Beyond the Basics: The Science of Sponge Cake

Beyond the Basics is back and today we’re tackling a sponge cake!  When we had our last installment, I threw out the question asking you all if there were any specific topics you’d like to learn about.  My friend Sarah over at Mum in Bloom spoke up and asked:

“Please help me master the art of making a sponge cake! Again and again mine don’t rise :( Is Angel Food Cake easier? Are they the same thing?”

Well, Sarah, I’ve grabbed my handy dandy books, researched the differences and science behind baking a successful sponge cake, and I’m here to rescue you from your falling sponge!

Let’s start with the basic question; What is a sponge cake?

A sponge cake is considered to be a type of foam cake.  They have no chemical leaveners and hence rely completely on the air that you whip into the eggs in order for them to rise properly.   Some examples of different types of foam cakes you can make include:

To answer the question of the difference between an Angel Food Cake and a Sponge cake, an angel food cake requires the use of only the egg whites and is considered a fat free cake, whereas the sponge cake uses egg yolks and hence has a low level of fat to it.

Tip number 1: When making an Angel Food Cake, cool the cake upside down (open end down) and leave the sides of the pan ungreased as the cake needs to cling to the pan when baking in order to rise.  If you grease the pan, you stand a good chance of inhibiting the rise.  If your pan doesn’t have feet, consider placing it either on a bottle or a small oven grate to elevate it a bit off the counter as it cools.

Ok, let’s get started with the baking of the sponge and I’ll add in tips and tricks as we go along.

This recipe was taken from Baking Boot Camp

Ingredients Needed:

2 Cups of Cake Flour
6 Tbsp of Butter
1 Tbsp of Vanilla Extract
11/4 Cups of Sugar
5 Large Eggs
5 Large Egg Yolks

The first thing you want to do is grease up your two pans and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Tip Number Two: When baking a sponge cake, never grease the pans with butter, always use shortening.  Butter has a high water content which can make the cakes soggy.

Grab your flour and a sifter and sift your flour not once, but twice.  The reason for this is two fold.  One, you want to break up any extra lumps that might be in your flour, and two, you want to incorporate air into your flour.  Here’s my flour before sifting:

And here’s my flour after my double sift:

Now you’re going to set the flour aside and grab your butter and vanilla.  Melt the butter on low heat in a small sauce pan.

When the butter’s melted, remove the pan from the heat and stir in your vanilla.

Now it’s time to get to the fun part.  This is where the true sponge makers are made.  It’s the part that will determine whether you succeed or fail.  The defining moment.  What?  Get back to the recipe you say? Alright, alright.  We’re back at it…. well we’re back at it in one minute that is.  First I want to take a quick time out to explain the different ways that we can get air into our eggs.

There are three different methods for foaming eggs; cold foaming, warm foaming, and separation foaming.  I’ll give a brief explanation of each one below.

  • Cold Foaming – This is the method whereby sugar and eggs are added to a mixer and whipped up at a high speed until they obtain maximum volume.  Once they hit maximum volume they are turned down to medium speed and whipped a few minutes longer before folding in the flour by hand.
  • Warm Foaming – For warm foaming, you whisk your eggs and sugar together over a hot water bath until the temperature of your egg mixture hits 110 degrees.  Then you transfer it over to an electric mixer and beat it up until it hits maximum volume.
  • The advantages to warm foaming are that your eggs will reach a greater volume than with cold foaming and the heat will make your egg mixture more stable, running you a lower risk of collapse.  This is the method we’ll be using for our sponge cake.
  • Separation Foaming -  In this method, the yolks are separated from the whites.  A third of the sugar is added to the yolks and they are beaten until doubled in volume.  Then the eggs whites are beaten until they have soft peaks.  The remaining sugar is beaten into the egg whites until a meringue forms.  Finally the two foams are folded into each other.  This method yields the highest egg volume of the three.

