You’ve probably heard it before. Maybe you’ve said it to yourself about sponge cakes: “My cake didn’t rise a bit. It was one big gooey mess. Dense and tasteless. It rose in the oven only to fall flat as soon as I took it out. I’ll never bake another sponge cake again, never ever!”
Sounds familiar? It definitely does to me. These were the cries of my heart at one point in my life. You see, for a very long time, I failed at making sponge cakes. They just weren’t right. Not like the sponge cake of my childhood favorite, Naghil Tortu (Cake “Fairy Tale”) that sold in Baku in Soviet times – soft and fluffy, perfectly and equally tall on all sides. My recipes didn’t give me that.
So, I a few years ago I turned to my baking bible, William-Sonoma baking book, for advice. The advice the book gave me was a great one – stop wasting your time on your poorly and unprofessionally written recipes from your ancient notebook and follow the recipe for a perfect class sponge cake written by professionals. Brilliant advice. How did I not think of that before? So I did follow the advice. My sponge cakes have been great ever since. I now can make my own naghil.
Classic Sponge Cake
Adapted from Essentials of Baking, Williams-Sonoma
The original recipe calls for 4 eggs and 3/4 cup each cake flour and sugar. I have increased the amounts of eggs to 5 and of flour and sugar to 1 cup. It yielded a higher cake. Plus, in this way, the recipe is easier to remember. My new sponge cake baking rule: 5-1-1 and the cake is done:) Easy to remember, no?
1 cup cake flour*
5 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch (23-cm) round cake pan. Line the bottom with a circle of parchment (baking) paper cut to fit. Butter the paper and dust the bottom and sides of the pan with flour. Shake and tilt to remove the excess flour.
Sift the flour onto a sheet of parchment paper or onto a plate. Set aside.
In a large, deep bowl, combine the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar. Using a sturdy wire whisk or a hand mixer, beat vigorously until the mixture is light in color and thick, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the vanilla. Set aside.
In a large bowl, using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment or a hand mixer, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they form soft peaks and have tripled in volume. Slowly pour in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat until the whites are stiff and glossy. You should be able to hold the bowl upside down without the whites falling out (Farida: This is a great tip – make sure you try it!). Be careful not to overwhip the whites, or they will be dry.
Using a rubber spatula, gently but quickly fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the yolk-sugar mixture. Fold in one-half of the flour. Fold in the another third of the whites, followed by the remaining flour. Finally, fold in the remaining whites until the batter is smooth. Be careful not to overfold, or the eggs will deflate and the batter will lose its volume.
Pour the batter into the cake pan and smoothen the top. Bake until it springs back when lightly touched with a fingertip or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven.
Immediately run a small, think knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake, pressing the knife against the pan to avoid gouging the cake. Place a wire rack on top of the cake and invert them together. Carefully lift off the parchment paper. Turn the cake back over onto the rack and let cool completely.
Use the cake immediately, or wrap well and store at room temperature for up to 2 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
* You can make your own cake flour with only 2 ingredients: all-purpose flour and cornstarch. Measure how much flour you’ll need. In this recipe, it is 1 cup. Take out 2 tablespoons of the flour and put back in your flour bag. Replace the 2 tablespoons of flour that you took out with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Now, stir the flour and the cornstarch together and sift at least 5 times. This will allow for the cornstarch to mix well with the flour. The more you sift the lighter and fluffier your cake flour and therefore, your cake will be. Your 1 cup cake flour is now ready.