Saturday, 17 November 2012

Plain and Simple Sponge Cake


A scaled up birthday cake
I've covered this before, when I posted about my coffee cake in the post "Yet More Cake", but I was honestly recently surprised by some friends who are both very good cooks and confident bakers mentioning that they were not sure with this type of sponge cake, and never really make it - but a basic, straight forward cake is one of the easiest things in the world. It is so gorgeously old fashioned that you really do feel like a domestic goddess for being able to rustle it up, so I URGE YOU ALL to give it a go. And I thought a post on ordinary, honest to goodness sponge cake was required.

The first thing you need to know is that a sponge cake is massively simple. The simplest cake to make is the one using the "all-in-one" technique, and; as the name implies; it couldn't be simpler. You literally bung everything into a bowl and mix it and that's pretty much that.

Now of course, there are couple of secrets. But they're neither that hard nor that secret. I know you might know some of it already, so sorry for the repetition, but it's worth repeating anyhow. Here goes:

  1. You must preheat the oven, even if (like me) you normally shove stuff in regardless. For cake (and baking), it must be preheated. Not so bad with the frozen pizza, but for baking you preheat.
  2. Secondly, ALL the ingredients need to be at room temperature. I don't even bother storing eggs in my fridge, I just leave them out all the time. Think about it - when you buy them in the shop, are they on the shelf or in the fridge? The shelf, correct. They will be fine and do not need to be refrigerated. Take the butter out of the fridge the night before or, if you forget or decide on the spur of the moment (me, again!) then weigh it out, cut it into smallish cubes and leave somewhere warm. In my house, the window sill above the radiator is perfect, or the table in front of it. DO NOT stick it on the rad or into the microwave, if it melts it is too oily and greasy and not what you want at all. If the recipe says melted butter, then fine; but if not, then don't.
  3. You need the right tins. Two round 8 inch tins. That's 8 inches. NOT 7 and not 9 - they would need either less or more ingredients.
  4. Line the bottom of the tins with parchment paper (also called baking paper).
  5. DO NOT open the oven while it's cooking. Stand firm, it will be fine. DO NOT check until the time is up. If you really really must, then check it 5 mins from the end - BUT NO SOONER!
That's pretty much it. Oh, one thing - although I usually use the metric measuring system, for cake I always use imperial (pounds and ounces) coz it's so so simple; literally 6-6-6-3. That's 6oz each of flour, butter and sugar and then 3 eggs; then beat them together for 1 minute with an electric mixer, and that's more or less it! After that, you can flavour it - a bit of vanilla for a plain sponge, cocoa powder for a chocolate cake, a bit of coffee and a few walnuts for a coffee cake.... 

So, here goes (see below for variations):

All-In-One Sponge Cake

  • 6oz caster sugar
  • 6oz self-raising flour
  • 6oz butter, at room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract (for a plain cake)
  • 2 tbsp milk (optional)
  • Preheat the oven to 170C
  1. Put all the ingredients except the vanilla and milk in a large mixing bowl, and then go in with your electric hand mixer (or Kenwood Chef or Kitchenaid, if you have fancier kitchen equipment than me - kitchen envy, **sigh**) and mix for about one minute, til all the ingredients are well combined
  2. Beat in the vanilla extract, and then give the beaters a sharp tap off the edge of the bowl - if it drops off, then this is called a good "dropping consistency", and your mix is ready. If not, add a tablespoon or two of milk, and beat in
  3. Divide the mixture between the two prepared tins (level out with a knife) and pop in the oven for 30 mins at 170C, the cakes are done when they feel springy to the touch in the centre
  4. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for 5 mins, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely (removing the paper from the bottom)

Once cool, you can ice them. If it's a plain sponge, then cream and jam and the corresponding fruit to match the jam is the perfect filling, just dust the top with icing sugar. If it's fancier cake - well then, the sky's the limit. I usually make a buttercream icing, which is pretty easy

Buttercream Icing

  • 150g butter, at room temperature
  • 250-300g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp milk
  1. Beat the butter til creamy, then beat in the sugar. It will often be all lumpy - so add the liquid, the vanilla and milk, and beat again til you get a cohesive mixture.

Don't ice the cakes til they are fully cool (this only takes a half hour or so) as they will disintegrate on you.

Variations are easy - for a chocolate cake, keep the vanilla extract in both the cakes and icing, but just remove a spoon of flour and add a tablespoon of good cocoa powder instead. For the icing, also leave in the vanilla, and again add a spoon of cocoa powder. You can add melted chocolate for a more intense chocolatey hit, but I prefer this milder one, and then to ice the top with chocolate ganache icing, that's a great chocolate hit!
For coffee cake, leave out the vanilla and add a tablespoon of Irel chicory essence to the cake mix, and instead of the milk and vanilla in the icing, just add two tablespoons of Irel. You could also add in about 3oz / 60g of chopped walnuts - seriously good. See my original coffee cake post here.

Chocolate Ganache Icing

Chocolate ganache, with Smarties and paper for drips

  • 150ml whipping or double cream
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 150g of best, darkest chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  1. Bring the cream, vanilla and butter to a slow boil over a low heat (a non-stick pan is best), remove it from the heat as it starts to boil (you can spot this as the bubbles around the edge form a ring)
  2. Add the chocolate, chopped into small pieces (best done with a kitchen scissors, I find, but whatever works for you) and stir in - you need the chocolate to be chopped small, so it will melt as you stir it in
  3. Allow to cool slighty before use, but obviously not to harden, you want it still liquid enough to use
  4. If you sit the cake on a few strips of greaseproof paper, you can remove them later to have a clean base to your cake

Coffee Cake, my own favourite

Once you are confident, you can upscale the recipe, as I have done with the square birthday cake, or new ideas - add some lemon and orange zest to the cake, and a small bit of juice, and the same to the icing, or try fillings / icings made with mascarpone cheese, or colour the icing pink by adding a couple of strawberries to the icing instead of milk, or whatever takes your fancy.

Whatever you like - just know that your mother-in-law will be SO impressed with a lovely, light, fluffy freshly homebaked sponge cake... and so will you!

PS - it really is at it's best on the day it is made, although of course it will last beautifully for a few days in a tupperware style container. But if it is to be for some one's birthday or to impress some one, then make it fresh that day.

Sarah xx

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