While I’m reluctant to air all of my shortcomings as a cook – and there are quite a few, believe me – I’ve decided to come clean on something that I’ve felt a little guilty about for some time. I’ve waxed lyrical about the comforts and joys of baking before on this blog and I’ve been up front about my fondness for cake, but I’m lazy.
When I want cake, I want it quick and easy and so I always go for tried and true, never-fail recipes that I’m very confident with. I’m full of admiration for those who are prepared to take the time to turn out fiddly, richly detailed and decorated baked goods and am always happy to eat them, but am also happy to leave their creation to those others. I have very fond memories of the light-as-air cream sponges and sponge kisses that my country-based aunts used to bake but, until very recently, my fear of failure has held me back from giving them a go myself. Until last weekend when, conjuring up the spirits of much-loved aunts passed, I baked my first ever sponges.
A little research led me to discover that sponges have been around in a written form since 1615 when a recipe was included in the book “The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman”, by Gervase Markham. (I’ll bet he was quite a catch.) I’m glad I have been able to correct what was clearly a serious flaw in my womanly composition.
As far as the traditional sponges that I remember go, there are two types – a batter sponge – sometimes called a Victoria Sponge – which contains a small amount of fat, and the foam sponge which doesn’t. It is the latter which are the heavenly, air-filled creations which my aunts turned out so easily, but I opted for the slightly less risky Victoria for my first effort.
My laziness resulted in disappointment with my first round of cakes. The sponges rose beautifully, and stayed up which was one of my worries, but I took a shortcut and greased but didn’t flour my pans. Subsequently my beautiful creations stayed firmly stuck. Lesson learned. Our hens didn’t seem to get the memo about cutting back on laying in winter, meaning we have a glut of eggs, so I was all good to go for round two.
It’s all about the air with a sponge so make sure you do at least three sifts with your flour and, unless you are looking for a serious workout, I’d forget about the whisk. Go straight for either the electric hand beaters or the stand mixer. Using the technology, this was surprisingly quick and easy and, now that I’ve jumped that particular psychological hurdle, I’ll be trying my hand at the more delicate foam sponge that my aunts did so very well, next time round. Stay tuned.