Quintessentially simple and yet almost magical, the light and airy sponge makes for many a happy childhood cake-eating memory. My mum’s sponge was her “basic” all-purpose cake – the one she made for most occasions, from cake stalls and picnics to special birthdays. My favourite way of eating it was in large slices as dessert, doused with my Grannie’s warm chocolate sauce and topped with a large scoop of vanilla ice-cream. I adored its ability to soak up all the accompanying yumminess, as the warm sauce melted the ice-cream, essentially creating a moist, chocolate-flavoured concoction.
There is much debate about the true identity of the sponge cake – what the Brits call a Victoria sponge, Australians and Americans call butter cake – but I am going to stick to the local definition of the traditional sponge, made using the whisking method (not the creaming method as you would a butter cake).
The sponge tradition has also thrived in other cultures. The citrus chiffon plava (also known as pan d’España by Moroccan Jews and pan di Spagna by Italian ones), the French genoise, the Chinese pandan chiffon cake, the Latin American tres leches cake and the Japanese honied castella cake, are all derivatives of the basic classic sponge and strongly reflect the flavour and, to some extent, cooking methods preferred in their culture of origin. All contain the basic ingredients of eggs, flour and sugar, but it is the proportion of these ingredients, how they are combined and additional ingredients, such as butter, that give each variety of sponge its unique characteristics.
Whatever their differences, all these cakes rely on the air incorporated into the eggs during whisking. Generally, the whole eggs are whisked to a thick ribbon trail, or the egg yolks are whisked separately to the egg whites, which are then folded through the sponge batter for extra lightness. To get the most out of your whisking when making a sponge cake, keep these three things in mind:
1. It is best to use eggs at room temperature when making a sponge cake, as eggs at this temperature when whisked have the ability to hold more air than chilled ones.
2. Caster sugar is better than regular granulated sugar, as it will dissolve more readily when whisked.
3. Always use the whisk attachment if using a stand mixer or handheld electric beaters, not the paddle or beater attachments.
Now, don’t be intimidated by the concept of making a sponge. It is a deceptively easy cake to make, and definitely has an air of magic.
Sponge cake recipes
Anneka's mission is to connect home cooks with the magic of baking, and through this, with those they love. Read our interview with her or for hands-on baking classes and baking tips, visit her at BakeClub. Don't miss what's coming out of her oven via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Photography by Alan Benson. Styling by Kristine Duran-Thiessen. Food preparation by Tina McLeish.
View previous Bakeproof columns and recipes.