Blog,  In the Kitchen

Determined to Master: Sponge Cakes

As a child and teen I attended country ‘do’s’ and dances, at each of these events the tables would groan with home baked goodies carried in by the farmer’s wives. Caramel, chocolate and jam slices, scones with jam and cream, a variety of cakes, layered sponge cakes, goodies upon more goodies.  

My brother and I spent many holiday’s at our Great Uncle and Aunty’s dairy farm, Uncle would rise early to milk the cows and we’d help. We were back at the house by 8 o’clock eating breakfast on a pretty tablecloth, jam in glass dishes and creamy milk in pretty jugs, our Aunty certainly had the knack. Ah and the morning and afternoon teas, scones with jam and clotted cream, golden pikelets sprinkled with sugar, homemade biscuits and huge slabs of sponge cakes!  Our holidays were a wonderfully endless round of milking, horseback riding and eating, for two children whose mother believed fruit was healthier than baked goodies (she was correct) we were feasting royally indeed.

My Dad’s family were farmers and farmer’s wives can all bake, (at least that’s how it appeared to a child, as a women I’m not so sure) my Grandmother baked mulberry pies and Christmas puddings and other goodies. As I come from a long line of farming women one would assume baking would just be something I’d know, sadly it is not so, perhaps one needs to grow up on a farm to imbibe this knowledge, or certainly to be hanging around farming women.  My friends and I do excitedly discuss all things cooking and baking but ours tends to be more of the nature of gluten free baking, sourdough breads, fermented foods, good fats, and healthy sugar options, all wonderful knowledge but deep down I would still love to be able to bake like the farming women of my childhood.

When we were first married I was determined to master bread making, I baked so many duds PC dubbed them bricks and joked I was rivaling our village’s local brickworks.  Eventually after much perseverance I finally managed to master bread making.  I christened this ‘The Year of the Bread’.

Fast forward to several years later and I was then determined to master scone making, my many duds this time became affectionately known as hockey pucks. I tried many ‘no fail’ recipes to no avail, eventually my friend Deanne took me step by step through the process and finally I had arrived!:) Instead of rolling my dough out I now just press and cut and always am successful. This became christened ‘The Year of the Scone’.

Jelly Bean (10) has been expressing a desire to bake more and last week I suggested we try lamingtons.  First step for lamingtons involves making a sponge cake and that is were I met my ‘Waterloo’.  Our first attempt resulted in a rubber ‘cake’, our second attempt was a slight improvement in texture but it certainly lacks height and tastes like a five day old cake. I’m sure the ‘folding in’ is where I’m going wrong but just what am I meant to be doing!? There are so many contradictory suggestions on just how to make the perfect sponge cake; some say the secret is the oven temperature, others say the order of ingredients, other recipes call for throwing all ingredients in together.  

Have any of my readers mastered the sponge cake? Bring on your recipes, tips and suggestions. 
By golly I’m determined this will be ‘The Year of the Sponge’.

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  • Sharyn

    Tips from some of my books:
    Sift it. Even though it says triple sifted on the packet sift it again.
    Room temp ingredients.
    Use castor sugar. I'm often tempted to use whatever is on hand when I bake and will often use regular sugar even though the recipe calls for castor if I don't have it, but this is one time to run out and get the castor sugar.
    Take time to add that sugar. I always want to ditch it in. Restraint is necessary. Sugar added too quickly will deflate the mix.
    Once you add the yolks to the mix, mix to combine, don't overbeat.
    Use a metal spoon or knife to fold in the flour. One book says a figure of 8 movement, another just what I would call folding.

    Your oven can make a difference. I remember when we moved one time and the cakes I made in that oven turned out nicer than the place before.

    I've been trying for many years to make pastry like my Grandma makes it, but so far no success. She doesn't use a recipe, just knows the quantities. I've tried using lard. I thought that might be the key. It must be the proportions plus something else.

    I was surprised how recent the idea of uniform measurements in recipes is. My Grandma has given me some some old family recipes and measurements are listed like, a small cup of flour.

    I did work out her secret to nice mashed spuds though. Heat them on the stove for a bit on low after you've mashed them. She didn't even realise this was the secret herself but then I realised one time that she had an old wood cooker and that she'd put the pot to one side to keep warm which causes a flavor change. I was interested to read an Irish cookbook one time which recommends doing just that, heating them a bit after mashing.

    Well I hope this will be the year of the sponge for you. Just tell me if it is also the year of the jam sponge roll because I need some help there.

  • Sarah

    Ok, here is the easiest most fail safe sponge recipe I've ever come across!

    It's an all in one recipe which I was very dubious about at first but I promise you it works!

    Preheat the oven to 180 (if you have a fan oven then turn the fan off if you can)

    200g of self raising flour – 200g of caster sugar, 200g of baking block (butter or margerine) – 1 tsp baking powder – 2tbls milk and 4 eggs.

    Sift all the dry ingredients into a bowl, add the beaten eggs and milk and wisk for about 5 minutes (starting slowly until the dry has become incorporated into the wet)then on high until it's like double cream and leaves a trail.

    This either makes enough for two sponges for a Victoria sandwich or about 18 cupcakes.

    ps to Sharyn – try using half lard and half marg for you pastry and mostly it goes wrong because people add too much water – add a little at a time folding it in with the blade of a knife really work it until it comes together before getting your hands in as it need to stay as cold as possible and fingers crossed it will be ok.

  • Lisa

    I am a farmer's daughter and sponge's are the hardest thing to make! Technique and the right ingredients matter like the previous commenters suggested. best of luck xx

  • Erin

    I believe caster sugar is part of where I've gone wrong! I've been using raw, thought it wouldn't matter.and the speed of adding too, I've just dumped!

    Pastry! In the end my family begged me to buy pastry, however one day….

    Great potato tip.
    Isn't a jam roll sponge just the same as a sponge? If you've mastered the sponge, what's happening with your jam roll?

    Scary idea! but it works, good to hear I did read recipes where it was recommended. Sounds so easy!!

    From a farmer's daughter that is so heartening to know!

  • Sharyn

    Sarah, thanks so much for the sponge recipe, we made it and it was yummy :). Shall try your pastry tips soon too.

    Erin. I'm not a sponge master at all, still an apprentice 😉
    I can make a reasonable one though. But when it comes to rolling it it just cracks to pieces.

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