Sponge Cakes are cakes with a light, airy texture.
They come in different shapes, sizes and flavours. They may be iced or frosted, or just dusted with sugar, or left plain. They may be served as a layered cake. What they have in common making them a “sponge” is their texture, and the ingredients.
The most noticeable thing about their list of ingredients is that no fat is used in their batters. While this can make the cakes a bit more “waist-friendly”, it does mean that they also tend to be drier cakes, and tend to become stale more quickly, owing to the missing fat. They are consequently often served with syrups on them to moisten them, or iced to help prevent them drying out as quickly.
The cakes use beaten whole eggs. The bubbles of air trapped by the beaten eggs expand when heated, causing the cake to rise. The whipping of air into the egg happens before the flour is added in. This allows more air to get into the egg, and prevents the flour from developing gluten as it might otherwise with all the beating necessary.
- Warm Method: has you beat the egg with sugar over a double boiler. The theory is that when the egg is warmed, more air will be trapped. This results in a denser sponge;
- Cold Method: Eggs are separated, yolks are whipped into the sugar, whites are beaten separately, then the other ingredients including the yolk and sugar mixture are carefully folded in. This results in a lighter sponge.
Sometimes both of the above methods are classed together as the “sugar batter method”, because the batter starts with sugar and egg as the first step. Professionals may use commercial emulsifiers, which allow them to mix all the ingredients all together at once. This is sometimes referred to as “All-in-one-mixture method.”
Some recipes cheat by sneaking in a little baking powder for additional leavening.
Angel Food Cakes are like sponge cakes, but use only the whites of the eggs, so they are airier than sponge cakes.
A Genoise, aka Butter Sponge Cake, is also a type of sponge cake, but it uses fat in the form of melted butter, so it is less airy than true sponges.
American-style sponges tend to use more eggs, and call for the egg whites to be beaten separately.
European-style sponges often call for the addition of flavouring syrups, to help keep the cake moist, and to add flavour. European sponges are also more likely to break the “no fat” rule of thumb.
You can tell a good sponge by pinching it: where you pinched should expand back out. If it doesn’t, the sponge is too dense.
A sponge cake is not the same as a pound cake.
If you store your eggs in the fridge, let them come to room temperature or warm them in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes first before using.
To beat them, use an electric hand-mixer or stand mixer; but not a blender — the blades in a blender are designed for chopping and aren’t good at getting air into a cake batter. Though you can always do it by hand, if you want the exercise.
Get the oven heated in advance before the cake goes into the oven. Don’t let the cake wait for it to come up to temperature.
Don’t grease the cake pans: you want to allow the dough to grip the sides of the pan as it rises during baking.
Get the pan of cake batter into the heated oven as soon as the batter is finished. Some people advise, just before putting the cake in the oven, to drop the cake pan a few times on the counter to get large air bubbles out of the batter. Others say this is an old, wives’ tale, and that this is the last thing you want to do.
Issues often encountered are soggy cakes, tough surfaces, and cracking in the centre. Some people bake their Sponges in a tube pan to solve problems such as soggy centres inside, or cracked centre tops.
Some people advocate letting the cake cool upside down when removed from the oven, and leaving it that way for about 1 1/2 hours. Some do this by inverting the pan in a colander, which allows lots of air to circulate to prevent condensation.
Cut a cooled sponge cake with a serrated knife.
Early sponge cakes appear to actually have been thin, crisp biscuits.
By the mid 1700s, it became fashionable to use eggs as a leavener in cakes, with air beaten into them.
The advent of affordable kitchen beaters would have increased their popularity in the early 1800s.
Sponge cakes are sometimes just referred to as a “sponge” or “sponges.”