A piece of cake with that?

Sponge Cake

My mother taught me this recipe and it is, to me, the ultimate sponge cake. It’s unleavened which means that the only thing making it rise is air. Whisking is important. the folding in of flour and butter (or oil) has to be done carefully.

I love this cake not just because my mother gave it to me, but also because it can be dressed up and varied endlessly. I’ve used it for apple and cinnamon cake, chocolate cake, pineapple-upside down cake, coconut cake and a number of other varieties. Cut the cooled cake in half, put fruit, stiff custard or chocolate icing in the middle and it’s ready for a big celebration. Or, if you need desert, serve slices with a dollop of whipped cream and a spoonful of fruit salad.

Serves: 8. Prep: 15 minutes. Cooking time: 30-45 minutes.
Stores: In the cupboard, in a sealed container, 3-4 days. In the freezer, up to 3 months.


  • Small pot
  • Scales
  • Measuring jug (optional)
  • Knife
  • Large bowl
  • Electric whisk
  • Spatula
  • 23 cm round cake tin


  • 50 grams butter, and a tiny pinch to grease the tin
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 300 ml caster sugar (~250 grams)
  • 300 ml plain flour (~160 grams)


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 175C (160 fan).
  2. Grease the tin with butter.
  3. Melt the butter in the pot and put to the side to cool.
  4. Crack the eggs into the whisking bowl and add the sugar.
  5. Measure out the flour and make sure the spatula is handy.
  6. Whisk the eggs and sugar on full for about three minutes, until pale and fluffy.
  7. Put the whisk aside, tip the flour and pour the butter into the egg and sugar foam.
  8. Fold in the flour and butter with the spatula. The aim is to incorporate the dry and fat without breaking all the air bubbles in the egg and sugar foam. cut through the middle of the bowl, towards yourself, then fold along the side of the bowl. Turn the bowl 90 degrees, repeat.
  9. When the flour and butter is incorporated, pour into the cake tin.
  10. Put in the oven immediately.
  11. Leave for 30 minutes, stick a toothpick into the middle. If it comes out completely dry, leave for another 15 minutes. If in doubt, leave for a total of 45 minutes, or until the top is crisp, crackles and golden.
  12. Remove from oven. Ideally, leave to cool completely – about an hour.


  • Dairy free: Swap the butter for 50 grams oil. Not only does that make the batte rdairy free, if you use a flavoured oil, you have a free variation. For example, use hazelnut, coco, or lemon-infused rapeseed oils.
  • Chocolate: Swap 100 ml plain flour for 100 ml plain cocoa. Sieve the cocoa – it forms lumps really easily and lumps are bad.
  • Chocolate and hazelnut: Swap 100 ml plain flour for 100 ml plain cocoa, and the butter for 50 grams hazelnut oil. Instant Nutella cake (except not quite that sweet).
  • Totally over the top chocolate and hazelnut: As above, but when cooled, cut in half and spread half a jar of Nutella on the bottom, then stick the top back on. Whether served with whipped cream or not, chocolate lovers will adore you for giving them this. (Unless they’re allergic to nuts.)
  • Wholemeal is healthy: Swap the plain flour for wholemeal and brown the butter. (Heat it until it goes a golden brown – avoid black.) Proceed as per recipe. This won’t rice quite as high because of the extra bran in wholemeal but the browned butter brings out a nutty, very moreish flavour.
  • Apple and cinnamon cake: Cut one or two normal-sized apples into thin slices and cover in a mixture or sugar and cinnamon. Pout half of the batter into the cake tin, arrange the apple slices in rounds, pressing them in a little, pour the rest of the batter on top.

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