On many of the cake decorating shows on TV they refer to cakes as “sponges” because they like to use light, airy sponge-type cakes for building their elaborate creations. Sponge cakes don’t get the recognition that they deserve as light, versatile cakes that are good for everything from a simple strawberry shortcake to a show stopping wedding cake. Sponge cakes are typically leavened by beating whole eggs until they have tripled or quadrupled in volume, or by folding beaten egg whites into a cake base to lighten it up. Chiffon cakes and angel food cakes are both types of sponge cakes. One of my favorite sponge cakes is my Vanilla Hot Milk Sponge Cake – and it should be one of yours, too.
The cake is a very light, airy cake that has just enough butter in it to ensure that it is always soft and tender, never dry. It isn’t too sweet, though it might seem like it uses a lot of sugar at first glance, and that means that it can be paired with almost any frosting or filling recipe you can think of. The sugar in this cake helps give the cake its moist, tight crumb and cutting it down may have an impact on the texture of the finished cake. The texture also makes this cake great for layering. It holds its shape well – even if you’re torting it into very thin layers to make a taller cake – and the layers won’t crack easily, unlike heavier butter cakes.
The method for making a hot milk sponge cake is easy – and it does involve hot milk, just as the name says. The cake starts by beating whole eggs with sugar until the mixture is very fluffy and mousse-like, then the dry ingredients are stirred in to that base. The last addition is a mixture of melted butter and hot milk, which brings the batter together. This type of recipe has been around for a very long time and simmering the milk before adding it in to the cake batter actually results in a slightly higher rise and a finer texture than you would get otherwise.
This recipe is good for making a two or three layer cake in 8 or 9-inch round pans. If baking a three layer cake, you will need to reduce the baking time by about 5 minutes. Check the cakes before the timer goes off to avoid overbaking. The cake rounds can be cooled and wrapped in plastic wrap, if you want to make them a day ahead of time, or they can be frosted and filled right away. Since I’m a vanilla-lover, I recommend frosting this with Vanilla Bean Buttercream or a simple American buttercream – and maybe tucking a few berries between those layers, too.
Vanilla Hot Milk Sponge Cake
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat eggs and sugar together at medium-high speed until the mixture has at least tripled in volume, about 5 minutes. Whisk in flour mixture by hand or with the mixer at low speed.
In the meantime, combine butter and milk in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring to melt the butter. Remove from heat and add in vanilla and almond extracts. Allow to cool slightly, 2-3 minutes.
With the mixer on low speed, gradually incorporate the hot milk mixture into the cake batter until batter is uniform.
Divide evenly into prepared pans.
Bake for about 24-26 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool for about 5 minutes in the pans, then run a knife around the edges and turn them out onto wire racks to cool completely.
Fill and frost cakes as desired.
Makes 1 layer cake; Serves 10.
Italian Vanilla Bean Buttercream
1 lb (2 cups) unsalted butter, soft and cut into one inch pieces
3/4 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
5 large egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 vanilla bean
In the bowl of a stand mixer, place egg whites, with cream of tartar and 1/4 cup sugar nearby.
Heat 3/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Heat over medium high heat until sugar is dissolved. When sugar reaches 230F on a candy thermometer, turn mixer on medium high. When egg whites are frothy, add cream of tartar. Gradually add the 1/4 cup sugar. When egg whites begin to form soft peaks, turn the mixer down to medium low and begin to drizzle in the boiling sugar mixture (which should be at approximately 245-250F, firm ball stage). When all of the hot sugar is added, turn the mixer up to medium high and beat until the bowl is no longer warm to the touch. Add the butter one lump at a time and continue beating until mixture is smooth and fluffy, approximately 12-20 minutes. It will look rather like ricotta cheese for a while – just keep beating!
Once it is smooth, scrape vanilla bean and mix in the vanilla specks (or use 1-2 tsp vanilla extract).
Keep at room temperature – do not refrigerate before it has been spread on a cake or cupcakes.
Makes enough to frost one 2 layer, 8, 9 or 10 inch cake.