ingredients until no dry bits remain, but don’t overwork. Pour the mix into the prepared cake tin and cover loosely with a damp cloth. Leave to stand in a fairly warm spot for 6–10 hours (ideally at 24–28°C/75–82°F). The mixture is not likely to rise at this stage (it will rise when baked), but if you break the surface you may see small pockets of air.

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Cover the cake with a sheet of foil and bake in the centre of the oven for 1½ hours. Uncover and test by inserting a skewer into the centre – if it comes out clean but with a few moist crumbs attached, it is ready. If not, leave uncovered and continue to bake for a further 10–15 minutes, testing again after this time.

Remove from the oven and let it cool in the tin for a few minutes. Carefully remove the cake to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, make the raw honey glaze. Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan half-filled with simmering water (make sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water). When the chocolate is melted, take off the heat and let it cool briefly. Add the honey and salt and stir to combine. While still warm, pour the glaze over the cooled cake and let it set for about 1 hour before serving.



• For the leaven, first make the rye starter. In a spotlessly clean, large non-reactive ceramic or glass bowl, combine 70 g water and 50 g biodynamic or organic wholemeal rye flour, and whisk to a smooth batter. Notice how the mix smells.

Cover with a clean tea towel (dish towel) or muslin (cheesecloth) and leave to stand at room temperature, ideally 23–28°C (73–82°F), for 24 hours.

The next day, stir, smell and re-cover. Each day, for the next 10–14 days, discard all but 1 tablespoon of the mixture. Sniff the mixture and taste – it should start to smell and taste slightly sour and eventually quite fruity and effervescent as it becomes alive with yeast activity. Put the reserved tablespoon of starter in a clean bowl and feed the starter by adding 75 g (2½ oz) water and 50 g (1¾ oz) biodynamic or organic rye flour. Mix together well, making sure the flour is well incorporated. Cover and leave for 6–10 hours.

Repeat the process once or twice a day, for 5–7 more days, or until the mix has a fruity ‘yeasty’ smell and it is filled with lots of large gas bubbles. Put in a glass jar (only ever half fill the jar), cover with a clean cloth or muslin and secure.

After feeding the starter, note the level in the jar. At the next feeding, you should see a ‘tide mark’ showing that the starter rose and then fell. The starter is ready to use when it reliably doubles in volume over a
6–10 hour period at room temperature.

When ready, your active starter can be used as it is or to create a larger volume of active ‘leaven’ (see below).

If you’re not baking regularly, keep your starter in a small, clean glass jar with a lid on in the fridge. A day or two before using your starter, take it out of the fridge and feed it at 6-hourly intervals until vibrant and active. A cold sleepy starter that has not been used in over a week may need three or four feeds to return to a suitable activity level to leaven your recipes.

Once the rye started is ready, make the leaven by putting 1 tablespoon of the active starter in a clean non-reactive bowl with 200 g flour and 250 tepid filtered water. Stir together, until no spots of dry flour remain.

Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel (dish towel) and leave to sit, ideally at warm room temperature (about 23–28°C/73–82°F), for 6–10 hours. When it looks very bubbly and smells only slightly sour, see if it passes the float test (see note below). If it does, it is now ready to use in any recipe requiring leaven. 

Before using the leaven, it needs to pass this test: dollop a tablespoon of leaven into a glass of cold water; if it floats, it’s ready to use; if it sinks, wait another hour, then repeat the test. If the weather is particularly cool, it may take another hour or two. 


Recipe and image from Ferment by Holly Davis (Murdoch Books, hb, $45) is available now.