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Sponge cake is a light cake made with eggs, flour and sugar,[1] sometimes leavened with baking powder.[2] Sponge cakes, leavened with beaten eggs, originated during the Renaissance, possibly in Spain.[3] The sponge cake is thought to be one of the first of the non-yeasted cakes, and the earliest attested sponge cake recipe in English is found in a book by the English poet Gervase Markham, The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman (1615).[4] Still, the cake was much more like a cookie: thin and crispy. Sponge cakes became the cake recognized today when bakers started using beaten eggs as a rising agent in the mid 18th century. The Victorian creation of baking powder by English food manufacturer Alfred Bird in 1843 enabled the sponge to rise higher than cakes made previously, resulting in the Victoria Sponge.

Sponge cake
Cake competition (14287027130).jpg
Sponge cake (Victoria sponge) at a 2014 village fête baking competition
Region or stateEurope
Main ingredientsFlour, sugar, eggs


The earliest known recipe for sponge cake (or biscuit bread) from Gervase Markham's The English Huswife (1615) is prepared by mixing flour and sugar into eggs, then seasoning with anise and coriander seeds.[5] 19th century descriptions of avral vary from place to place but it sometimes described as "sponge biscuits" or a "crisp sponge" with a light dusting of sugar ".[6] Traditional American sponge recipes diverged from earlier methods of preparation, adding ingredients like vinegar, baking powder, hot water or milk.[7]

Sponge cake covered in boiled icing was very popular in American cuisine during the 1920s and 1930s. The delicate texture of sponge and angel food cakes, and the difficulty of their preparation, meant these cakes were more expensive than daily staple pies. At the historic Frances Virginia Tea Room in Atlanta sponge cake with lemon filling and boiled icing was served, while New York City's Crumperie served not only crumpets but toasted sponge cake as well.[8][7]

Variations on the theme of a cake lifted, partially or wholly, by trapped air in the batter exist in most places where European patisserie has spread, including the Anglo-Jewish "plava",[9] Italian génoise, the Portuguese pão-de-ló, and the possibly ancestral Italian pan di Spagna ("Spanish bread").[10][11]

Methods of preparationEdit

The basic whisked sponge cake does not contain any fat. It is made by whisking eggs and caster sugar and gently folding in flour.[12] This type of cake is also called foam cake, depending on aeration of eggs and heat to rise.[13] Anne Willan has said that "sponge may have some butter added, but not much or it will not rise". Some types of sponge are baked in ungreased pans to improve the cake's rise by allowing the batter to adhere and climb the sides of the pan.[7] Cream of tartar or baking soda are recommended by some turn of the century cookbooks to make Swiss rolls more pliable and easier to roll.[14]

To make Genoise cake flour and melted butter are added to the egg mixture for a moister cake.[12] The "biscuit" sponge from early American cuisine is made by beating egg yolks with sugar, then alternately folding in whisked egg whites and flour. Willam says both types of sponge cake are represented in French cuisine.[7]

For some cakes like the Victoria Sponge, fat and sugar are creamed before eggs and flour are incorporated into the batter, similar to pound cake.[12][15] In British English layer cakes like the Victoria Sponge are called "sandwich sponge".[6] This type of buttery cake was not possible without baking powder, which was discovered by English food manufacturer Alfred Bird in 1843, allowing the sponge to rise higher.[16][17]

Sponge soaks up flavors from fresh fruits, fillings and custard sauces.[7] Although sponge cake is usually made without butter, its flavor is often enhanced with buttercream, pastry cream or other types of fillings and frostings.[13] The basic recipe is also used for madeleines, ladyfingers, and trifles, as well as some versions of strawberry shortcake.[12]



Steamed sponge cake like the ma lai gao are commonly found in Malaysia. Chinese almond sponge is steamed and topped with boiled icing, chocolate, vegetables or fresh fruit. Korean sponge called saeng is usually made with rice flour and topped with whipped topping and fruit. Vietnamese versions add fresh herbs to the batter like mint, lemon grass or basil, and use caramelized tropical fruit as topping. Milk and jaggery are added to sponge cake in India which is served with the creamy Sri Lankan speciality avocado crazy.[3] Western style sponge cakes topped with whipped cream and strawberries are popular in Japan where sponge is also used as a base for cheesecakes.[5]

Angel food cakeEdit

Angel food cake is a 19th century American cake that contains no egg yolks or butter. The cake is leavened using only egg whites and baking powder.[5] This recipe can be traced to 18th century American cookbooks. The delicate cake is baked in an ungreased pan and cooled upside down.[7]

