A true sponge cake is one of the more basic cakes you can make. A sponge cake recipe usually only needs eggs, sugar, and flour. Three ingredients and it can rival any cake that is just as fluffy and airy but uses more ingredients.
How can a sponge cake be made with only three ingredients?
The secret to the best sponge cake is how you treat and use the eggs. Before chemical leaveners like baking soda, baking powder, and baking ammonia were used to give cakes their signature fluffy texture, bakers used eggs.
Eggs are one of the basic ingredients in any cake recipe. They are versatile ingredients; depending on the type of cake you’re baking they serve a range of purposes, from flavor enhancement and adding moisture to providing lift and rise to cakes.
Unlike yeast-risen cakes, egg-leavened cakes are lighter, fluffier, and more tender. They also don’t have the yeasty flavor that bread usually has, as bread are leavened using yeast.
How can eggs provide lift to a sponge cake? It’s all in the whisking. The motion incorporates air into the eggs and allows them to grow in volume. The air bubbles are trapped by the proteins that make up the egg whites, while the sugar, apart from providing your batter with sweetness and moisture, also helps to stabilize the air bubbles. Later on, as you add flour and fold it gently into your egg mixture, the gluten in the flour also gives your cake extra structure and helps your cake retain the rise it achieves in the oven during baking.
Usually, sponge cake recipes call for whole eggs to be whisked together with sugar until it becomes light and super fluffy, at least twice its volume. This process takes upwards of five minutes, but this stage is not too delicate as you are not in any danger of over mixing whole eggs, unlike egg whites.
You will need to be extra careful, however, when you begin to fold in the flour; the key here is to add a little at a time and use a light but swift motion to scrape the bottom of the bowl and let the egg mixture fall over itself. Be careful not to be too heavy-handed or push down with your spatula as this might cause the air bubbles to burst.
What’s the difference between a sponge cake vs chiffon cake?
Two ingredients make chiffon cakes different from sponge cakes: baking powder and oil or butter.
Chiffon cake recipes take the basic sponge recipe and make it taste richer and more stable because of these additional ingredients. The baking powder provides the extra height and rise while the added oil or butter creates a richer, more moist cake that could stand up to being topped and frosted.
Another difference is that a chiffon cake recipe would usually ask you to separate the yolks from the whites. The yolk would be whisked together with the flour, baking powder, oil or butter, part of the sugar, the cake flavorings, and other ingredients. The whites would be whisked together with the remaining sugar to make a fluffy, medium- to stiff-peaked meringue. Then, the meringue would be folded into the egg yolk mixture to make the cake batter fluffy and tender.
While both rely on the eggs as an ingredient to make super tall and fluffy cakes, the baking powder makes a big difference between a recipe for basic chiffon cake and a basic sponge cake since the added oil or butter in chiffon cakes can weigh the cake batter down. If the meringue is not folded into the yolk mixture properly, the cake could separate during baking, creating a dense lower layer where the fat settles and a dry upper layer where the meringue got left behind. The baking powder, along with proper mixing, ensures that this does not happen.
Now that you know how these two cakes are different, try the classic sponge cake the Bizcochos Borrachos or any of these Pinoy-style chiffon cake recipes: the taisan in cupcake form, the taisan with cheese, the inipit from Bulacan, or the classic mamon.