Alice Medrich

3 Tiny Steps for Perfecting Any Sponge Cake Recipe

April  3, 2017

A perfect sponge cake—for Passover or otherwise—should be easy and fun to make. If this has not been your experience, or you want to improve an already good recipe, read on.

A typical sponge cake with separated eggs works like this: Separate the eggs, beat yolks with all or most of the sugar in a stand mixer until pale and light, then add any liquids, citrus zest, and flour (or matzo cake meal). Scrape it all into to another bowl. Wash and dry the mixer bowl and beaters thoroughly before whipping the eggs whites—they need to be absolutely grease free, or the egg whites won't beat. Fold mixtures together, etc. Some recipes eliminate the bowl washing interruption by whipping whites first and transferring them to the second bowl, then beating the yolks in the unwashed mixer bowl—since traces of egg white won’t hurt the yolks.

Either way, I’m not happy. I like to mix a cake in a graceful series of uninterrupted steps that do not include stopping to degrease utensils! Nor do I allow egg whites to wait—even briefly while beating another mixture—lest they lose the moisture and elasticity needed for perfect folding and a truly light cake.

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My way works like this:

Use a hand mixer to beat the yolks with the salt and sugar in a bowl that's large enough to fold all of the batter together later. Put egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer, adding 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar, or 1 teaspoon of either lemon juice or white vinegar for every 4 egg whites. As soon as the egg whites are ready (as described in your recipe), fold them into the yolk mixture—not vice versa— in the larger bowl.

Three tips

I use a hand mixer and a stand mixer, because it’s easier, produces better results, and gets rid of a tedious, interruptive step.

I beat salt with the yolk and sugar mixture instead of adding it with the flour—so the yolks emulsify and whip up faster.

I stabilize my egg whites with something acidic, like cream of tartar, lemon juice, or vinegar. (For more info on why this is important, see our prelude to beating egg whites.)

And finally, batter goes in pan, and pan goes in oven. Cool as directed.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Aisha
  • Alice Medrich
    Alice Medrich
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


Aisha April 17, 2017
Great tips as usual, though I usually mix the yolks by hand as I don't have a hand mixer (yes I get a workout and yes I usually make small recipes, requiring 4 not 8 yolks).
I don't own a tube pan and haven't found any where I live, so I've always converted recipes to fit into a narrow tall-sided loaf pan that i have. And they seem to work ok, though unmolding is a pain because it doesn't have a removable bottom.
But I have always wondered whether I could just bake them in a round cake pan. I know a genoise can be baked that way (oddly enough I've often had more success with genoise than sponge). And there are many times when I would have rather baked a flavored sponge for a birthday cake rather than bake and soak Genoise.
Is there any reason why a sponge would not work in a round cake pan? (my worry would be the lack of central support but I'm not sure how big of an issue that is)
If it does work, any tips on what size plan to choose depending on the size of the tube pan?
Alice M. May 26, 2017
I'm sorry I missed this last month. Yes, yolks by hand works too, but not all home cooks are going to find it easy to expend that much energy getting yolks really light and fluffy for cakes that require that.
Absent a tube pan, a tall narrow loaf pan sounds smart. The need for a tube (or tall narrow loaf) depends on the cake. A tall really really light and airy and moist sponge will need that central support or narrow pan. Genoise, as you well know, is less tall, less airy, and less moist so it works fine without a tube. I would suspect that if a sponge recipe calls for a tube, it might need one. However, if you are willing for your cake to be less tall—say 2 inches or so, you can bake the batter in a 9x13 pan (metal not glass) instead. I do this for some of the chiffon cake recipes in my book, Flavor Flours, and I think I may have sone it with an Angel Food years ago! Basically, just think "sheet cake" instead of tube cake!