Sponge cake

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Sponge cake
Cake competition (14287027130).jpg
Sponge cake (Victoria sponge) at a 2014 village fête baking competition
Region or stateEurope
Main ingredientsFlour, sugar, eggs

Sponge cake is a cake based on flour (usually wheat flour), sugar, butter and eggs, and is sometimes leavened with baking powder.[1] Sponge cakes, leavened with beaten eggs, originated during the Renaissance, possibly in Spain.[2] The sponge cake is thought to be one of the first of the non-yeasted cakes, and the earliest attested sponge cake recipe in English is found in a book by the English poet Gervase Markham, The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman (1615).[3] 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. The Victorian creation of baking powder by English food manufacturer Alfred Bird in 1843 enabled the sponge to rise higher than cakes made previously, resulting in the Victoria sponge.

In the United Kingdom a sponge cake is produced using the batter method, while in the US cakes made using the batter method are known as butter or pound cakes. Two common British batter-method sponge cakes are the layered Victoria sponge cake and Madeira cake. Cakes made using the foam method are not classed as sponge cakes in the UK; these cakes are classed as foam cakes, which are quite different. These cakes are common in Europe, especially in Italian patisseries. The cake was first invented by the Italian pastry chef Giovan Battista Cabona (called Giobatta), at the court of Spain with his lord, the Genoese marquis Domenico Pallavicini, around the middle of the 16th century.

Variations on the theme of a cake lifted, partially or wholly, by trapped air in the batter exist in most places where European patisserie has spread, including the Anglo-Jewish "plava",[4] Italian génoise, the Portuguese pão-de-ló, and the possibly ancestral Italian pan di Spagna ("Spanish bread").[5][6] Derivatives of the basic sponge cake idea include the American chiffon cake and the Latin American tres leches cake.[7]

Methods of preparation[edit]

The essential ingredients are eggs, fat (often butter), sugar, and flour. An authentic British sponge cake is made by first mixing the fat with the sugar and then beating the eggs with the sugar-fat mix until the mixture is light and creamy,[8] then carefully sieving and folding in the flour. Depending on the recipe, the flour may be mixed with a small amount of baking powder though some recipes use only the air incorporated into the egg mixture, relying on the denaturing of the egg proteins and the thermal expansion of the air to provide leavening. In the French version the yolks are beaten with the sugar first while the whites are beaten separately to a meringue-like foam, to be gently folded in later.[9] The mixture is then poured into a cake tin and baked. Both methods take great care to incorporate air in the beating, whisking, and sieving stages.

Before the cooked cake has cooled, it is still flexible. This allows the creation of rolled cakes such as the Swiss roll. This basic recipe is also used for many treats and puddings, such as madeleines, ladyfingers, and trifles, as well as some versions of strawberry shortcake;[8] the earliest recipe for shortcake is in an English cookbook from 1588.[10] In addition, the foam cake technique is used in angel food cake (where only egg whites are used) [11] and some recipes for Belgian waffles (where the egg whites are separated from the yolks and folded into the batter at the end of preparation).

Victoria sponge[edit]

A slice of Victoria sponge cake, served with cream and a strawberry at the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway café in Wales

The Victoria sponge, also known as the Victoria sandwich or Victorian cake,[12] was named after Queen Victoria, who was known to enjoy a slice of the sponge cake with her afternoon tea. The sponge part evolved from the classic pound cake – equal quantities of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. The difference was the Victorian creation of baking powder, which was discovered by English food manufacturer Alfred Bird in 1843, which enabled the sponge to rise higher.[13][14] This invention, writes cookery author Felicity Cloake, "was celebrated with a patriotic cake", Victoria sponge.[13]

A typical Victoria sponge filling consists of strawberry jam and whipped double cream (thick cream with a high fat-content).[15] The jam and cream are sandwiched between two sponge cakes; the top of the cake is not iced or decorated apart from a dusting of icing sugar. The Women's Institute publishes a variation on the Victoria sandwich that has strawberry jam as the filling and is dusted with caster sugar, not icing sugar.[16]

The sponge cake has been featured in The Great British Bake Off television series on two occasions.[17]

A Victoria sponge is made using one of two methods.[12] The traditional method involves creaming caster sugar with fat (usually butter), mixing thoroughly with beaten egg, then folding flour and raising agent into the mixture. The modern method, using an electric mixer or food processor, involves simply whisking all the ingredients together until creamy.[18][8][9] Additionally, the modern method typically uses an extra raising agent, and some recipes call for an extra-soft butter or margarine.[12]

