Back to basics: Baking sponges

A sponge is a basic cake that, once mastered, can be adapted in infinite ways. Here’s all you need to know to make perfect sponges, the healthy way.

  • It’s important to measure ingredients accurately using measuring cups, spoons and scales. Spoon and cup measurements always refer to level amounts.
  • Measure out all ingredients before you begin a recipe.
  • Eggs should always be used at room temperature.
  • Always preheat the oven (wait till the light goes off) to the stated temperature.
  • Once the cake is in the oven, resist the temptation to open the door. A sudden gush of cold air will make it sink in the middle. Instead, wait until the cooking time is almost up before testing.
  • If your cake appears to be browning too quickly, cover with greaseproof paper towards the end of cooking.
  • To test a baked sponge, remove from the oven and touch the centre with one hand – it should feel spongy and ‘give’ very slightly.
  • A whisked sponge cake should just be shrinking from the sides of the tin. If necessary return the cake to the oven for a few minutes, closing the door very gently so that vibration does not cause the cake to sink in
    the centre.
  • All cakes are best left to stand in the tin for several minutes after baking to firm up slightly.
  • Whatever shape of sponge you are making, lightly spray the base and side of the tin with a non-stick cooking spray, then line the base of the tin with baking paper. This will stop the paper sliding.
  • Sponges with a lower fat content do not keep for as long as higher fat sponges. Most freeze well un-iced. If not freezing, store sponges in airtight containers in a cool place.

This is a classic fatless sponge and has a very light texture. You will need an electric hand mixer, a large mixing bowl and a large metal spoon.

3 eggs
1/2 cup castor sugar
3/4 cup plain flour
1 tablespoon boiling water
few drops vanilla essence

Step 1 Place eggs and sugar in a large bowl and use an electrix hand-mixer to whisk the mixture until it becomes frothy, then thick and creamy and has trebled in volume. This will take 7-10 minutes, depending on your mixer.

Step 2 Sieve half the flour over the mixture. Sift high so that plenty of air is incorporated.

Step 3 Use a large metal spoon to gently fold in the flour, cutting and carefully folding it into the mixture using a figure-of-eight movement. Repeat with the remaining flour, boiling water and vanilla essence. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Tilt the tin to spread evenly. Do not use a knife as this will knock out the air. Bake in a preheated oven at 190°C for 25 minutes.

Here are some simple ways to make cakes healthier, with less fat and sugar and more fibre.

  • Choose lower-fat spreads instead of butter. Meadowlea Logicol Lite (reduced-fat) works very well in sponges. Check the labels to see if they are suitable for baking. Choose a spread with at least 60% fat.
  • Use apple purée as part of the fat allocation instead of butter. This will help lock in moisture and provide a velvety texture in the same way as butter does. Without a purée or butter a sponge can be tough and dry. You will find apple purée in the sauce section of the supermarket.
  • Use puréed canned peaches, mashed bananas and other vegetables in the same way as puréed apples. In fruit-based cakes, a half-and-half substitution for fat works well, eg if the cake has 200g of butter, reduce this to 100g of low-fat spread and add 100g apple or peach purée. Mashed bananas can be used in a similar way.
  • Add chopped dates or figs (no added sugar varieties) to replace some of the sugar for sweetness. These add a chewy texture and extra fibre. A sprinkling of ground cinnamon or ginger to a sponge adds extra flavour and  works well with puréed fruits and vegetables.
  • Natural yoghurt added to sponge mixes adds moisture and works well with fruit cakes such as berries. As a guide, add 1/2 cup yoghurt to a 125g mix of fat and sugar.
  • Recipes using self-raising flour can be replaced with wholemeal self-raising flour for extra fibre.

Toppings are often where a lot of fat and sugar can be added to sponges. Here are a few simple, healthier ideas:

  • Buy no-added-sugar jams instead of full sugar ones. My favourite is St Dalfour Rhapsodie de Fruit.
  • For a chocolate icing, mix 3 tablespoons reduced-sugar drinking chocolate (I use WeightWatchers) with 4 tablespoons boiling water to make a smooth paste. Mix with natural yoghurt or Greek yoghurt until smooth. Chill before using.
  • Opt for reduced-fat soft cheeses instead of full-fat versions. Philadelphia have a 60% less fat version and also a 5% fat version. Mix these with a little icing sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice for a smooth icing which is still creamy as a topping.
  • Greek yoghurt mixed with a little honey is delicious as an icing for vanilla sponges. Sprinkle with a little nutmet for extra ‘bite’.
  • Equal amounts of reduced-fat soft cheese and low-fat fruit yoghurt provide a great fruity icing for sponges.
  • Frozen berries are fantastic as toppings. Simply heat until softened. Stir in no-added-sugar jam and heat through. Thicken with cornflour if desired.
  • Flavoured low-fat yoghurts can work well on their own on sponges.
  • For a richer flavour choose reduced-fat sour cream or crème fraiche instead of full-fat versions. You won’t be able to tell the difference.

Traditional Victoria sponge sandwiches are made using this method. You will need a large mixing bowl and a wooden spoon or electric mixer.

  • Beat the softened fat and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy in consistency. If creaming by hand, you will need to beat vigorously if the fat has not come to room temperature.
  • Beat the eggs in a little at a time, beating well after each addition. If curdling begins, add a little of the flour with the eggs.

Yummy carrot cake 
Berry Sponge Stacks
Blueberry yoghurt cake

First published: Aug 2007

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