Also Known as Swiss Roll
What is Sponge Cake?
Sponge cake is one of the first non-yeasted cakes made in the world. To achieve its characteristic light texture, sponge cake uses whipped eggs instead of yeast. Baking powder and baking soda are also commonly used to add additional rise to these types of cakes. Such cakes are typically have very high volume and feature a light, airy texture.1
Sponge cakes are often used as the base of other desserts such as Swiss rolls and Tres Leches. Angel food cake and chiffon cake are also types of sponge cakes. Since the first recorded recipe of sponge cake, this dessert has spread all throughout Europe and the Western world.
Sponge cake is the descendant of a baked good that first appeared in Italy during the renaissance. Italian cooks baked “biscuits,” which spread through Italy, England and France. However, it was not until 1615 when the first sponge cake recipe was recorded by english poet and author Gervase Markham. Still, the cake was much more like a cookie: thin and crispy.
Sponge cakes became the cake recognized today when bakers started using beaten eggs as a rising agent in the mid 18th century. Often the batter was poured into elaborate molds, but also into two tin hoops – the precursor to modern cake pans.
Sponge cakes are considered a difficult type of cake to make. This is because sponge cakes require more attention and care than most other types. The ingredients are simple: flour, eggs, sugar, and sometimes baking powder. Sponge cakes are typically sans butter, though French Genoise is a derivative of sponge cake that does include butter.
There are several considerations to account for before starting a sponge cake. First is temperature. The ingredients should be at room temperature, and the eggs should be warm. This is because eggs that are whipped while they are warmer will incorporate more air. Also, the batter must be used immediately, so have the pans already lined with parchment paper. Baking times are also sensitive, because if it is not baked long enough, sponge cake will collapse, making it dense and unappealing. Lastly, if the cake is not cooled properly, it will collapse, and be similar to if it were under baked.2
There are two basic methods for making sponge cake:
1. The battered method involves mixing sugar with whole eggs. Flour is then sifted into this mixture, often times with baking powder. This produces a slightly more dense cake than the foam method.
2. The foam method separates and whips the egg whites separately from the egg yolks. The whites are then folded back into the mixture in stages. This method usually does not have baking powder, though there are variations, which call for this addition. In either method, the batter is poured into pans lined with parchment paper and baked until completely set.
There are many variations and uses for sponge cake. Some common variations include angel food cake, which has only egg whites in the mixture. This procedure is also used to make ladyfingers, which serve as the base for tiramisu. Given the mild flavor of sponge cake, it is extremely versatile and often paired with fruits, jams, creams, nuts, and chocolate. It is also frequently soaked in simple syrups and alcohols because it is strong enough to maintain shape and texture. Sponge cake is also flexible when it is still warm out of the oven. Because of this, Swiss rolls and other rolled cakes usually feature sponge cake as their base.
1. Manay, N. Shakuntala., and M. Shadaksharaswamy. Foods: Facts and Principles. New Delhi: New Age International, 1995.
2.Tanaka, Hajime. “Viscoelastic Phase Separation in Soft Matter and Foods.” Faraday Discuss. Faraday Discussions 158 (2012): 371.