“Keep it simple , keep it tasty , you ll seldom go wrong”
Sponge cake is probably one of those things that any baker worth their salt should know. Its the most basic of recipes and a building block to countless others. But basic doesn’t always mean easy , and mastering the fatless sponge cake takes a little bit of practice and skill.
So have I mastered it? and what makes me an expert to write an article about perfect sponge cakes! Well, I am neither an expert nor a master but I have had enough failures and successes with sponge cakes, that I thought that I can share whatever I ve learned to do and not to do . I know most of you might know whatever is coming already, but I thought that maybe some beginner could learn from my mistakes (read disasters!) . I m proud to say that my last sunken sponge was a long long time back !
What is a sponge cake? Its not just any plain or vanilla cake. Its a light, aerated cake that has the texture of a sponge (duh!) .No butter or oil goes into . It can be eaten by itself or dusted with some sugar for a simple dessert/tea time treat. But the beauty of a sponge is when its layered with jam (so British!) or with cream . Fancier still, sponges when soaked with syrup and filled , take up flavors beautifully to form delicious layered cakes. It can be used for desserts like trifles and tiramisu.
Now, there are like 23,910,427 recipes and more on the net for the perfect sponge cake! Some use dozens of eggs and special pans, some divide the eggs and whip separately , some use leavening like baking powder , some use butter or shortening. I’m sure many of them taste great too. But this tried and tested (and cherished) recipe is a SIMPLE one with flour, eggs , sugar , a pinch of salt and a dash of vanilla. I am not sure whom to credit it to , too many sources for it! It makes an 8 inch cake that is perfect for slicing into two layers (warning : attempt three only if you are used to handling delicate cake layers) . And of course you could double it ( use 6 eggs) and make either two 8 inch cakes or a bigger 9 inch cake that you could easily slice into 3 average sized layers . Aint that perfect for all your cake building ideas!
Now I go into some detail (a lot of detail!) but you can skip on down to the recipe!
About the pan and oven :
- Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F) atleast 20 minutes before you put the pan in if using an OTG/ oven. Place the middle rack if needed. If using a convection microwave , preheat as long as possible ( 10 mins or so).
- DO NOT grease the pan or flour it. Sponge cakes made by this method (foaming method) rise by creeping up the sides of the pan. Grease would hinder its rising. DO line the bottom with parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment paper, you can lightly grease the bottom , but I strongly recommend parchment whenever possible (this is from someone whose both used and not used parchment)! Update: I have since tried greasing and flouring the sides , and the difference is just a few mm in height!
- Use a high pan, at least 2 inches as this cake will rise (!)
- A stainless steel or glass bowl is best to whip you eggs . Plastic may hold some grease over time.
- You can make this using a stand mixer (best) , hand held mixer ( definitely good enough) or a whisk ( get ready for super sore and achy arms !).
- You can use a removable bottom pan or springform pan if you want but it is not essential.
Preparation of ingredients:
- Have everything ready before you start so that you don’t let the batter collapse and lose air while searching for something or other.
- Use fresh eggs, at room temperature as these whip up the best.
- Measure everything carefully especially the flour. Take your half cup measuring cup, scoop it into your flour box and level the top with a knife so that the extra falls off. DO NOT stuff flour into your measuring cup. If your weighing the flour, no worries there.
- Sift the flour well.I skip sifting for several recipes but never for sponge cakes. It is advised to sift it thrice times. Sifting adds air so keeps the flour light. So measure it out with your measuring cup and sift it through a fine meshed sieve onto a sheet of parchment or clean paper. Sift this back into a bowl/ second paper. You can sift the third time directly into the bowl when needed. If making chocolate sponge, sift the flour and cocoa together thrice.
- Use large mixing bowls and make sure they are very clean.
Step one – Start beating the eggs and add your sugar:
- Break your eggs into your bowl and start beating them at medium speed.
- When the eggs are just beaten ( yellow and a little frothy like how you would make an omelette) , add in your sugar all at once. If you have a stand mixer, you could add it at the side while the eggs are beating.
Step three – Beat your eggs and sugar:
- This is the most important step . Start beating your eggs and sugar at medium speed and increase to high speed and continue beating until they are all fluffy and airy. This can take anywhere from 8 minutes to 15 minutes or more depending on the strength of your mixer. Scrape the bottom and sides few times in between.
- You ll know your eggs are done , when : a) the mixture is very light colored or pale. b) the volume becomes at least three times the volume of the initial eggs ( see why i told you use big bowls!) c) lift your beater / whisk and make a “8” pattern with the dripping batter onto the surface of the batter in the bowl . If you can see the 8 distinctly at least for a couple of seconds before it disappears, you eggs are done! This is called figure of 8 test or ribbon test and is a surefire way of making sure you have beaten the eggs and sugar enough. So, beat until the mixture is pale, looks like three times the volume and then test for “8”.
Step four – Add vanilla and salt:
- When the mixture has reached the texture as in Step three , add the vanilla and salt and mix for a minute or two more.
- Use the best extract or essence you can find !