For our recipe, we’ll be using the warm foaming method.  If you have a kitchenaid mixer, grab the bowl from it and add to it your sugar, eggs, and egg yolks.

Now, grab your saucepan, fill it up an inch or two with water, turn the heat on medium high and find some sort of stand to put over it so you can place your eggs on top.  Here’s the get-up I put together:

Now, while your water is heating up, grab a thermometer and attach it to the mixing bowl with your eggs.

Ok, here we go.  Set your bowl on top of the hot water and start whisking.  You want to whisk constantly until the temperature of the eggs hits 110 degrees.  Don’t stop or your eggs run the risk of cooking.  I’ll warn ya, it took a good 15 minutes for my eggs to hit 110 degrees and my arms were screaming by the time I was done.  It’ll be worth it though, I promise!

Here’s mine telling me they’re at 110 and they need to be removed.

Ok, take your bowl with the hot eggs and attach it to your mixer.  Turn the speed on medium and let them foam until about 3 times in size.  I let mine run for about 5 to 7 minutes.

Tip Number 3: If you beat the eggs for too long on high or low speed, you can collapse the air from them.  However, if you beat the eggs on medium speed you can beat indefinitely and never have your eggs collapse!

Here are my eggs after getting a sufficient beating.

Remember that flour you sifted twice?  Now’s the time to get it.  If you really want to get professional you can sift it into your eggs.  But if you’re not up for a third sift, it will be just fine to fold the whole shebang in all at once.  Fold carefully, being sure that you incorporate the flour completely.  Here’s where we’re at now:

Alright, now let’s step over to that saucepan of butter and vanilla.  Grab a small cupful of your batter and drop it into your butter.  Mix it up well.

Take that mixture and put it back into your batter.

Now fold it all together one last time, being careful not to release too much of the air. Pour your batter into the two prepared cake pans.

And last but not least, cook ‘em up in an oven preheated to 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

And was all our hard work worth it?  You tell me.

I’m heading out of town to Ocean City for the week so I’m bring this beauty with me and frosting it when I get there.  I’ll be sure to share the final result here once I finish it!

A special thanks to Sarah over at Mum in Bloom for offering up her suggestion for Beyond the Basics.  If you have an ingredient you’d like to know more about, a baking process that stumps you, or any other “why do we do that” or “how does it work” question you’d like to have answered, let me know below in the comments and I’ll jump right in!

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Sponge Cake

This recipe was taken from Baking Boot Camp

Ingredients:

2 Cups of Cake Flour
6 Tbsp of Butter
1 Tbsp of Vanilla Extract
11/4 Cups of Sugar
5 Large Eggs
5 Large Egg Yolks

Directions:

The first thing you want to do is grease up your two pans and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Grab your flour and a sifter and sift your flour not once, but twice.

Set the flour aside and grab your butter and vanilla. Melt the butter on low heat in a small sauce pan.

When the butter's melted, remove the pan from the heat and stir in your vanilla.

If you have a kitchenaid mixer, grab the bowl from it and add to it your sugar, eggs, and egg yolks.

Grab your saucepan, fill it up an inch or two with water, turn the heat on medium high and find some sort of stand to put over it so you can place your eggs on top.

While your water is heating up, grab a thermometer and attach it to the mixing bowl with your eggs.

Set your bowl on top of the hot water and start whisking. You want to whisk constantly until the temperature of the eggs hits 110 degrees. Don't stop or your eggs run the risk of cooking.

Take your bowl with the hot eggs and attach it to your mixer. Turn the speed on medium and let them foam until about 3 times in size.

Grab the flour and fold in carefully, being sure that you incorporate the flour completely.

Grab a small cupful of your batter and drop it into your butter. Mix it up well.

Take that mixture and put it back into your batter.

Now fold it all together one last time, being careful not to release too much of the air. Pour your batter into the two prepared cake pans.

