When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

The perfect sponge cake October 1, 2008

Filed under: All-occasion cakes — crummb @ 4:59 pm
Tags: , , ,

Over the past year, my quest to master the sponge cake has led me to do innumerable weird things.

Like buying just about any cookbook that has the words “perfect sponge cake” in it. Like slapping down $700 to buy a KitchenAid mixer because, I was told, you need proper equipment to make a proper sponge. And, at my most desperate, joining baking forums to ask complete strangers what went wrong with my genoise (and checking in every 5 minutes for an entire day to see if anyone responded).

I’ve tried over 10 different recipes and all of them sucked. Either they sank, no matter how much I varied oven temperature or folding-in techniques, or the texture just wasn’t as cottony soft as I want it to be.

The closest I got to a perfect sponge was with my auntie’s recipe, but, alas, it is artificially powered by stabilisers. Read sob story here.

Annoyed, I was beginning to think that it’s not me – but them. The one thing all these recipes have in common is that they are written by Westerners using Western manufactured ingredients. Could it be possible that the local ingredients I use, like flour and baking powder, are different in composition – for example, in protein strength? If not, then could it be that Westerners simply like their sponges to be coarser in texture?

Guess what? I could well be right on both counts. Last week, I bought my first Asian cake book which yielded the most perfect sponge I’ve ever made. And you won’t believe where I found it – in the unglamorous, ramshackle shopping aisles of Giant supermarket.

The book, written by a certain Chef Alex Goh, is called Fruity Cakes. It’s possibly the most inappropriately named book in the history of publishing because apart from cakes made with fruit, the book also has all manner of cakes made with herbs, spices and nuts. Strange.

In fact, the book is so badly edited that it doesn’t say what nationality this Chef Goh is (although it does mention that he had worked in Kuala Lumpur, and from his surname, I figure he is either Malaysian or Singaporean).

But no matter. Because his recipe for “French-style sponge cake” (what snootier books would term “genoise”) is brain-dead easy and utterly delicious. The texture was gorgeously soft and moist, and it didn’t sink. And, get this, it contains no artificial additives. Yup, it’s all natural. And it’s even better than the Daniel Tay recipe I wrote about here.

I took one bite and declared at once that my search is over. Time to open shop.

To illustrate the magnitude of this seismic discovery, I’ll recount the hellish things I used to do  to achieve the perfect sponge:

– use cake flour, and make sure it is unbleached (whatever that means)

– triple sieve the flour

– fold in the flour gently with your bare hands

– fold in the flour with a slotted skimmer (I had to look up what this is), or large 16-inch whisk 

– put your life in danger by whisking eggs over boiling water for at least 5 minutes

– use an deplorably huge number of egg yolks

– do not talk or even breathe heavily throughout the mixing process (I am not making this up).

Well, this recipe by Alex Goh has this to say to all these pesky procedures: NO NEED LAH. Its ingredients and method are so simple it’s almost immoral not to share. So here it is, world.

The only ingredients needed:

4 eggs, separated (each egg to weigh 60g without shells)

120g castor sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

110g plain flour

70g melted butter (must be hot when added to batter)

And all you have to do is:

1. Using a hand-held mixer, whisk egg yolks till smooth. Add 20g of the sugar and vanilla and continue whisking until yolks puff up and the colour turns very pale – like the lightest shade of peach – and doesn’t turn any paler (about 2 mins).

2. In another bowl, whisk egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 100g of sugar and whisk until stiff peaks form.

3. Fold egg whites into egg yolks until just combined. Just use a rubber spatula.

4. Sieve in flour and fold in gently. Add in hot melted butter (to be safe, pour down the side of the bowl so it won’t agitate too many air bubbles) and fold in gently and quickly.

5. Pour into 8-inch round pan and bake at 190 deg C for 30 minutes. When done, cake will shrink by a few mm but still stand at a beautiful 2 inches.

6. Then look up Chef Alex Goh, wherever he is, whomever he is, and thank him.


28 Responses to “The perfect sponge cake”

  1. wordsmith Says:

    hi babe, u know what i like about ur blog? It’s not self-indulgent about ur beautiful life so that it becomes super exclusive, but just about ur life and that’s super inclusive ;o)

  2. crummb Says:

    You’re a poet, babe 🙂

  3. theotherxy Says:

    Hey babe, I tried your receipe just now! Needed a break from the Canto soap, happened to have four eggs in the fridge, so I gave it a shot. It tasted great – fragrant and not too sweet, texture was a tad dry though. Reckon I need to brush up on my “folding” technique, was er, all butterfingers at it, and ended up just swirling the dough around. Will try again. Thanks for sharing!

  4. crummb Says:

    hello xy! if it’s a bit dry, it may be the eggs: did you use large eggs that weigh 60g without shells? cos if it’s the average egg you used, it’d be 50g only, and that means you’d be 40g short of what’s required – and that’s quite a lot! it could be the butter too – make sure it’s 70g. it may sound too much to buy a digital scale for this. but it’s essential if you wanna bake often 🙂

  5. Wow…your photos looked so nice! The cakes made me drool…woops*

  6. theotherxy Says:

    Ah, I used regular eggs. Would it be remedied if I use five of those instead of four? Though it’d be 10 grams over… I did weigh the butter on a regular kitchen scale, but it’s not digital so it might be somewhat off too. How absolutely precise should I be?