Sponge cakes, chocolate cake (left) and Victoria sponge (right), on an outdoor garden table in Essex, England

Both the traditional and modern methods are relatively quick and simple, producing consistent results, making this type of mixture one of the most popular for children and people in a hurry. This basic "cake" mixture has been made into a wide variety of treats and puddings, including cupcakes, chocolate cake, and Eve's pudding.[18][9][8]

Although simple to make, Victoria sponge recipes are notoriously sensitive to cooking times and temperatures. As such, oven manufacturers often use a Victoria sponge recipe to test their ovens.[19] Competitive Victoria sponge baking is part of the classic British fête.[13]

At Passover[edit]

Since sponge cakes are not leavened with yeast, they are popular dessert choices for the Passover feast.[20] Typically, Passover sponges are made with matzo meal, shredded coconut,[21] matzo flour, potato flour, or nut flour (almond, hazelnut etc.) since raw wheat products may not be used.[22] No raising agent may be used due to the strict prohibition of even the appearance of a leavening effect. Therefore, the beating of egg whites in the mix to achieve the aeration is an essential characteristic of any Passover sponge recipe. Many families have at least one recipe they pass down through generations, and matzo meal-based cake mixes are available commercially. Several brands are easily found in kosher stores, especially before Passover. Typical flavorings include almonds, apples, dark chocolate, lemon, pecans, and poppy seeds. Apple or orange juice is the liquid ingredient. Milk is avoided, because it cannot be included in a dessert to be served after a meat based meal. The sponge, or a heavier variant in the form of an almond pudding, may be included as an element of the dessert in the Passover meal during the Seder service, when it is often combined in serving with a fruit compote.[23][24]


  1. ^ "Sponge cake". BBC.
  2. ^ Castella, Krystina (2010). A World of Cake: 150 Recipes for Sweet Traditions From Cultures Around the World, pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-1-60342-576-6.
  3. ^ Davidson, Alan (2002). The Penguin Companion to Food. Penguin Books. p. 147.
  4. ^ Roden, Claudia (1996). The Book of Jewish Food. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 187–8. ISBN 0-394-53258-9.
  5. ^ The Silver Spoon (US ed.). New York: Phaidon Press. 2005. p. 1013. ISBN 0-7148-4531-0.
  6. ^ Roden, 1996, p. 595.
  7. ^ King Arthur Flour Co (2003). King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. Woodstock, VT: Countryman Press. ISBN 0-88150-581-1.
  8. ^ a b c d Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book 1995 printing.
  9. ^ a b c Delia Smith's Book of Cakes Sixth Impression 1981.
  10. ^ "Sweet Treats around the World: An Encyclopedia of Food and Culture: An Encyclopedia of Food and Culture". p. 365. ABC-CLIO.
  11. ^ Davidson, Alan, and Tom Jaine. The Oxford companion to food. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006. 805. Print. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from [1]
  12. ^ a b c Cloake, Felicity (16 May 2013). "How to make the perfect Victoria sponge cake". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
  13. ^ a b c "The great Victoria sandwich". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 February 2018
  14. ^ "Alfred Bird: Egg-free custard inventor and chemist". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 25 February 2018
  15. ^ Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014. S.v. "double cream." Retrieved November 28 2018
  16. ^ "Victoria Sandwich". National Federation of Women's Institutes. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
  17. ^ "The best ever Great British Bake Off recipes". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 February 2018
  18. ^ a b Be-Ro flour Home recipes 40th edition
  19. ^ Treloar, Roy (2005). Gas Installation Technology]. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 1-4051-1880-6.
  20. ^ Fabricant, Florence (March 28, 1993). "FOOD: Healthful Tips for Passover Favorites". New York Times. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  21. ^ "Raffaello Cake Recipe - Coconut & White Chocolate". VideoCulinary.com. Retrieved 2016-01-04.
  22. ^ Fabricant, Florence (April 8, 1990). "FOOD: Meeting the Challenge of a Dessert for the Passover Meal". New York Times. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  23. ^ "Shalom Boston - Traditional Passover Seder Menu".
  24. ^ Nathan, Joan (1998). Jewish Cooking in America. ISBN 9780375402760.