Another version of orange-glazed sponge cake, minus the Sabra. (photo from littlemisscelebration.com)
Sponge cake. It’s an integral part of Pesach for many people, even though there is no special plate for it, and no bracha said over it. Sponge cake comes in two types – angel food and true sponge.
Angel food cake has cream of tartar, an acid ingredient, which used to be combined with baking soda and salt to make a form of baking powder before baking powder was produced commercially. Cream of tartar is what gives an angel food cake its white color, and it also creates an acid reaction in the batter.
Sponge cake has a more delicate cousin referred to as sunshine cake. Most people, however, refer to the Passover version as sponge cake. Sponge cake is usually baked without shortening or butter or baking powder but with lots of eggs. Its lightness and texture come from careful handling and the air beaten into the eggs. Recipes with nine to 12 eggs are not uncommon.
The aim of making a sponge cake is to beat the maximum amount of air into the yolks and whites while handling them as little as possible. An electric or rotary beater gives better results than whipping by hand. Since there is no baking powder, the main rising factor is the air plus steam.
In making a sponge cake, it is important that the yolks are beaten until light and thick, and the whites must be beaten until they are stiff and glossy. Essences such as vanilla lemon or orange rind add special flavor to a sponge cake.
The best pan for a sponge cake is a tube pan with a removable rim, thus the central tube gives support to the batter.
In Israel, many old-timers use a wonder pot (in Hebrew, sir pella) about which I wrote a cookbook in the 1970s for people without an oven (see jewishindependent.ca/cookbook-resurfaces). A wonder pot is basically a sponge cake pan that sits on a coned base and then has a lid with strategic holes around its top to let out the steam. It is placed atop a stove burner for baking. Last year, in the weeks leading up to Passover, one of the large supermarkets in Jerusalem carried three different sizes of wonder pots (dairy, meat and parve) so you didn’t have to kasher your oven before the holiday.
A regular sponge cake pan should be ungreased. A preheated 350˚F oven is the best heat for baking a sponge cake. When the cake is done, the pan should be inverted to cool for about an hour and a half. Before removing the cake from the pan, the sides should be loosened with a knife. It is best not to try to cut a fresh sponge cake with a knife; rather, use a divider with prongs instead, and slide it back and forth gently.
In Let My People Eat, Zell Schulman offers these additional tips to keep your sponge cake from falling: have the eggs at room temperature and use only large eggs; don’t add sugar until the egg whites begin to hold small, soft peaks; beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry; and never make a sponge cake on a wet day.
Here are three different kinds of sponge cake.
ORANGE-GLAZED SABRA SPONGE CAKE
1/2 cup unsalted parve margarine or 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp oil
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp orange rind
5 tbsp Sabra liqueur
3 separated eggs
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup potato starch
4 tsp orange rind
- Preheat oven to 325˚F. In a bowl, cream margarine or oil and sugar. Add one teaspoon orange rind, two tablespoons of the Sabra liqueur and the egg yolks and blend.
- In another bowl, beat egg whites until stiff, gradually adding two tablespoons sugar. Add to creamed mixture gently, then stir in potato starch.
- Pour into a greased tube pan. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour. Let cool for at least an hour then gently remove to a plate.
- Meantime, in a bowl, combine orange juice, the other three tablespoons of liqueur and the orange rind. While cake is still hot, punch holes around it with a toothpick and pour the glaze over it.
MIRIAM’S BANANA CAKE
This is from one of my close friends in Overland Park, Kan., who, at 88, is still a really creative cook.
7 eggs, separated
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup mashed bananas
3/4 cup potato starch
1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts
- Preheat oven to 350˚F. In a bowl, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry, then refrigerate.
- In another bowl, beat egg yolks until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually add sugar and salt, beating continually. Fold in bananas and potato starch. Fold in egg whites then nuts.
- Turn into an ungreased tube pan and bake for 45-50 minutes. Invert pan to cool.
PAN DI SPAGNA
This recipe comes from The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews by Edda Servi Machlin. Pan di Spagna (bread of Spain) is also called pasta reale and was made in the matzah bakery with the same flour that was used for the matzot.
6 eggs, separated
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup Passover cake meal
1/4 cup potato starch
freshly grated rind of 1 large lemon
- Preheat oven to 350˚F. In a small bowl, beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form.
- In a larger bowl, place egg yolks, sugar and orange juice and beat until frothy and lemon-colored.
- Combine the cake meal with potato starch and gradually add to the egg yolk mixture, beating until the batter is smooth. Add the lemon rind and fold in the egg whites.
- Pour into an ungreased sponge cake pan with removable bottom and bake for one hour. Remove from oven and invert over a wire rack to cool before unmolding.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, foreign correspondent, lecturer, food writer and book reviewer who lives in Jerusalem. She also does the restaurant features for janglo.net and leads weekly walks in English in Jerusalem’s market.