Cook up in an oven preheated to 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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29 Responses to “Beyond the Basics: The Science of Sponge Cake”

  1. 1

    Sage — August 3, 2010 @ 5:58 am

    Thank you so much Julie. I took a course years ago where they taught different techniques; your direcitons by far supasses that lesson Bravo!
    Not easy to get a perfect sponge cake.
    Rita

  2. 2

    A SPICY PERSPECTIVE — August 3, 2010 @ 8:46 am

    Wonderful post! You make it sound manageable–and the recipe looks like a delightful basic cake recipe!

  3. 3

    Sarah @ Mum In Bloom — August 3, 2010 @ 8:54 am

    Julie you are truely a Goddess of baking! After reading your post I realize I did about a million things wrong when I made my last sponge cake. I whipped too high, didn't sift my flour enough, used butter to grease my pans, and so many more mistakes. Your instructions are thorough and well written. I think I'm brave enough now to try again – eeeek! – and I'll link back my results.

    Ahh.. we love love Ocean City but have only ever been there when it's cold. Sounds funny, eh? It's still great but I'd love to go there in the summer sometime :)

  4. 4

    Lea Ann — August 3, 2010 @ 10:05 am

    Beautiful Job! I made an angel food cake once and it was pretty darn easy and turned out really nice. I suppose I would be up for attempting this. I'll be anxious to hear your followup review once it's frosted and sliced.

  5. 5

    Chef Dennis — August 3, 2010 @ 10:51 am

    great post Julie!!
    those step by step pictures and instructions are so helpful….I am a very visual person and seeing it really helps….thanks for the inspiration!

  6. 6

    Lazaro Cooks! — August 3, 2010 @ 12:12 pm

    You have the science of making a sponge cake down. Fantastic post with great photo, clear instruction and a solid recipe.

    Bravo!

  7. 7

    Ma What's 4 dinner — August 3, 2010 @ 2:58 pm

    I love that you're doing this series!!! I'm so glad that you have the patience for all that research. You're awesome!!!!

    Lots of yummy love,
    Alex aka Ma What's For Dinner
    http://www.mawhats4dinner.com

  8. 8

    Monet — August 3, 2010 @ 4:19 pm

    Julie,
    I'm bookmarking this page for any time I attempt to make a sponge cake. This was by far one of the most informative and practical posts I've read in a while! I especially appreciated the tips about greasing the pan…I would have never thought to not grease an angel food cake pan…thank you!

  9. 9

    Melissa B. — August 3, 2010 @ 8:41 pm

    You know, I think I've gained 10 pounds since becoming bloggy friends with you. Are you headed for Ocean City, MD? That's in my neck o' the woods!

  10. 10

    Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds — August 3, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

    You are a wizard!

  11. 11

    Maranda — August 3, 2010 @ 11:02 pm

    So amazing! I love all the research and work you put into this. I'm loving this series.

    If you ever get a chance to do a "wet cake" I'd be thankful. For some reason wet cakes, like tres leches cake, never work for me! They never soak up all the milk. I've made 2 tres leches cakes (different ingredients) and another wet cake and both of them were dry in many places and didn't grab the milk.

  12. 12

    Chow and Chatter — August 3, 2010 @ 11:58 pm

    great post my Grandma would be proud of u

  13. 13

    grace — August 4, 2010 @ 7:12 am

    what a helpful (and insanely delicious) post–thanks julie! for me, sponge cake is very important–trifles and tiramisu simply aren't the same without it! :)

  14. 14

    anniebakes — August 5, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

    great post!!

    anne
    http://www.anniebakes.net

  15. 15

    M @ Betty Crapper — August 10, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to explaining the how and why. I love it.

