Baking for Beginners: How to Make a Sponge Cake

The sponge cake is ideal for beginning cooks. It's fairly easy to make, it tastes delicious and it has a texture that's unlike any other cake.

The recipe is adapted from the Better Homes Cookbook. It's a standard sponge cake recipe, but I've added quite a few details to the instructions to make the steps more clear to readers (Better Homes is an excellent cookbook, but occasionally its instructions lack context and detail).

Finally, in order to bake this cake, you'll need to get your hands on a 10" tube pan (also called an angel food cake pan). Make sure you get one with a removable bottom. This one at Amazon will do just fine, but you can find one for under $20 at any discount store. No need to overspend here: I bought a really crappy and inexpensive one more than 10 years ago and it's still going strong.

Sponge Cake

6 eggs, separated into yolks and whites
1 Tablespoon finely grated orange peel
1/2 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar

1) Separate the yolks from the whites of the six eggs. Place the yolks into a medium bowl and place the whites in a larger bowl. Set the egg whites aside for now (feel free to put them into your refrigerator to keep them cool).

2) In the medium bowl, beat the yolks on high speed with an electric mixer for five minutes until they thicken slightly and turn a brighter yellow/lemon color. Add the orange peel, orange juice and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes until combined. Continue beating, and slowly add in the 1 cup of sugar. Beat for another five minutes until yolk mixture thickens and (roughly) doubles in volume.

3) Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the flour over the yolk mixture. Gently fold* the flour into the yolk mixture with a rubber scraper until combined. Repeat with remaining flour, about 1/4 cup at a time, and be sure to avoid overworking the batter. Set yolk mixture aside.

4) Wash beaters carefully. In the larger bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add in the 1/2 cup sugar, beating at high speed until stiff peaks form.

5) Gently fold one cup of the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture and combine well. Then, fold the yolk mixture into the remaining egg white mixture.

6) Pour batter into an ungreased 10" tube pan and bake at 325F for 50-55 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a fork or a toothpick into the top of the cake. If it comes out clean, it's done.

7) Immediately flip the cake upside-down, leaving it in the pan to cool. When fully cooled, loosen the sides of the cake with a knife and carefully remove from pan.

Serves 8-10.

Recipe Notes:
1) What is "folding"? It's a baking term that describe a technique of gently combining ingredients. To "fold" one ingredient into another (like in steps 3 and 5 above), use a large rubber scraper. Gently lift the batter from below with the flat side of the scraper, then gently flip the rubber scraper over and lay the batter back down on top. Continue--again, gently--until the ingredients are fully combined. The point of folding ingredients rather then stirring them is to avoid overworking the batter. This keeps the texture of the cake light and fluffy.

Another (stretched) analogy for folding batter is to imagine shovel-spading your garden: take a shovel full of dirt, flip it over and lay the dirt upside-down on top of the ground right next to you. Imagine doing this process with batter, spatula and a bowl, and you've got it.

One last point on folding: Whenever a recipe instructs you to "fold" something, never use an electric mixer. Just don't.

2) If you're confused about the difference between "stiff peaks" and "soft peaks" when beating egg whites, have a look at my post on Waffles for a somewhat juvenile explanation.

3) Finally, a few photos:

Invert the pan as soon as you take it out of the oven. Let the cake cool fully:

After the cake has cooled, loosen the cake from the pan edge by running a knife gently around the cake:

Gently pull the cake out...

And then help yourself!

Laura: Wait. You already ate a third of this cake?
Dan: [*Burp*] No.... it must have been somebody else.

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chacha1 said...

oooooohh yummy. One of my favorite things!

Daniel said...

Thanks Chacha! This is a homerun cake recipe for sure. Enjoy!