A Cake by Any Other Name
Sponge cakes are European-style cakes, like the French génoise (zhehn-WAHZ). Unlike butter cakes and chiffon cakes, sponge cakes include little fat other than what's in the egg yolks.
Because of their low fat content, homemade sponge cakes won't resemble a moist, cream-filled snack cake. But soaked with simple syrup and flavorings, they are delectable. Sponge cakes also require some special treatment.
They're best made with an electric mixer--preferably a stand mixer, so your hands are free.
- Have all of your ingredients measured and sifted and ready to go in separate bowls (you'll need plenty of counter space and equipment to make a sponge).
- For accuracy, use a scale if you have one.
- Your cake pans should be greased and lined with parchment, and your oven preheated: sponge cake batter waits for no one.
Warming the Eggs
Warmed eggs hold more air and create more volume when they're whipped than cold eggs.
Use a stainless steel bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Sugar has an insulating effect, and helps protect the eggs from coagulating over the heat. Add a few tablespoons of the sugar from the recipe into your egg whites, and whisk it in.
Keep whisking the eggs while you heat them, testing now and then with your fingertip until they feel warm to the touch.
When the egg whites (or yolks--whatever you're heating) are warm, transfer them to your mixing bowl and whip until medium-stiff peaks form.
Hot milk sponge cakes use scalded milk to warm the eggs.
Folding in Ingredients
Stop beating the egg whites just when stiff peaks form: you don't want them to appear dry. Perfectly beaten egg whites will fold into batter without breaking apart into white flecks and islands, and the air bubbles will still expand in the oven.
Use the "one-third, two-thirds" method for folding in egg whites:
- Add one-third of the beaten egg whites into the bowl of thick batter.
- Use a balloon whisk--one of the big bulbous ones--for best results, stirring gently until the ingredients are incorporated and the batter is lightened. (A rubber spatula, plastic bowl scraper, or even your hands also work well.)
- Add the remaining egg whites to the batter, gently folding with smooth strokes through the center of the bowl, around the sides, and lifting through the center again, repeating until batter is smooth.
- Immediately divide batter into prepared pans, smoothing the surface if necessary, and transfer them to the hot oven.
- Bake as directed.