The perfect sponge

The perfect sponge

For many of us, “creamed” cakes are where our budding baking careers started; beating butter and sugar together, adding eggs, then folding in flour to make a simple sponge. There are shortcut recipes, but this technique is worth mastering, as once you’ve got the knack there are endless variations.  The treat of scraping and licking the bowl is usually reserved for Sophie in our home, it’s a food memory  that we all have I think.

Getting started.  My golden rule is that you should always have everything ready before you start.  Have your oven preheated and all your ingredients weighed out and utensil’s close by.

Always heat the oven first, making sure there is a shelf ready in the middle, and line or prepare the tins before you start mixing. Raising agents in batter get to work quickly, so a cake sat on the side for too long can have big holes and a sad rise. The temperature of the ingredients is really important too. Eggs must be at room temperature and butter soft, without being greasy, you should be able to slide a spoon through it.


Creaming simply means beating butter with sugar until light and fluffy, trapping tiny air bubbles. The air bubbles you’re adding, plus the CO2 released by raising agents, will expand as they heat up, and the cake will rise. A wooden spoon and  good old fashioned elbow grease will do the job, but an electric mixer is your best bet. I must admit im very fond of my Kenwood. Pick a good deep bowl and scrape the mix from the sides of the bowl a few times as you beat.

Go slowly with the eggs

Beating the eggs into the butter and sugar mix will trap even more air, but it’s really important to take your time to prevent a split (and less fluffy) mix. Pour 1-2 tbsp of beaten egg on to the creamed mix, beat with the electric mixer until completely incorporated, then repeat. When all the egg has been added, the mix should be very light and fluffy. If it starts to look slimy or split, beat in 1 tbsp of the weighed flour and it will recover.

Folding in the flour

Pick a large metal spoon or thin rubber spatula for this bit, as a wooden spoon will crush your carefully crafted bubbles. Whatever the recipe, I always first mix the flour with any salt and raising agents, cocoa, etc in a bowl, then sift this over the batter. Using a figure-of-eight motion, cut and turn the flour through the batter until even. Take care not to stir or overwork it, or your cake will become tough.

Before it goes into the tin

Dry cakes often contain too little liquid, which is where the term “soft dropping consistency” comes in. Ideally, a spoonful of batter should drop easily into the bowl when given a gentle shake. To get there, recipes often call for a little milk to be folded in after the flour. If there’s a lot of liquid to be added, sometimes the flour and liquid are folded in alternately, to prevent splitting.

Carefully spoon the batter into the tin and level the top. Some people use scales to split the batter accurately between the tins, but counting dollops works perfectly for me. Take care not to let too much heat out as you put the cake into the oven.

Is it cooked?

Sunken cakes are normally under-baked. If you need to move a cake to get an even colour, then wait until it is risen and set all over, normally two-thirds through the cooking time. Work fast to conserve oven heat.

When ready, a skewer or cocktail stick (or a strand of spaghetti if you’re stuck) inserted into the middle of the cake will come out dry, or just slightly oily with a few crumbs.

Uncooked mix? Test again in 5 minutes’ time. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer your fluffy cake to a rack to cool.