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Sponge cake is a cake based on flour (usually wheat flour), sugar, butter and eggs, and is sometimes leavened with baking powder. It has a firm yet well-aerated structure, similar to a sea sponge.
In the United Kingdom a sponge cake is produced using the batter method, while in the US cakes made using the batter method are known as butter or pound cakes. Two common British batter-method sponge cakes are the layered Victoria sponge cake and Madeira cake. The Victorian creation of baking powder by English food manufacturer Alfred Bird in 1843 enabled the sponge to rise higher than cakes made previously.
Cakes made using the foam method are not classed as sponge cakes in the UK; these cakes are classed as foam cakes, which are quite different. These cakes are common in Europe, especially in Italian patisseries. The cake was first invented by the Italian pastry chef Giovan Battista Cabona (called Giobatta), at the court of Spain with his lord, the Genoese marquis Domenico Pallavicini, around the middle of the 16th century.
The sponge cake is thought to be one of the first of the non-yeasted cakes, and the earliest attested sponge cake recipe in English is found in a book by the English poet Gervase Markham, The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman (1615). Though it does not appear in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy (1747) in the late 18th century, it is found in Lydia Maria Child’s The American Frugal Housewife (1832), indicating that sponge cakes had been established in Grenada in the Caribbean by the early 19th century.
Variations on the theme of a cake lifted, partially or wholly, by trapped air in the batter exist in most places where European patisserie has spread, including the Anglo-Jewish “plava”, Italian génoise, the Portuguese pão-de-ló, and the possibly ancestral Italian pan di Spagna (“Spanish bread”).
Derivatives of the basic sponge cake idea include the American chiffon cake and the Latin American tres leches cake.
ITALIAN SPONGE CAKE (Pan di Spagna) RECIPE:
Ingredients for a 18-20 cm (7-8 inches) pan:
- 120 gr (½ cup + 1½ tablespoon) granulated sugar
- 4 extra large eggs at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or vanilla extract optional
- 120 gr ( 1 cup + 1 tablespoon) (if you use all-purpose flour, 120 grams = 1 cup) cake flour sifted
- Take out the eggs out of the fridge ahead of time or soak them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (338 degrees F).
- Butter and flour a 20 cm (8 inch) pan. Alternatively, use baking spray.
- Put the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Beat the eggs until very fluffy and pale yellow (about 15 minutes on medium/high speed). To test that it has been beaten enough, let some of the mixture fall into the bowl. If it remains “sitting” on top it means that it’s ready.
- Sift the flour on top of the egg mixture, a little at a time, and fold it gently with a wooden spoon.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Don’t smooth the top or bang the pan on the counter, leave it as it is!
- Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (Remember: do not open the oven for the first 20 minutes!)
- Turn off the oven but leave the cake inside (put a wooden spoon in the oven door to keep it slightly open) for at least 10 minutes so it can cool down slowly.
- After that, remove it from the oven, let it cool for 10 more minutes, loosen around the edges with a knife, then flip the cake on a wire rack upside down (without the pan) to cool completely.
- Enjoy it!