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Making Light and Fluffy Sponge Cake

Some bakers might consider the sponge cake to be passé. Certainly, it was a favorite cake of the 50s and 60s and nearly every housewife had a favorite recipe for this light and airy cake, which is sometimes called “fairy” cake. It could be served by itself, even after a large meal, or could be fashioned into a jelly-roll type of creation, filled with preserves or whipped cream, or even used to make fancy desserts like trifle or tiramisu.

Once again in vogue, the sponge cake is yummy and versatile. You can add a little variety to your sponge cake by including cocoa or other flavorings rather than the standard vanilla extract, like almond or lemon zest. It’s also great served with fruit or you can soak the cake in simple syrup before serving to keep it moist and delicious.

About the Sponge Cake

The sponge cake gets its light texture from the beaten egg whites used in the standard recipe. Furthermore, there is no leavening agent used in this type of cake, which gets its leavening power entirely from the egg whites. (You may find that some “beginner” sponge cake recipes include baking powder or soda to “enhance” your results, but those aren’t genuine sponge cakes.)

But the most unusual thing about today’s sponge cake is it calls for no shortening of any sort. (Some sponge cake recipes of old did often call for butter, however.) That makes it healthier than most cakes as well as delicious.

Tips for Mixing the Cake

Making a sponge cake can indeed be a bit of a challenge, and it isn’t unusual for novice sponge cake makers to end up with a really flat cake or one that’s dry and heavy, not light and moist. The secret is in how you handle the ingredients and put them together. Here are a few guidelines.

Equipment – You’ll definitely need an electric mixer for this recipe and the stand variety is by far the best choice. It works at a consistent speed and pattern and it helps keep your hands free.

Eggs – The eggs are the key to the perfect sponge cake. The freshness of the eggs and their quality will make a difference in the taste of your cake. You’ll be addressing the egg yolks first, which should be beaten until they are creamy, exhibiting a light yellow color when beaten sufficiently. But the success of your recipe will rely heavily on your handling of the egg whites. First of all, make sure that the bowl you’re using for beating is absolutely clean and dry, with no residue of any sort on the surface. Whip the egg whites at a consistent speed, adding the appointed sugar gradually. The whites must be stiff and should form hard peaks and when they’re done should have increased in volume about four-fold. Remember, warm or room temperature eggs will whip best, so take them out of the refrigerator for at least an hour before mixing.

Folding – When it’s time to mix the egg yolk mixture into the egg whites, don’t be rough with the ingredients. Stir the two together gently with a rubber spatula for best results, and do not overmix. Once the ingredients are incorporated into one another, that should do the job.

Baking - When it’s time to place the cake batter in the pan, be sure the pan is prepared by brushing it with some melted butter (this will help keep the cake moist) and dusting it with flour. Many sponge cake cooks also line their pans with parchment paper. When the sponge cake is done (use a cake tester), remove it from the pan immediately and place it on a wire rack.