Chiffon cakeEdit

Chiffon cake is a light and moist cake made with vegetable oil. It is similar to angel food cake and was commonly served with grapefruit at the Brown Derby in Hollywood during the 1930s.[6]

Boston cream pieEdit

The official state dessert of Massachusetts, the Boston cream pie, is a chocolate-glazed, layered yellow sponge cake filled with pastry cream. It may be based on the Washington Pie, originally two layers of yellow cake with jam filling and a dusting of icing sugar.[6] The first known written recipe from the 1878 Granite Iron Ware Cook Book uses baking powder for the sponge. Maria Parloa published several recipes for cream pie, includes one for chocolate cream pie. Parloa's recipe is the closest to the modern Boston Cream Pie.[18]

Tipsy cakeEdit

Isabella Beeton, colloquially known by her moniker Mrs. Beeton, included a recipe for her version of Tipsy Cake in Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management where cake was baked in a decorative mold before it was soaked in sherry and brandy with custard poured over, or broken into smaller pieces and topped with whipped cream like trifle.[19]


The earliest known form of trifle was a simple thickened cream flavored with sugar, rosewater and ginger but recipes for egg-thickened custard was poured over sponge fingers, almond macaroons and sack-soaked ratafia biscuits are known from the mid-18th century. In 1747 Hannah Glasse adds syllabub and currant jelly over the custard. Similar recipes are known for the same time with the sponge soaked in sherry, wine or fruit juice. Eliza Acton's recipe for "Duke's Custard" was made from custard poured over brandied cherries rolled in sugar with sponge fingers (or macaroons) and pink whipped cream. Wyvern complained that trifle "should be made to time-honored standards, and not debased into a horror of stale cake, mean jam, canned fruits, packet jelly and packet custard."[19]

Victoria spongeEdit

A slice of Victoria sponge cake, served with cream and a strawberry at the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway café in Wales

The Victoria sponge, also known as the Victoria sandwich cake, was named after Queen Victoria, who was known to enjoy the small cakes of the sponge cake with her afternoon tea. The sponge evolved from the classic pound cake – equal quantities of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. According to Alysa Levene of Oxford Brookes University the term "sponge" is used "erroneously" for the Victoria Sandwich cake:

"The pound cake became popular in Britain in the eighteenth century as cake moved away from its heavy, fruity incarnations toward something lighter and more golden, eventually becoming the iconic Victoria sandwich cake (also known - erroneously - as a Victoria sponge)"[20]

The difference was the Victorian creation of baking powder, which was discovered by English food manufacturer Alfred Bird in 1843, which enabled the sponge to rise higher.[21][22] This invention, writes cookery author Felicity Cloake, "was celebrated with a patriotic cake", Victoria sponge.[21]

A typical Victoria sponge filling consists of strawberry jam. Modern versions of the filling include cream but the version Queen Victoria ate would have been filled with jam alone.[21] The jam and cream are sandwiched between two sponge cakes; the top of the cake is not iced or decorated apart from a dusting of icing sugar. The Women's Institute publishes a variation on the Victoria sandwich that has strawberry jam as the filling and is dusted with caster sugar, not icing sugar.[23]

The sponge cake has been featured in The Great British Bake Off television series on two occasions.[24]

A Victoria sponge is made using one of two methods.[16] The traditional method involves creaming caster sugar with fat (usually butter), mixing thoroughly with beaten egg, then folding flour and raising agent into the mixture. The modern method, using an electric mixer or food processor, involves simply whisking all the ingredients together until creamy.[25][12][26] Additionally, the modern method typically uses an extra raising agent, and some recipes call for an extra-soft butter or margarine.[16]

Sponge cakes, chocolate cake (left) and Victoria sponge (right), on an outdoor garden table in Essex, England

Both the traditional and modern methods are relatively quick and simple, producing consistent results, making this type of mixture one of the most popular for children and people in a hurry. This basic "cake" mixture has been made into a wide variety of treats and puddings, including cupcakes, chocolate cake, and Eve's pudding.[25][26][12]

Although simple to make, Victoria sponge recipes are notoriously sensitive to cooking times and temperatures. As such, oven manufacturers often use a Victoria sponge recipe to test their ovens.[27] Competitive Victoria sponge baking is part of the classic British fête.[21]

