James Beard Award-winning Cookbook Author

Foam Cakes: Sponge Cakes

Originally posted on November 4, 2012
in Cakes,Foam cakes,Recipes,Sponge cake

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Sponge cakes are named for their springy texture and airiness.  They may be baked in tube pans, loaf pans, sheet pans, layer cake pans, muffin cups and just about any pan you can think of.  You can flavor the cakes just about any way you like—they take to all sorts of fillings and frostings.  And whipped cream—flavored with vanilla, coffee, chocolate, liqueur—is always a welcome companion.Because we’ll be in the world of foam cakes in the next couple of blog posts, and the techniques to make these cakes are essentially the same, I’ll provide links so that you can review what to do and how to do it at your leisure.

Anytime you have a question, please make a comment at the end of a post and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

The recipe here is for Orange Sponge Cake.  It has a lovely orange flavor that I get by mashing or pounding the finely grated zest with some granulated sugar.  This method extracts as much of the natural oils as possible giving the cake its special taste.

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Beat the yolks with the orange sugar and plain granulated sugar until they are thick and pale and form a slowly dissolving ribbon.

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Beat in the orange juice, salt, and cake flour.

Whip the whites with the remaining granulated sugar until they form stiff, moist peaks.

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Fold the whites and yolks together only until no whites show, transfer to the cake pan, and bake.  Note that you put the cake into a cold oven.  The oven is not preheated.  I bake most of my foam cakes this way because gentle heating allows the air bubbles to expand slowly, and they’ll reach full volume at about the same time that the protein around them sets.    Not sure about folding?  There’s a detailed explanation in the recipe.  Happy baking!

Orange Sponge Cake


This light and airy cake is delicious all by itself, but it can also serve as the foundation for other desserts.  You can alternate layers of cake and chilled pastry cream or flavored whipped cream in dessert glasses.  Top with a fresh berry and you have a practically instant dessert, just like the photo above.  Or just serve slices of the cake with dollops of liqueur-flavored whipped cream.  Grand Marnier is a good choice.


2 large oranges
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
7 large eggs, separated
6 tablespoons orange juice
1 ½ cups sifted cake flour (5 ¼ ounces)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar


• Have ready a two-piece 10 x 4-inch tube pan, preferably with “feet.”  The pan may be plain aluminum or non-stick.  Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position but do not turn the oven on.


• Remove the zest from both oranges with a microplane.  You should have about 2 tablespoons.  Set aside ½ cup of the sugar to whip into the whites.  In a small mortar with pestle, mash the zest with 3 tablespoons from the 1 cup sugar until the sugar is infused with the oils from the zest.  If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, mash the sugar and zests together in a small bowl with a fork.


• Beat the yolks on medium speed for about 2 minutes until they thicken slightly.  Beat in the orange sugar and salt.  While beating on medium speed, gradually add the remainder of the 1 cup sugar, sprinkling it into the yolks in a steady stream.  Increase the speed to medium high and beat 3 to 4 minutes more, until the yolks are thick and pale and form a slowly dissolving ribbon when the beaters are raised.


• On low speed, beat in the orange juice and then the cake flour, beating only until incorporated.  Scrape the yolks into a large wide bowl.


• In a clean, grease-free bowl, with clean beaters, whip the egg whites on medium speed until frothy, about 1 minute.  Add the cream of tartar and beat on medium speed until the beaters leave traces in the whites and the whites form soft peaks when the beaters are raised.  While beating on medium speed, add the remaining ½ cup sugar in 2-tablespoon installments, beating about 10 seconds between additions.  Raise the speed to medium high and continue beating until the whites are thick and shiny—with a creamy texture like a marshmallow cream—and form firm peaks that curl slightly at their tips.


• Fold about ¼ of the whites into the yolks to lighten them and fold in the remaining whites just until no whites show.


• About Folding


• You will always have success in baking if you know why you’re following a particular instruction and just how to do it.  Pay particular attention to folding, a technique that aims to retain as much air as possible in a batter by combining light and heavy ingredients together in the following motion: with the edge of a large rubber spatula, cut down through the  batter from the top center to the bottom of the bowl, then turn the spatula sideways and draw some of the batter from the bottom of the bowl upwards, flipping it over the batter in the bowl.  Rotate the bowl about a quarter turn and repeat the motion over and over, being as gentle as you can, until the batter is evenly combined.  Fold rapidly and decisively. When folding in beaten whites, fold only until no streaks of whites show. Take a look at the series of photos in my angel food cake post to see what I mean.


• Scrape the batter into the tube pan and spread level.  Place the pan into the cold oven.


• Turn on the oven to 325 degrees and bake about 50 minutes, until the cake has risen to the top of the pan, is golden brown, and springs back when gently pressed.  Invert the cake pan onto your countertop suspended by its “feet.”  Don’t worry, the cake won’t fall out of the pan while your back is turned.  Cool completely upside down, about 3 hours.  (Note: If your tube pan lacks feet, support the pan upside down on the neck of a bottle).


• To remove cake from the pan, run a narrow blade around the edge of the cake to release, lift the cake out of the pan by its tube, run the knife around the central tube and between the cake and the bottom of the pan, and invert onto a cake plate.  The cake will now be upside down.  Lift away the bottom of the pan and the cake is ready to serve.  Cut into portions with a serrated knife.  The cake stays nice and moist for 2 to 3 days at room temperature if covered properly.

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