  7. crummb Says:

    yes, five small eggs will do i think. as for how precise you should be, i was told that baking is a science, not an art, so quite good to invest in a digital. but in this case, i think the eggs are the culprit. if still ends up dry, then tweak the butter 🙂

  8. crummb Says:

    foodies queen: thanks! props to my husband, who recently bought this umbrella thingie just so my blog looks good (and hopefully some compliments will go his way) 🙂

  9. sooch Says:

    Ah!!! What a reward for checking in on crummb’s life and blog! Thank YOU!!! Since I don’t know chef Goh and can’t thank him, thank you for sharing the precious finding! The world is saved from artificial stabilisers. *Toot-too-toooot!*
    Point of interest — did you try comparing the percentages of ingredients between the recipes? That is, if En En will give you enough time to do so. 🙂

  10. crummb Says:

    sooch: when i was writing this entry, i knew the one person who would appreciate this momentous discovery is YOU! heh! yes, between this recipe and Daniel Tay’s, both use the same amount of flour (but Tay uses cakeflour), and Tay uses a heck of a lot more eggs and slightly less butter. don’t ask me how all this permutates. i realise that when it comes to baking, the more i know, the less i know 🙂

  11. spots Says:

    ooh am i glad i am reading ur blog! i totally agree with u abt sponge cake being deathly difficult. i made a birthday cake for my dad recently, and the sponge part was really tough despite the recipe promising that it’d be the most delicious and easy thing in the world! i will have to try this one, thanks!

  12. crummb Says:

    spots: great! tell me how it goes 🙂

  13. Anita Says:

    Your sponge cake look so perfect and yummy 🙂

    By the way Alex Goh is a Malaysian renowned pastry chef ,
    if you want a softer sponge cake , use cake flour instead of plain flour and 1/2 tsp of Vanilla Extract or essence .

  14. sandra Says:

    Hi, I’m a latecomer to your blog but i love it! stumbled upon it while researching for the ultimate strawberry shortcake recipe. I tried the sponge cake recipe and it was my very first that didn’t collapse into a sunken crater. it was a tad sweet though… have you tried reducing the sugar?

  15. […] sponge from scratch, using an asian style sponge recipe!  I was inspired,  after stumbling upon Crummb’s “Perfect Sponge Cake” blog entry quite a few months ago.  She totally convinced me to give it a go!  I have made […]

  16. Rukshi Says:

    babe would this recipe would work well for a swiss roll ??

    • crummb Says:

      i don’t think it’ll work in a swiss roll. but if you wanna experiment, try substituting plain flour with cake flour? lemme know the results. i wanna know too!

  17. Audrey Says:

    Hi! I heard about your beautiful cakes from Lisa over the weekend. Rosanna sent me the link to your blog today… inspiring and wonderful to see what you’ve achieved! Thanks for sharing the sponge cake recipe. I will try it.

    • crummb Says:

      oily leong!!! long time no see! how are you? welcome to my blog and i hope the sponge works out well. try it with cake flour (instead of plain flour) and you’ll get an even softer texture 🙂

  18. Sugar Says:

    Hi there, love your website – especially the photos (so well taken) and the honest sharing of your baking experiences (and also tips!) I tried the recipe you posted, I really wanted it to work out but alas it didn’t, my fault really. Here’s a record of my experience:

    Will have to try it again with a proper sized pan. And with less meddling on my part 😉 But anyway thanks!

  19. TaRa Says:

    You made me laughhhhhhhhhhh non stop while reading…If i wanted to blog my genoise and sponge cake experience I would have never said it anyyyyyyyyy better…i stopped and laughed mostly at 2 points you said:
    **You may start to think that these people (who write the recipes ) just dont know how to eat a spongy fluffy cake (since most of the recipes end with a coarse disaster)
    **The part where you said you (and me) dont talk or breath at allllllllllllllllllllll during preparing the batter… hahahahaha
    My sister thinks i am crazy when i ask her to SHUT UP and STOP COMMENTING while i work on that so called perfect cake
    She scolds me non stop asking me to stop imagining such a devine cake….

    “How can it be that you tried over 26 recipes and still complained that it is not what you want…can all these writers be wrong and only you right?? no such cake laaaaaaaaa” my sister alwayssssssssssssss says that to poor me

    I still have not tried your version but beleive me at least i feel like i am Molder tyring to convince Scully on one X-Files Episode that A UFO fluffy spongy cake DOES EXIST…SOMEWHERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    So thanks for sharing all this

  20. Ashley Says:

    hi crumbs! i tried making this a few days ago but i think the egg flavour was too strong. Do you have any idea why ?

  21. pang Says:

    Hey, really thanks a lot for this recipe!
    really ‘spongy’ cake made. but still Hong Kong style.

    will try to add more butter / egg white and try again.

    BTW, I think the process which whisk egg white to soft peak form before adding sugar is a key process. It made the egg white mixture so smooth (which I feel like.. whoa.. never see smooth like this before even melting sugar with egg white beating over simmering water!) hahaha

    But I still prefer a more rich and dense cake, maybe I should add more butter so it’s not so dry.

    However, thanksssssss a lot! For the new inspiration!

  22. […] you make a sponge cake (I used the fail-proof recipe by my beloved Chef Alex Goh), cut it into cubes and line a glass […]

  23. […] you make a sponge cake (I used the fail-proof recipe by my beloved Chef Alex Goh), cut it into cubes and line a glass […]

  24. Wendy Says:

    I can sooo relate to you. I was on the relentless search on finding the perfect sponge cake recipe too! Now i found it from a taiwanese written book i found in Popular.
    Though mine is different from yours but I am going to try this recipe one day!
    Just wanna know, how did you make the chocolate icing?

  25. […] baked a lot going home this week – I think I made 3 sponge cakes? This recipe is quite good – although the cake is a bit more on the dry side, in my opinion. Let […]

  26. Davo Says:

    Is that right only plain flour?? Others I’ve seen say self raising.

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