Aug. 23 is National Sponge Cake Day, and if you find it silly that there is a day set aside for this classic cake, think again. The sponge cake is believed to be the first non-yeasted cake and has no added fat in its ingredients. That means it’s lighter in calories than other desserts, and a slice or two topped with your favorite fruit or jam almost lends itself to the idea that it is a “healthier” cake, while satisfying the sweet tooth we all have.
Light and airy in texture (thanks to whole eggs), a sponge cake will soak up custard sauces and creamy fillings without falling apart. It’s also great topped with soft summer berries slightly sweetened with sugar. It is lighter than a pound cake, simpler than a fruitcake and was around much earlier than angel food cake.
Sponge cakes can be served on their own or used as the base for many other desserts. These sweet and delicious cakes are not dry and crumbly. They are sturdy and durable with a good absorbency, making them ideal for desserts that call for cake soaked in syrup or alcohol.
The secret to the cake’s rise is the egg content, which also gives it the fat it requires to be a cake. You will achieve better results if your eggs are at room temperature. There is no need for the creaming of sugar and butter in a sponge cake, and a little baking powder adds to its rise, if you desire to add it.
Sponge cakes became a mainstay of early American cookbooks, with adventurous bakers adapting the recipe with a little vinegar or by using hot milk along with baking powder. It acquired its name “sponge” because once baked, the texture has a structure resembling a sea sponge. Whole egg-laden sponge cakes are not quite the same as an angel food cake, which uses only whipped egg whites.
Try baking a delectable sponge cake, along with other home bakers, on National Sponge Cake Day, in honor of this tried and true cake. Here is a recipe to get you started.
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
Pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
¼ cup cornstarch
One 9-inch round cake pan or 9-inch springform pan, buttered and bottom-lined with buttered parchment paper, a strainer or sifter.
1. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350°.
2. Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.
3. Whisk the eggs, yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100° (test with your finger). Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.
4. While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.
5. Sift 1/3 of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and final with the remainder.
6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
7. Bake the cake for about 25 minutes or until well risen, deep gold and firm to the touch.
8. Immediately use a small paring knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan. Invert the cake onto a rack, then reinvert onto another rack and let the cake cool right side up on the paper. Remove the paper when the cake is cool.
To turn this into a chocolate sponge cake: Reduce the cake flour to 1/3 cup, increase the cornstarch to 1/3 cup, and add ¼ cup alkalized (Dutch process) cocoa powder to the flour and cornstarch mixture, sift.
To store: Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several days, or double-wrap and freeze for up to a month.
Recipe from “Perfect Cakes” by Nick Malgieri