A whisked sponge boasts the most delicate texture of all cakes and can reflect the mark of a good cook. Indeed, it was sponge cakes that saved the day for cooks who entered the Royal Easter Show in 1948. According to a snippet in The Adelaide Advertiser on 25 March 1948, due to the less than perfect standard of entries the cookery section judges concluded that women were ‘poor cooks’ .
The writer noted that on scones the verdict was that 'the entries were terrible'. On light fruit cakes there were 'no entries worth consideration for any of the prizes'. And on dark fruit cakes 'no entry considered of high enough standard to be worthy of the first prize award'. Lordy! Apparently, 'the only ray of hope was in the sponge cake section, where the entries received high praise from the judges'.
There are some golden rules to baking feather light sponge cakes of show quality. I learned this from a colleague — a no-frills, no-nonsense woman keen on hockey tournaments, who (to the huge surprise of her work mates) also happened to be a closet baker of Blue Ribbon sponge cakes. She explained that it is essential to aerate the eggs and sugar by beating the mixture for up to ten minutes. Hence a stand mixer plays a major part in the process. Fresh eggs at room temperature are an absolute must, and getting the oven temperature spot-on is also important.
Personally, I bake for the pure pleasure of baking and sharing the results with those I love, but if you are toying with the idea of entering sponge cakes into a show, then keep in mind these tips:
Sponge cake recipes vary from cook to cook and generation to generation. Tracing Australia’s gastronomic heritage in her book Bold Palates, renowned food historian, Barbara Santich, notes that 'cookbooks at the turn of the century listed only three, four or five recipes for sponge cakes, whereas by 1937 The Coronation Cookbook included 14'. Ms Santich also mentions a Passionfruit Sandwich Cake (a basic sponge cake with passionfruit filling and passionfruit icing) that featured in Miss Futter’s Australian Home Cookery in 1922.
The recipe I’m sharing with you is an old fashioned style of sponge cake, reminiscent of country cottages with rambling gardens, heirloom china and shabby chic furnishings. It’s baked with fresh eggs, melted butter, warm milk and a dash of custard powder; then filled with whipped cream and topped with lip-smacking passionfruit icing. A colleague shared the receipt with me many years ago and to this day I am grateful. Here is my adaptation, which has become a firm favourite at our place with visitors and family alike.
NOUGAT PASSIONFRUIT SPONGE
4 free range eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup / 165g vanilla infused raw caster sugar
1 cup / 110g self raising flour
1 tablespoon custard powder
1 teaspoon unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons warm milk
extra butter, for greasing the pans
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
6 tablespoons pure icing sugar
pulp and juice of three passionfruit
¾ cup lightly sweetened whipped cream
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease two 18cm* sandwich pans with unsalted butter. Separate the egg whites from the yolks. In a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff, then gradually beat in the caster sugar until the sugar has dissolved; and then the egg yolks, one at a time, beating briefly after each addition.
Combine the flour and custard powder in bowl and run a balloon whisk through the mixture, breaking up any lumps (or use a sifter). Gently and slowly fold this through the egg and sugar mixture (taking care not to beat out all the air), then fold in the melted butter and warm milk.
Pour into the two greased pans. If there are any air bubbles at the top of the batter, tap the cake pan on a counter three or four times. Bake for 20 minutes on the centre shelf of the oven until the sponge cakes are golden brown and spring back when gently touched. Turn out immediately onto cooling racks lined with baking paper or clean tea towels. Handle the cakes with care, as at this point their souffle like texture can settle and shrink quickly. When the cakes are cool, fill with slightly sweetened whipped cream and assemble. Spread the passionfruit icing over the top.
To make the icing, combine the ingredients in a small bowl, beat until smooth and then chill in a blast chiller or pop into the freezer to allow the mixture to set slightly. Smooth the icing over the top of the cake.
*Note: I sometimes use two 22cm pans, as I prefer a lower rise sponge cake. Standard Australian weights and measures are used in my recipes.
A whisked sponge boasts the most delicate texture of all cakes...
This post also appeared as two guest posts on live with ilve.
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Tell me, have you ever entered your baked goods or home preserves into a competition at a show? Did you win?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.