Religious celebrationsEdit

At PassoverEdit

Since sponge cakes are not leavened with yeast, they are popular dessert choices for the Passover feast.[28] Typically, Passover sponges are made with matzo meal, shredded coconut,[29] matzo flour, potato flour, or nut flour (almond, hazelnut etc.) since raw wheat products may not be used.[30] No raising agent may be used due to the strict prohibition of even the appearance of a leavening effect. Therefore, the beating of egg whites in the mix to achieve the aeration is an essential characteristic of any Passover sponge recipe. Many families have at least one recipe they pass down through generations, and matzo meal-based cake mixes are available commercially. Several brands are easily found in kosher stores, especially before Passover. Typical flavorings include almonds, apples, dark chocolate, lemon, pecans, and poppy seeds. Apple or orange juice is the liquid ingredient. Milk is avoided, because it cannot be included in a dessert to be served after a meat based meal. The sponge, or a heavier variant in the form of an almond pudding, may be included as an element of the dessert in the Passover meal during the Seder service, when it is often combined in serving with a fruit compote.[31][32]

On ChristmasEdit

The Yule log is a Christmas dessert made from a sheet of sponge cake spread with filling and rolled up. It is topped with chocolate to give the appearance of bark. Decorative elements like mushrooms made of meringue, spun-sugar spiderwebs or crushed pistachios can be added to enhance the cake's finished appearance.[6]

Image galleryEdit


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  2. ^ "Sponge cake". BBC. Retrieved 2019-11-19.
  3. ^ a b Castella, Krystina (2010). A World of Cake: 150 Recipes for Sweet Traditions From Cultures Around the World, pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-1-60342-576-6.
  4. ^ Davidson, Alan (2002). The Penguin Companion to Food. Penguin Books. p. 147.
  5. ^ a b c Humble, Nicola. Cake: A Global History.
  6. ^ a b c d e Oxford Companion of Sugar and Sweets
  7. ^ a b c d e f Byrn, Anne (2016-09-06). American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, the Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best-Loved Cakes. ISBN 9781623365431.
  8. ^ Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn: A Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America. St. Martin's Press. 2002. p. 44.
  9. ^ Roden, Claudia (1996). The Book of Jewish Food. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 187–8. ISBN 0-394-53258-9.
  10. ^ The Silver Spoon (US ed.). New York: Phaidon Press. 2005. p. 1013. ISBN 0-7148-4531-0.
  11. ^ Roden, 1996, p. 595.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book 1995 printing.
  13. ^ a b Braker, Flo (2003). The Simple Art of Perfect Baking. ISBN 9780811841092.
  14. ^ The Bulawayo Cookery Book. 1909. p. 114.
  15. ^ Gisslen, Wayne (2017). Professional Baking, 7th Edition. Wiley.
  16. ^ a b c Cloake, Felicity (16 May 2013). "How to make the perfect Victoria sponge cake". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
  17. ^ "Alfred Bird: Egg-free custard inventor and chemist". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 25 February 2018
  18. ^ Patent, Greg. "Boston Cream Pie". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  19. ^ a b Norwak, Mary (2008-04-11). English Puddings: Sweet & Savoury. ISBN 9781910690574.
  20. ^ Levene, Alysa (2016-03-15). Cake: A Slice of History. ISBN 9781681771083.
  21. ^ a b c d "The great Victoria sandwich". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 February 2018
  22. ^ "Alfred Bird: Egg-free custard inventor and chemist". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 25 February 2018
  23. ^ "Victoria Sandwich". National Federation of Women's Institutes. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
  24. ^ "The best ever Great British Bake Off recipes". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 February 2018
  25. ^ a b Be-Ro flour Home recipes 40th edition
  26. ^ a b Delia Smith's Book of Cakes Sixth Impression 1981.
  27. ^ Treloar, Roy (2005). Gas Installation Technology]. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 1-4051-1880-6.
  28. ^ Fabricant, Florence (March 28, 1993). "FOOD: Healthful Tips for Passover Favorites". New York Times. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  29. ^ "Raffaello Cake Recipe - Coconut & White Chocolate". Retrieved 2016-01-04.
  30. ^ Fabricant, Florence (April 8, 1990). "FOOD: Meeting the Challenge of a Dessert for the Passover Meal". New York Times. Retrieved October 20, 2007.
  31. ^ "Shalom Boston - Traditional Passover Seder Menu".
  32. ^ Nathan, Joan (1998). Jewish Cooking in America. ISBN 9780375402760.