Monday, April 22, 2013

An American Version of Victorian Sponge Cake

Okay... not surprisingly  I follow a lot of blogs and FB pages specifically related to cake, cookies and cake decorating.  On the UK sites, there are numerous references to their "sponge" cake.  It became apparent to me that the there was a standard "sponge" recipe in the UK.  This standard is to weigh your eggs (in the shell) and use equal parts butter, sugar, self-raising flour (that's what they call it in the UK!), plus whatever flavoring you desire.  I found this quite fascinating as I prefer to bake by weight.  To have a recipe so simple.... so easy to increase or decrease, was crazy exciting to me.  So... off I began to try this sponge cake.

First attempt... kind of fail.  The recipe I found called for folding the sifted flour into the sugar, butter, egg mixture.  I found the texture very crumbly and not unlike cornbread.  The taste was marginally okay, but I thought it was most likely due to the off-putting texture.

Second attempt... still kind of a fail.  I beat the flour into the butter, sugar, egg mixture but the texture was still off and it seemed a bit too salty.  Plus, on both attempts the sides of the cakes rose quite a bit while the middle did not... ?????? could not figure that one out.

2nd attempt at Victorian Sponge... texture was still to course and crumbly for my liking.  

I scoured the web in search of how US ingredients might differ from UK ingredients.  I focused mainly on the flour as it seemed to be the most likely culprit to have more variation than, say, eggs, sugar or butter.

I never found a precise explanation of the difference between UK "self-raising" flour and the US "self rising" flour.  Some indicated the leavening agents could be different as in either baking soda or baking powder, not to mention the quantity of the leavening agent.  Some indicated no salt in the UK version vs. salt in the US version.  Since I think a bit of salt is imperative in baking, I really wasn't interested in leaving that out.

So, finally, my third attempt.  SUCCESS!  I measured my eggs... 4 to be exact, which weight 8.3 ounces in the shell.  So, in accordance with the traditional sponge recipe, I used 8.3 ounces of butter... 8.3 ounces of sugar...  for the flour, I did use 8.3 ounces. HOWEVER, I used half self rising flour (4.15 ounces) and half All Purpose Flour (4.15 ounces).

Okay... so obviously this "sandwich" is much smaller than the first one, but I got so carried away eating the cake, that I forgot to make the sandwich for a photo!  But can't you see the difference in the texture of  the cake?  

METHOD:  I creamed the butter and sugar... a LOT... I added the eggs (one at a time, of course) and then whipped the heck out of it to incorporate as much air as possible before adding the flour.  Finally, I dumped all of the flour into the mixture of sugar, butter and eggs.  After the flour was incorporated, I beat it on medium-high for about a minute or so.

I did make one variation in my third attempt... since I had an order coming up for a small lemon cake, I decided to go ahead and make this sponge cake lemon.  I mean, after all, if it turned out well then I had baked the cake for that order, right?  I also made enough batter to make 4 - six inch pans.  If it turned out well, I had three rounds for my cake order, plus one to taste.  To make it lemon, I added 4 TBSP of fresh squeezed lemon juice and about 1 tsp lemon extract.

This cake turned out oh so incredibly awesome!  Light, moist, perfect crumb, melt-in-your mouth delicious!

My only question/concern at this point is how much did the addition of 4 TBSP liquid alter the result?  I have to think it could not have been by much.  However, if the addition of liquid is necessary, I can equate that addition to "1-TBSP liquid per egg"... easy, peasy conversion, right?
Plus, another point of interest is that it seems that for every egg you use, you will have enough batter for a 6-inch round cake pan.  This will make a single layer... not a super high/thick layer but the perfect height for a single layer of cake (IMHO)....

So there you have it... my success with an American version of the traditional UK Victorian Sponge cake.  They traditionally layer this cakes with jam and either ice with whipping cream or dust with powdered sugar.  

DISCLAIMER!  To any of my readers who are from the UK... I, in no way, consider myself an expert on the Victorian Sponge!  It just came up so regularly that I was intrigued.... If I have misrepresented the recipe in any way, please feel free to comment and let me know.  I still have no idea how my version compares to that in the UK, but I am very pleased with my final result.  My hats off to you all for having a recipe so simple, yet so delicious, and oh so easy to increase or decrease!  BRAVO!

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