December 5th, 2020
One of the requests from my culinary students this year was to make sponge cake. To be honest, it isn’t my favourite cake to prepare, preferring rustic Madeira-style cakes topped with seasonal fruit. However, I was pleasantly surprised in our sponge cake exploration. We made a series of sponges, a classic without butter (light and airy), another with butter (denser but with more flavour and a longer shelf life), and my favourite, the Italian genoise sponge (light and flavourful).
Genoise sponge is a traditional cake, consisting of a handful of ingredients. Eggs, sugar and flour with optional additions of butter and vanilla. If you are a seasoned cake baker, you will notice one common ingredient missing in this list – baking powder. Instead, the process relies on air captured within the lengthy period the eggs and sugar are beaten. They are ready once they reach that fabulous culinary term of “ribbon stage”. One of those blissful moments in baking when the beaters are lifted from the mixture and, in their wake, they leave a silky ribbon trail.
Important points to follow when making a genoise sponge:
- Use room-temperature eggs (essential).
- Week-old eggs will trap more air.
- Pre-warm the mixing bowl by washing it in hot water (and dry well), to dissolve the sugar faster for easier beating.
- Don’t over-mix when adding the flour. Folding is adopted to retain air in the voluminous mixture.
Hazelnut Genoise Sponge with Strawberries & Cream
I have added my own twist to this traditional recipe by reducing the sugar and adding protein-rich ground hazelnuts. The result is a flavourful sponge with a glorious bite to the crumb. Sandwiched with strawberries and cream, this is cake heaven.
- 30 g butter
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 medium-sized eggs, size 6
- ½ cup (100g) golden caster sugar
- ½ cup (75g) white flour or gluten-free flour mix
- ½ cup (50g) ground hazelnuts (or almonds)
Strawberries & Cream Filling
- 1 cup (about 250g) fresh or frozen strawberries, halved
- 2 teaspoons sugar or honey
- ½ cup (125ml) cream, whipped
- 1 heaped tbsp thick greek-style yoghurt
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Line the base and sides of a 20cm round cake tin (a 23cm cake tin can also be used but the cake will be thinner and difficult to halve.)
First, melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the vanilla, and set aside to cool.
Wash a large mixing bowl or stand mixer bowl in hot water to pre-warm (see note above). Place the eggs and sugar into the bowl and beat on high for 8-10 minutes until the ribbon stage is achieved (see description above).
Place the flour and ground hazelnuts or almonds in a bowl and use a whisk to combine and aerate. Add to the egg mixture in three additions using a spatula to fold very gently to mix. Pour over the melted butter and vanilla, and gently fold again until just incorporated.
Carefully pour the batter into the prepared tin and place in the middle of the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the top surface feels spongy when gently pressed. Remove from the tin and cool completely on a rack. The sponge can be made a day in advance and kept in an airtight container.
In a small saucepan gently soften the strawberries with the sweetener over a low heat until tender and fragrant. Cool.
When ready to serve, cut the sponge in half through the belly and place the bottom half on a serving plate. Whip the cream to soft peaks and stir through the yoghurt and cooled strawberries.
Spread this over the sponge base, then top with the second layer. Dust with icing sugar and serve. The sponge is best eaten the day it is decorated.
Variation: Chocolate Genoise - replace half of the flour with 1/4 cup (40g) good quality cocoa.
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