What is your association with sponge cake? I really do not mean to ask such a personal question right off the bat, but I had not given much reflection to the whole sponge-cake question. Then I tried to re-create my grandmother Jessie’s cryptic recipe for sponge cake, from her recently discovered files.
Sponge cake falls into two broad categories: the European génoise and Victoria sponge categories or the North American equivalent, which is a bit archaic now. The génoise is a classic base for Italian and French cakes, not to mention other fine pastries of European pedigree, while the Victoria sponge is a traditional British base for birthday cakes and other celebratory desserts. However, crossing the Atlantic, I am convinced that something was lost when this elegant cake made its way to the New World. In the mid-20th century, industrial production did no favours for the cake’s taste and texture.
While I do remember Jessie’s sponge cake from a few family meals, its memory has been eclipsed by all the store-bought versions my parents would serve, invariably with chocolate ice cream. These were 10” or 12’ square flavourless blocks, which looked as if they were uniform pieces of upholstery foam, just spray-painted golden-brown. Does that sound appealing? They were, indeed, fluffy and light but devoid of any other distinguishing character.
Now Jessie’s version is filled with character – just like she was. The photos below appear to be from the same spring-time holiday to the “northwoods” (Wisconsin? Minnesota? Northern Michigan?), in the 1950s, as my mother had written on the back of one of the photos.
As a cake made by someone of complex character, there is more to this sponge cake than meets the eye. It can be a very light accompaniment to tea in the afternoon when served plain, complementing a green tea, orange pekoe, or mint tisane, for instance, for a more proper mood:
For the review of the cake and the recipe… Continue reading