  16. 16

    Ingrid — August 17, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

    I started to read this post three times and finally got to finish! Thanks for the tips. They will come in handy.
    ~ingrid

  17. 17

    OMG! Yummy — August 23, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

    Thanks Julie – this does help. I didn’t know about not greasing the sides so the cake can be held up. I did put it upside down after cooking. Another factor – I always make it at Passover when I can’t use flour – I have to use ground up matzo meal. So I should try your recipe and see how it comes out with your tips and then see what happens when I am restricted to not use flour. Could be that’s also part of the x-factor. However the recipe I use is from a great Jewish baking cookbook so I suspect it’s me and my technique, not the ingredients :-) . Really interesting tutorial about the different way to beat the eggs. The recipe I use calls for separation and separate beating with sugar as you mentioned.

  18. 18

    Sunday — August 26, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

    Well, thanks to you and your amazing blog I now want cake. I really like how you describe each step beautifully and make it look like any of us novices can do it.

    Plus, your photos are outstanding!

    Congrats on your SITS Girl in the Spotlight Status!

  19. 19

    Charlotte — August 27, 2010 @ 11:49 am

    I love easy, step-by-step, fool-proof instructions. This looks delicious. Thanks for sharing and congrats on being featured over at SITS!

  20. 20

    Jenn — August 27, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

    Wow those are beautiful!! That is one cake I have never been able to perfect!! =)
    not that I try hard b/c I don’t like to make things that I am not good at… =)
    stopping by from SITS =)

  21. 21

    Andrea — September 14, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

    Great tutorial! Thanks for sharing!

  22. 22

    Short Stack Toffee Torte…. | Mommie Cooks! — October 27, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

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  23. 23

    sharee — December 13, 2010 @ 11:13 am

    hi,im new on ur site. I would like to ask,how can i know if my egg mixture hits 110 degrees since i dont have a thermometer?will i just touch and feel if the sugar have fully dissolved.? wow thank you for ur great,very informative site!!

  24. 24

    Helena — June 13, 2011 @ 1:08 am

    Great post. Luv luv love the fabulous tips. Never heard about the cold, warm and seperate foaming techniques. I also love the tip about the egg temperature being 110°. Thanks a million. God bless.

  25. 25

    Carmen — December 7, 2011 @ 12:52 am

    Thank you so much, Julie. I was looking up the science of sponge cakes in preparation for tweaking my own schwarzwalder kirschtorte recipe, and your article really put things in perspective! I really love that you take the time to explain the principles behind your techniques. It is so frustrating hearing people offer advice about cooking without really knowing what they are talking about.

    I was wondering about the use of baking powder with egg stabilization. I know that the sugar helps, but would baking power also help, not really do anything at all, or would it be a hindrance to stabilizing the eggs in the recipe? Or do the different types of preparations of the eggs eliminate the need for baking powder? I know this article is over a year old, but I would love to hear your advice on the matter.

    Cheers!

  26. 26

    Julie Weyde — February 14, 2012 @ 7:38 am

    Hi! I’m a college student in Norway, studying Food, culture and health, and find this post very interesting! We are now doing a project where we are testing some kitchen stories, like ”if you grease the side of the cake pan, the sugar bread (sponge cake) will easier collapse”. In addition to the experimenting, we try to find theories that explains the results, or explains the opposite. But its not easy to find good explanations of why people do what they do at the kitchen. This post actually contains both of our stories, the one above and ”if you whip eggs above hot steam (warm foaming), the foam will get a higher volume and become thicker”. It would be very useful to hear if you have any reference to what you are writing here (both the warm foaming and the use of grease (butter/shortening)), eventually if it only is your experience. Thank you for a useful post. Julie – Norway

  27. 27

    Norma — March 20, 2013 @ 10:37 pm

    Hello! How much flour do I have to subtract and how much cocoa powder do I add if I want to make a chocolate sponge cake?
    Would appreciate a reply.
    Thank you and happy baking everyone! ;-)

  28. 28

    Lemony Butter Sponge Cake « Sweet Jealousy — May 16, 2013 @ 8:31 pm

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  29. 29

    Majd Kouaider — October 25, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

    Wonderful recipe….. can it work with no baking powder/soda added??!

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