The words “sponge cake” strike terror into the hearts of most people when they are contemplating baking a cake. Why is that so? I can tell you why… as evidenced by my first and only attempt some years ago to bake a sponge. This experience left its mark. The result was humiliation and nausea – after oh so carefully whisking, beating, sieving and folding, what emerged from the oven…? Two cake tins containing steaming, unrisen cakes, better described as pancakes.
So, when it was my brother-in-law’s birthday last week and I offered to bake him a cake – what did he ask for – yes, you guessed it, a bloody sponge cake!
So all week I sweated over the various cook books and read every recipe for sponge cakes that had been written over the last century, including Mrs Beaton.
The day of reckoning dawned and down I came to the kitchen armed with my recipe from “The Country Show Cookbook”. The book is an omnibus of recipes gathered from all the prize winners at the country agricultural shows. After careful consideration, I selected a recipe submitted by Mary Yeo (a regular prize winner) from the Mendooran Show. Mendooran is a spec on the map about a 5 hour drive northwest from Sydney. I decided on this recipe as I knew that my mother, also a great country cook, would have approved of Mary and her recipe.
I recall, as a young girl I used to marvel how my Mum could pull a cake out of the oven at the drop of a hat – and her sponge cakes were legendary. I would often come into the kitchen and see Mum in a cloud of flour, stoking the stove to get it to the right temperature, freshly-laid eggs frothing away in the MixMaster and a chaos of ingredients on the kitchen table. Then miraculously, out of this bedlam, wonderful food would appear, apparently effortlessly. A friend of mine fondly recalls a famous family story when the phone rang during one of these flour-dusted baking marathons and Mum answered the phone – without asking who was calling, she called into the phone, “I’m making a sponge, call back in 20 minutes!”.
So here is the fool-proof sponge cake recipe from Mary Yeo.
• 4 eggs, separated
• ¾ cup of castor sugar
• 1 level cup self-raising flour
• ½ teaspoon baking powder
• 3 tablespoons hot milk
• Preheat oven to 180C degrees (350F)
• Line and grease 2 x 20cm (8in) cake tins
• Beat egg whites until stiff
• Gradually add castor sugar
• Beat until sugar is dissolved
• Add egg yolks slowly until mixture is creamy
• Sift flour & baking powder twice ( I did it three times for good measure)
• Fold flour into mixture at small intervals
• Add the hot milk (not boiling)
• Fold until creamy but do not over work the mixture
• Pour the mixture evenly into the 2 cake tins
• Bake for 20 mins in the centre of the oven
10 Tips for a successful sponge cake
1. Follow the recipe exactly
2. Baking is a science, so measure all of your ingredients carefully
3. Use the freshest eggs you can get
4. Make sure the eggs are at room temperature
5. When the cake mixture is in the tins bang the cake tins on the bench a couple of times to get the large air bubbles out
6. When adding dry ingredients, use a large metal spoon to gently fold the mixture until just combined (Don’t use a wooden spoon)
7. Don’t open the oven door while your sponge cake is baking
8. When your sponge is cooked, it will come away from the sides of the pan, and spring back when touched lightly in the centre
9. Turn your cake out onto a cooling rack covered in a clean tea towel
10. Have fun – a happy cake baker will always produce a light cake
Mum (and Mary) – you would have been proud of me – it was a great success!!!