My mother was not a good sponge maker; she also struggled with the concept of the pavlova. A superb cook, she was a product of the Great Depression, followed by World War II.
We came from the northeast of England, where the impact of post-war rationing continued for a long time after 1945. I still have my ration book; it is now quite surreal to think that those little coupons were the stuff of everyday life. Eggs were strictly rationed, so the idea of squandering four or five eggs on one cake or dessert was unimaginable.
Thus I came to the sponge as a complete novice and had to find out the pitfalls the hard way. The adage "practice makes perfect" applied, but the practising was painful.
There are many recipes for sponges but all rely on method: retaining the air in the mixture is paramount. Once you have perfected the technique, any sponge is at your command. Today's recipe is fairly standard. The egg whites are beaten until stiff then the yolks are added to make a creamy, airy mixture. The dry ingredients are then easy to incorporate and the loft of the sponge is retained.
If you don't want to cream the cooked sponges straight away, store them in separate plastic bags - I use supermarket bags, tied loosely - in a cool place. Don't refrigerate. The cake will stay soft for hours.
2 Tbsp flour
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
4 large eggs, separated
cup caster sugar
2 tsp golden syrup
Method: Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Line then spray two 20cm tins.
Sift together the cornflour, flour, spices, cocoa and baking powder.
Beat the egg whites, adding the sugar gradually.
Once the mixture is stiff and holds its shape, add the egg yolks.
Beat until yolks are thoroughly incorporated.
Sift the prepared dry ingredients on to the mixture.
Using a spatula, fold through gently until the colour is even and the ingredients are combined.
Warm the golden syrup (5-7 seconds in the microwave) and fold through the mixture.
Divide mixture between tins and bake, centre oven, for 15-17 minutes.
The sponge will shrink from the sides of the tin when cooked.
Turn on to a cake cooler and join with whipped cream once cold.
Dust top with icing sugar.
Allow at least an hour before serving.
Cook's notes: To beat egg whites successfully, you must use a scrupulously clean bowl and beaters.
Spreading lemon curd on the bottom sponge before creaming is a delicious addition.
- The Southland Times