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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.

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!

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.