Step five – Fold in the flour:
- This is the tricky part. The idea is to add the flour (or flour-cocoa mixture) and mix while maintaining the air that has been built up into the batter by all that whipping. Sift your flour (after already sifting at least twice) into the batter . Now “fold ” it in using a spatula. Make a gentle figure of 8 in your batter by cutting and lifting your spatula into the batter. Until you no longer see any more flour. Make sure you run your spatula along the bottom as thats where the flour sinks. This takes only a minute or so.
- DO NOT OVERMIX. I know this is scary and I was constantly in fear of over mixing during my initial sponge cake days. That lead to many lumpy and flourly and flat cakes! Just mix gently making a figure of 8 until you see no more flour and you are good. The batter doesn’t collapse that easily . Even if you do over mix slightly , your cake will be slightly flatter . But thats better than having bits of flour in your mouth while eating cake!
- You could also sift in flour in two or three installments and fold gently in between
- For folding, its best to use a light thin rubber/silicon spatula or a big metal spoon. Do not use a wooden spoon as it will be too heavy for the light batter and make it collapse a bit.
Step six – Pour batter into pan:
- As soon as , and i mean AS SOON AS you no longer see flour in your batter after folding, pour it into your prepared pan and put it into the oven. DO NOT let the prepared batter lie around.
- One more thing I find works is don’t scrape the little batter at the bottom of the bowl like you would in other cakes. The reason being the very bottom might have unmixed flour.
- Tap the pan gently against the counter to pop any large air pockets.
Step six – Bake :
- Bake at 180 C for 20-25 minutes. If your batter is light enough , it ll be done closer to 20 mins. start checking at 20 minutes and every 2 mins after until done.
- Don’t open the oven door while your sponge cake is baking, otherwise it can sink in the centre. Open only after at least 20 minutes ( you see a brown top)
- You know your cake is done when : a) top is brown b) when you press the top, it springs back c) the edges come away from the sides d) a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Step seven – Cool:
- Cool the cake in the pan for at least 10 minutes. The sides of the cake will shrink further from the sides. You ll notice that i filled my pan only about a 1/4 full but the cake rose to 3/4 th full .
- Run a knife between the cake edge and pan , loosen the cake. Invert onto another rack or plate. Remove parchment paper. Reinvert so right side is up and cool completely.
Update (23rd November 2016) : A lot of people have followed this way of making a fatless sponge and loved it. Just thought I’d address a few problems a few of them faced.
My cake smells too eggy.
Unfortunately or fortunately I have a very high tolerance of smells. But after a lot of people tried this , I realised that some bakers find this cake has a smell that is too eggy, particularly if you are not accustomed to baking with eggs. I can tell u that the smell is a lot less noticeable after resting it overnight. You can also add in a teaspoon of lime or lemon or orange zest with the sugar to reduce the smell. A good brand and an extra shot of vanilla extract also helps !
My cake is too soft.
This is meant to be a a really soft cake and that means, it isn’t the easiest to slice. Chill the cake well before slicing and handle it as gently as possible . Crumbs are unavoidable but if disaster strikes , you can place the pieces of cake together and use the syrup. The final slice will not let your secret out.. I promise !
There is a sticky layer on top of my cake.
This usually happens when u store or cover a still warm cake . Cool your cake and then cling wrap or store in an airtight container. Use castor sugar if possible or whiz your regular granulated sugar once in your blender to get smaller granules.Don’t worry too much abt it though as it peels of readily and you need to remove the top to layer the cake anyways.
My cake dips in the centre.
This is unlikely if you follow the steps . But if it still occurs , the oven or your pan might be to blame. Baking at too low a temperature or in a smaller pan (batter too deep) can cause dipping.
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 65 grams or 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 100 grams or 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp vanilla essence or extract
- Preheat oven to 180 C or 350 F. Line the bottom of a 7 or 8 inch round cake pan with parchment.
- Sift the flour twice or thrice. Keep aside.
- In a bowl, using an electric mixer or whisk, beat the eggs at medium speed until foamy and yellow.
- Add the sugar and beat until light and tripled in volume.
- Add the vanilla and salt. Beat for a minute.
- Sift in the flour and fold it gently until incorporated.
- Immediately pour batter into prepared pan and tap gently against counter.
- Bake for 22-25 minutes until top is browned and a toothpick inserted comes out dry.
- Cool for 10 minutes in pan , remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
- The recipe can be doubled .
- Handle the cake gently as it really is soft!
See that lovely crumb ! A real well made sponge cake will feel so soft, like pressing on a brand new sponge. So soft that you feel it ll press under the light pressure of your hand, but it springs back and is sturdy enough to move around. Its oh so light, you need to taste it to believe it. Its not meant to be a moist cake by itself, but it soaks up any syrup (its called sponge for a reason!) and becomes super moist, like the birthday cakes from cake shops.
Like I told you, once you ve got this cake down, it opens the door to endless possibilities . Some of the ways i love to use the the vanilla sponge is in pineapple pastries , strawberry/mango cream cakes and tiramisu cake. And with the chocolate sponge , my favorite is the black forest!