This One-Bowl Chocolatey Sponge Cake Looks Like It Came From a Bakery

Chetna Makan, columnist and former Great British Bake-Off contestant, shows us her signature no-fuss method.

January 31, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

On your mark, get set, bake! Food52 contributor and Great British Bake-Off contestant, Chetna Makan, is here to give us the lowdown on the kind of food she makes at home: simple, Indian-inspired weeknight wonders, showstopping sweets, and so much more.

When I was little, my mother would make our birthday cakes at home each year. They were nothing fancy: Just a single-tiered affair with no icing or anything remotely close to decorations. She took a couple of baking classes when I was very young, and there she picked up recipes like vanilla sponge, pineapple cake, and eggless date cake; these are the ones she made for us all the time. Despite their simplicity, those treats tasted amazing and gave me great joy.

As I got a little older, and into my teens, my mother would still bake for us, but we'd also buy beautiful cakes from a local bakery, adorned with swirls of cream and fine royal icing designs. I then took it upon myself to bake birthday cakes for all the family members, and tried my hand at decorating them with buttercream and candy to help make them look a bit more fancy. I but could never get quite close enough to the bakery's cakes, but instead, mastered some of the basics: vanilla sponges, basic royal icing, and vanilla buttercream.

I stopped baking for a while after that, going to university, studying fashion, then moving to the U.K. I had a very uncreative, boring job—but somehow I needed to make things. Having a huge sweet tooth, baking seemed like the natural way to go. So I got into it once again, beginning with simple cakes: Victoria sponge, coffee, and walnut, to start. I’d make them over the weekend on my days off. Then I became a mother and slowly found myself arranging coffee and cake mornings with other parents. This is when the baking started getting a bit more serious, as I found myself doing it more and more for my new friends.

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“But I do enjoy making a chocolate layer cake with chocolate icing. It's cake for crying out loud - delicious! ”
— Laura L.

Inspired to learn new techniques and recipes to bake, I got a subscription to BBC’s Good Food Magazine, one of the biggest food publications in the U.K. I remember trying recipes I thought were impossible, like Swiss rolls, and even started making up recipes of my own, like a raspberry, mascarpone cream, and amaretto concoction that my friends still remember to this day.

But all this while, I knew I ultimately wanted to bake for my two kids—just as my mum did for me. So I started challenging myself with their birthday cakes in particular: Every year, I would choose a design or idea that was a bit more complicated than the previous year, using fondant to shape them into the kids’ desired designs. This meant things like cars, dinosaurs, castles, fairy houses, you name it. Eventually, the kids realized that fondant icing was actually sickly-sweet and overpowered the delicate cakes underneath. So they began requesting other icing options, like buttercream, Italian meringue buttercream, and chocolate ganache. These more-sophisticated icings started covering more grown-up cakes: filled with hazelnut cream, Ferrero Rocher, lemon curd, and more.

Which brings me to this year: As usual, I asked my daughter to pick a flavor for her cake. She went for chocolate orange, in honor of one of her favorite holiday sweets. Though I had never made a cake like this before, I was very pleased to hear that she was after a more adventurous combination, and got to work on the recipe.

After a lot of playing around, I found that my signature one-bowl sponge would work beautifully. I've baked sponge cakes about a million times, but have found traditional recipes to be a bit fussier than I like: Most recipes ask for a whipping of egg yolks with sugar, separate whipping of egg whites to stiff peaks, melting of butter, and gentle incorporation of these wet ingredients with the dry ingredients. Baking is all about patience, and I have that in abundance. But after trying my hand at so many cakes, I wondered if I actually did need all these steps, or if an all-in-one approach would work. So some time ago, I tried combining the sponge cake's ingredients at the same time—wet and dry, all in one step—and have never looked back.

The key to a light sponge with this method is using ingredients that have all come to room temperature; this allows the batter to come together quickly and consistently. Make sure you have soft butter, which is best left out of the fridge the night before, room-temperature eggs, and room temperature milk, to start. After you get ingredients ready, the method's extremely easy: Everything goes into a stand mixer, where it’s whisked for two minutes. During this time, you’ll see the mixture change from a yellow color to much paler off-white, with a noticeably fluffier texture. The softened butter emulsifies with the sugar and flour and traps the air, making the sponge nice and light.

This method can be used with almost any flavor sponge—vanilla, lemon, peppermint, to name a few. Just mix up the extracts in the batter, or add finely ground spices (cardamom and cinnamon are some of my favorites). For this rendition, which is slightly orange-scented, I covered it with a silky, orange-flavored chocolate ganache. Good-quality dark chocolate mixed with chopped-up bits of Terry’s chocolate orange and cream makes for a lovely and rich icing that's not too sweet. I finish the cake with chopped toasted hazelnuts, to give some crunch; and as a reminder of my teenage cake-decorating years, I of course couldn’t resist decorating with pieces of Terry’s chocolate orange, too.

What's your favorite cake flavor? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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judy September 21, 2021
Try cutting cold butter into flour, then add leavening ingredients, then sugar then liquids and beaten eggs. Light airy and quick to go together. NO waiting for butter to soften. Warm liquids. Beaten egg first. Aerates it, blends yolk and white and brings it to room temperature while getting the rest of the ingredients ready. Then make well in dry ingredients, pour in warm liquid and incorporate to cool slightly songs don't cook. Then eggs in last. Amazing cake and no mixer required.
Deborah November 14, 2020
While I don’t normally care for angel food cake, my favorite is angel food covered in a simple fresh lemon glaze. It sinks into the cake, giving it a heavier texture more like regular cake versus the usual cotton candy nothingness.
Chetna M. November 16, 2020
I love lemon glaze too!
maria February 29, 2020
Looks very interesting, but won't attempt it since I have no idea how to measure with grams and milliliters. Most recipe use both measurements for dummies like me. Thanks anyway.
judy September 21, 2021
not difficult to look up conversions on google. I resisted for a long time as well. Now I know the conversions pretty much automatically. Decided that I didn't;t want my lack of knowledge to limit my baking!
Laura L. February 18, 2020
I am going to try this cake out, sounds very light - and the winter I love trying new recipes.
My all time favorite cake to make and stand back and be proud is coconut layer cake. Just amazing. But I do enjoy making a chocolate layer cake with chocolate icing. It's cake for crying out loud - delicious!
Chetna M. November 16, 2020
Hope you did give this a go!
judy February 16, 2020
Looks great. I think the only change I would make is to use juice of the orange instead of the extract. I'll give it a try. My Husband loves chocolate orange.
Chetna M. November 16, 2020
Hope your husband and you both liked the cake Judy
Blueberry February 4, 2020
Hello Chetna, this sounds amazing as I love sponge cake yet hate all the steps too. Would this method work with a hand mixer? Or a handheld (electric) whisk? The whisk is an attachment that came with an immersion blender that I've never tried yet, the hand mixer is a standard, egg-beater type thing. Maybe the hand mixer on not too high speed? What do you think?
Brinda A. February 11, 2020
Hi Blueberry, thanks for writing in! This method should work with a handheld electric whisk for sure—just something that will aerate the batter quickly and powerfully. Hope this helps!
HalfPint February 4, 2020
My favorite cake flavor is lemon. Always lemon :)
Sunny February 3, 2020
I enjoyed reading your story, Chetna. Good to see your picture after watching you bake on the British Baking Show. I was going to ask for the ingredients in lbs. , cups and ounces, but I suppose I could get guide for that! Probably right in my cookbooks 🥳 Cheers, Sunny
Chetna M. November 16, 2020
Thanks Sunny!