With strawberry season once again upon us, I’ve been dreaming about a simple vanilla sponge cake sandwiched with freshly whipped cream and strawberry jam, topped with juicy strawberries and a sprinkling of icing sugar. I’ve just enjoyed my first slice and can confirm it is as tasty as I had imagined it would be.
Frustratingly, this isn’t my most favourite sponge cake recipe. I had a job trying to find it yesterday searching through all my recipes as it’s been a while since I made it and no luck I’m afraid. I’ll continue searching. A few of them called for self raising flour but I think that’s cheating a little. The trick with a sponge cake is to incorporate as much air as you can which makes it rise beautifully and it should have a light, even, almost sponge-like texture – hence the name. It certainly shouldn’t be a dense cake and is therefore not wisely used for modelling cakes with heavy icing or decorations as the texture is simply too light to support all of that.
Many bakers first learn the art of baking with a simple sponge recipe. The butter is creamed until light and fluffy when the sugar is added. They are creamed together until the butter is pale in colour and has almost doubled in volume. Beaten eggs are then added but here’s where it gets tricky. You want to beat in more air while adding the eggs, but over-beating the eggs can cause the mixture to become tough. It is also a good idea to sieve the flour a few times to get as much air between the particles as possible. I sieved it three times for this cake but I used plain flour and added baking powder.
When it’s time to add the flour, remove the bowl from the mixer and fold through a third of the flour at a time using a large metal spoon. A wooden spoon is definitely not advisable as it won’t gently slide between the incorporated air particles. It will be squashing out any air and you might as well then have used your beater for all the good that will do. If I find the mixture a little dry, I add a couple of tablespoons of room temperature milk until the mixture is what we call a “dropping consistency”, meaning that it gently plops off the spoon back into the bowl if you tap the spoon on the edge of the bowl. You don’t want a runny mixture.
Another secret to the perfect sponge cake is to work quickly. Have all ingredients at room temperature and preferably measured out before you begin. The oven should be at the correct temperature and the tins greased and lined ready for the mixture. The cake is baked in the centre of the oven and if you divide the mixture between two 20 cm cake tins, I find it is ready between 17 and 20 minutes, but each oven is different so check by inserting a cake tester into the centre and if it comes out clean then it’s done, or you could press your finger gently on the top and if it springs back up then it’s done. If it stays indented then leave it for another minute or so. Another visual clue is that the cake pulls away from the edge of the tin but if you take too long checking all these things, it might overcook and then be dry. As I said, this isn’t my lightest and most preferred sponge recipe but as a beginner cake, it works well and is delicious enough. I’ll keep digging for the other one and post as soon as I can.
If you don’t have fresh strawberries, then blueberries or raspberries work just as well. I like to match the jam with the berry, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.
The cream whips best if it’s also been allowed to come to room temperature and should be whipped until the stiff peak stage so it can hold the weight of the second layer.
Give it a try, I’d love to know what you think. Or perhaps you have your own favourite sponge recipe you’d like to share.