As you’ve no doubt guessed, I’m a bit of a haphazard cook. I like to measure things using coffee mugs and cutlery out of the drawer, and I like to play fast and loose with recipes. The temptation to leave it alone is beyond me; I can’t help but substitute things, change proportions (especially sugar, which I usually halve) or simply add extras. This has usually worked out in my favour, but sometimes I’ve come across a dish that I love but that is too complicated, fiddly or simply too temperamental to fiddle with. Sponge cake (I guess they are like a Victorian sponge cake) is definitely one of those. (You can read more about them here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sponge_cake)
Growing up, my mum’s aunty Ruby used to make the most delicious sponge cakes for any occasion. Birthdays… Aunty Ruby made a sponge. Engagement parties… Aunty Ruby made a sponge. Afternoon tea… You guessed it, a sponge. Unfortunately, she passed away two years ago and so her sponge cakes are now just a (very) fond memory. It wasn’t just the cake itself, although that was perfect and light. She just seemed to get the balance of cream, fruit and jam perfect. I’m still yet to get the balance of the toppings right, but after many failed attempts, where my sponge cake ended up the thickness of a pikelet, I finally hit the jackpot with the cake part a few years back.
Sponges are cantankerous things to make: it’s all about keeping them airy and light, so a heavy hand is an absolute no-no. They also require a combination of technology (to beat the eggs) and good old elbow grease (just a touch) to get it right. It’s hard, but in making your sponge, if you think it’s not quite mixed enough, it’s probably best to call it perfect! This recipe featured in the Epicure section of the Age newspaper some years back; it’s attributed to the Country Women’s Association, but it doesn’t feature in their cookbook. I think this tells me about the idiosyncratic nature of the sponge: everyone has their own variation. But I love this one. I don’t dare play with the proportions because of my previous pikelet efforts… (Touching wood) it hasn’t failed me yet, and today my sister made it for the first time… she said it’s perfect! The most imperfect thing about a sponge? They don’t last long enough!
Never fail sponge (from the CWA Victoria ladies)
You will need:
4 eggs, separated
pinch of salt
3/4 cup castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup cornflour (we use gluten-free because of a wheat intolerance, but it works equally well with wheaten cornflour)
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 large (heaped) tbsp custard powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1. Preheat oven to 175C. Grease well two 20cm round or square sandwich tins. Aluminum tins are recommended by the CWA for sponges…
2. Beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add castor sugar (while beaters are still going). Beat until still peaks form, and the mix is looking very thick.
3. Using a metal spoon, gently fold in the egg yolks and vanilla. Don’t mix it too much, just til the yolks are broken and they are just blended in.
4. Twice sift the dry ingredients together, and then gently fold through the egg mix. Again, use a metal spoon and don’t mix too much – just until it is combined. You need to keep as much air in the mix as possible.
5. Turn into the well-greased sandwich tins – you should get enough for two tins, but you could make one big cake that you slice in half (some people prefer to do that). It rises a fair bit. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the sides of the cake have shrunk a little from the sides of the tin.
6. Turn out to cool, then fill with cream and fruit. Enjoy!!!
Here is one I made on the weekend for my 86 year old neighbour’s birthday…
My sister’s much more beautiful effort!