I bake a sponge cake for family birthdays, just like my mother did for us. She got the recipe from my Jewish grandmother, who had adapted it from Meta Given. Something got lost in translation. Actually, it was the opposite of lost. My mother accidentally doubled the sugar, and the result was divine.
The cake isn’t that sweet (it tastes tart from the lemon) but the sugar creates a crunchy crust. It does not need frosting. Note that there is no cooking fat/oil in the recipe. This cake is a traditional Jewish delicacy, especially if you use leftover Hanukkah candles for the birthday child.
Maybe the reason I dislike baking is because this recipe is a killer. To make the sponge light and spongy, you need to resift flour and master the technique of cut and folding batter into the egg whites. I learned by watching my mother.
While baking, the cake rises almost like a soufflé. My mother used to say it would collapse if we made too much noise (ha!) That bought an hour and a quarter of silence, especially because my brother and I had our tongues engaged licking mixing bowls. That was back when moms didn’t freak out about salmonella. It’s interesting how hazards haven’t increased but our awareness and fear have.
It’s a pain getting the cake out of the tube pan. I often wonder if a spring-form pan would work better, but I’m a creature of habit.
I’m also a creature of careless mistakes. I planned to post this recipe when I made it last time, but it was a disaster. The cake didn’t rise, or rather it did rise in the oven and then collapsed while it cooled. Was my mother right about the noise after all? It still tasted good, but the texture was too dense and heavy.
I figured out the mystery this time. There were two cans of baking powder in my pantry: the fresh one, and one that was so old it had a sticker from Star Market in Massachusetts. We moved to Maine 12 years ago. This is why I should not bake anything more complicated than brownies from a mix. Still, this cake is so absolutely delicious, that it’s worth the effort. I baked it for my daughter's 12th birthday this month.
Sponge Cake Recipe (adapted from Meta Given)
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 tsp D.A. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
6 extra large eggs, separated
1/4 cup cold water
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp grated lemon rind, packed tight
Use 10 inch tube pan – do NOT grease. Start oven 10 mins before baking at 325 F.
Sift flour, measure, resift 3 times with baking powder, salt and 3/4 cup sugar. Put egg whites into a 4 qt. mixing bowl and set aside.
Put egg yolks into a large mixer bowl, add water and lemon juice then beat at medium speed until thick and spongy (see bubbles) in about 4-5 min. Without stopping beaters, add 3/4 of remaining sugar gradually and vanilla and beat until the mixture is again thick and spongy. Turn mixer to lowest speed and add flour in 4 portions, scraping sides and bottom of bowl constantly with rubber scraper. Beat until batter is just smooth. Now stop beating. Add lemon rind to yolk mixture.
With a rotary beater (or hand electric) quickly beat egg whites until stiff enough to form shiny peaks. Then beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar gradually until whites form shiny peaks that curve at tips (above photo.) With a rubber scraper, cut and fold yolk mixture into whites, lightly but thoroughly. Flow batter into pan.
Bake 1 hour at 325 F and then test: the cake springs back when touched lightly if done (usually 1 1/4 hours.)
Remove from oven and invert over large funnel or bottle. When just cooled (30-45 mins.) remove from pan. Serve with vanilla ice cream (Haagen Dazs is best) and fresh sliced strawberries.
Blog watch: It’s fun to connect with bloggers from far away. Sapphire in Japan blogged about a beautiful sculpture garden in Hakone and a horrible theft of a Henry Moore sculpture. The crime defies imagination both as to the means and the ends. Another newbie to my blog, Delwyn@a hazy moon posts gorgeous nature photos from Australia. Phoenix@Talking to Myself blogged about her new hometown of Delhi. Cynthia@Oasis Writing Link in Puerto Rico also gave us a tour of her hometown. Mama Shujaa revisited Nairobi, where she grew up. Globe trotting is so easy in cyberspace.
Helpline: Why Does my Sponge Cake Collapse?
- See Phillip's second comment below: inversion helps cake firm up as it may collapse when hot - do this until it cools.
- Along the same line, opening the oven too many times to check the cake will cool it and might make it collapse.
- You forgot to add a rising agent like baking powder/self-rising flour or it has expired.
- Not enough egg white. If using smaller, organic eggs, try adding 1 or 2 extra egg whites (not the yolks).
- Not beating the egg whites enough or letting them sit too long. Use an electric beater or enlist a helper if you get too tired. The whole prep should not take more than hour. Bake immediately. The cake can sit all day until you eat it.