Old-fashioned Aussie cream sponge
Well, this is about the most romantic I got today. Isn't it such fun to realise how alone you are on Valentines Day and that you'll die alone in a damp room; a crazy old woman surrounded by cats and old newspapers? I was at home sick today as well so that was doubly jolly. Ok, /end maudlin navel-gazing!!
Basically, we have some very ancient heart-shaped cake tins that used to be owned by my grandmother, and they never get used. I'm not so into pink and hearts and fluffy sparkly things, so making a heart-shaped cake? Hah! Naah. But, it's Valentines day, and I had a long rehearsal tonight, so decided that if I was going to get wet, I may as well go swimming. A cake in the shape of loveheart to make you smile. For most of us it was the most romantic thing that happened all day!
I decided a few months ago that I wanted to make and post about a proper Australian sponge cake. I've been feeling a bit perplexed at strange cake-like items appearing in cookbooks and websites calling themselves sponge cakes when they are patently not. Take the Victoria Sponge. Now, I'm not familiar with the nomenclature of sponge cakes, but in my book a sponge cake does not include butter. In fact, it should not contain any fat. Therefore a Victoria Sponge, such as the one that appears in Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess, is not a sponge cake. Additionally, in my experience, a true sponge cake does not even include any wheat flour; instead it uses very fine cornflour and some custard powder to give it its light, airy texture. I don't know if this odd use of cornflour and custard powder is a very Aussie thing, but it's what gives you the type of sponge cake you get when you do a concert in the country and the little old ladies of the Country Womens' Association have made a big spread for your supper afterwards. I tell you, the little old lady who made the sponge cake I tasted after a gig in a little no-traffic-light town in Western Victoria 4 years ago is a baking angel!
Sponge cakes are still big in the baking competition section (check out some of those cake categories!) of the Royal Melbourne Show. Apparently it's the most competitive section and the same competitors have been entering for decades, so it's not worth even contemplating submitting your own. (I've heard that the 'orange cake: top iced' category is in threat, so if you're considering an entry, show your support and try to keep that one alive!) A simple sponge cake filled with jam and whipped cream and passionfruit is about as Australian as it gets. Bar the lamingtons , pavs and Iced VoVos. I have some foreign guests arriving this week, so have another heart shaped sponge tucked away in the freezer. I figure that with a BBQ of lamb chops followed by sponge cake they're getting a pretty good intro into traditional Australian food!
I couldn't immediately locate my great-grandmother's sponge cake recipe in her handwritten book, so I turned to this excellent article that appeared in The Age Epicure in 2004. The article, questioning why we don't make sponges any more, prompted the staff of the workplace I was in to establish their own in-house sponge cake competition. Please keep your applause to a minimum as I inform you that I won that competition, even though I was only the work-experience girl! ;-) I didn't use the recipe in the article, but this time I did and I think it's even better than my original. Read it for some very good baking tips. I also feel a bit smug by saying that the pastry chef who wrote the article also made my 21st birthday cake, but I don't think she was nearly as well-known then...
Sponges are delicate, and many people think they're too hard to attempt because they'll collapse. I haven't found that, and let me point out that despite my successful sponges last night, I also managed to bake a completely flat walnut cake and some floppy, uncooked Anzac biscuits. Sponges are therefore foolproof! In fact, I had imagined sandwiching my two tins together, but both rose so high that I was able to cut each in half and have enough for two.
Now: fillings. You don't want to get too experimental with fillings. Jam, some whipped cream and dusted with icing sugar is about as good as it gets. Tangy passionfuit icing on top is also pretty damn good. I spread my base with some cranberry sauce I had left from Christmas, and crushed some strawberries with sugar and a spoonful of rosewater which I folded into some whipped cream. Even though I only used a little rosewater, the flavour clearly came through. Be careful with it if you don't want to be reminded of a grandmother's dressing table. Dusted with icing sugar, this was as light, airy and girlishly romantic as you can get. It went down very well indeed.
Read on for the recipe:
Old-fashioned Aussie Sponge Cake
Based on Cecilia Sartori's Passionfruit Sponge
5 eggs (large)
¾ cup castor sugar
½ cup custard powder
½ cup cornflour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
• Preheat oven to 175C, lower if convection oven.
• Separate the whites and yolks, set yolks aside.
• Whisk the whites until soft peaks form, gradually adding the sugar. Add the yolks to the whisked whites, mixing until combined.
• Remove from the mixer and fold through the sieved dry ingredients.
• Transfer to the buttered and floured tin/s.
• Bake for 20-25 minutes for the small cakes or 35 minutes for the large.
•Yield: 2 x 20cm round tins or 1 x 28cm round tin
Tagged with cake