Sponge Cake

Mrs Beeton's recipe, to be used for Trifle

Sponge cake is named after its likeness to sea spongesTrifle is built on a layer of sponge cake. Since I have used Mrs Beeton's recipe for trifle from the Book of Household Management (1861, it was logical to use her recipe for sponge cake too. She even states explicitly that 'leftover' sponge cake can be used for trifle and pudding. The cake has a useful property: it can absorb a large amount of liquor. Just like a sponge, although the name seems to be referring more to the visual likeness to sea sponges.

This recipe is certainly not the only recipe for sponge cake, there are many variations: using butter, with yolks and whites beaten separately, sugar added dry or as syrup, and without egg yolks at all, but then it is called angel cake.

In French this cake is called Gateau or Biscuit de savoie (more on this in another historical recipe next year).

The original recipe
From the first edition of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861). The sponge cake is on page 808 (#1784). The cost of this dish was, converted to today, about 2.80 or 2.40 GBP.

Sponge-cake II
Ingredients -- 1/2 lb. of loaf sugar, not quite 1/4 pint of water, 5 eggs, 1 lemon, 1/2 lb. of flour, 1/4 teaspoonful of carbonate of soda.
Mode. -- Boil the sugar and water together until they form a thick syrup; let it cool a little, the pour it to the eggs, which should be previously well whisked; and after the eggs and syrup are mixed together, continue beating them for a few minutes. Grate the lemon-rind, mix the carbonate of soda with the flour, and stir these lightly to the other ingredients; then add the lemon-juice, and, when the whole is thoroughly mixed, pour it into a buttered mould, and bake in rather a quick oven for rather more than 1 hour. The remains of sponge or Savoy cakes answer very well for trifles, light puddings, &c.; and a very stale one (if not mouldy) makes an excellent tipsy-cake.
Time.--Rather more than 1 hour. Average cost, 10d.
Sufficient to make 1 cake. Seasonable at any time.

Modern adaptation of the recipe
Because no fat is used, except for what is already present in the egg yolks, you could call this a 'light cake'. However, the cake is not without sugar!
For 1 cake of about one and a half pounds; preparation in advance 15 minutes; preparation 60 minutes.

Je ziet waarom spongecake zo heetIngredients
225 gram (1 cup + 2 Tbsp) sugar
1,4 decilitre (1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp) water
225 gram (2 cups) flour
1/3 tsp baking powder
1 lemon
5 eggs

Preparation in advance
Bring sugar and water to the boil in a pan and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Boil for five more minutes at low heat, then remove from the fire and let it cool slightly.
Pour boiling water over the lemon to remove the layer of wax. Grate the peel with a zester (or grater) and press the lemon. You should have about a half decilitre (three tablespoons and one teaspoon) lemon juice. Chop the lemon peel.
Sieve the flour with baking powder.
Butter a cake mould or Bundt cake pan (if you use a silicone pan, you do not need to grease it). When using a cake mould, you can dress it with baking paper before using instead of greasing it.

Heat the oven to 180 oC (355 oF). Beat the eggs thoroughly. Add the slightly cooled syrup one spoonful at the time, keep beating the eggs. Add lemon peel. Fold in the flour, and mix to a smooth batter. Lastly, add lemon juice.
Pour the batter into the cake pan, and place in the centre of the oven for 45 to 70 minutes, depending on how your oven works. If the top is turning too dark, cover it with aluminium foil. When the cake is done, remove from the oven, let it rest for some minutes, then carefully shake the cake loose. Let the cake cool completely on a cooling rack.

To serve
You can serve this cake at tea, with jam or cream. But it can also serve as a basis for trifle and puddings.

All descriptions of ingredients

The editions below are in my possession. Links refer to available editions.
All books mentioned on this site (with short reviews)

  • Isabella Beeton, The Book of Household Management, S.O. Beeton, London, 1861. [Cassell, 2000] Online text without illustrations at Gutenberg. Books of and about Isabella Beeton on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.