By Chef Diane
In the warm summer months in Southern Mississippi, there are few things that taste better with Sunday lunch than fresh strawberry shortcake. There are strawberry fields right across the river from us and my mother will go and get a flat of strawberry’s that are nice and sweet and juicy. She will cut them up and let them sit in a bowl with sugar, also known as macerate them. After they have been sitting for a few hours she will spoon them over some fresh sponge cake and top it with some cold whipped cream and there is a little slice of heaven sitting on a plate.
Sponge cake is particularly good with strawberries, because it soaks up the juices from the berries, without getting mushy and falling apart. This dessert typically contains only basic ingredients such as sugar, eggs, and flour. The key to the perfect sponge cake is in the technique. The batter must be beaten thoroughly in order to create volume. The eggs are beaten with the sugar until frothy, and then the flour is sprinkled in. Sometimes, the yolks are beaten with the sugar first while the whites are beaten separately to a meringue-like foam, to be gently folded in later. The mixture is then poured into the chosen cake tin and baked. Both methods take great care to incorporate air in the beating, whisking and sieving stages. This makes a very light product, but it is easy to lose the air by removing the cake before it has finished in the oven.
Once the cake is removed from the oven, it is very flexible. This helps when making other desserts, such as a jelly roll, or Bûche de Noël at Christmas time. A favorite of Queen Victoria was the Victorian Sponge. She enjoyed the cake with her afternoon tea. A typical Victoria sponge consists of raspberry jam and whipped double cream or vanilla cream. The jam and cream are sandwiched between two sponge cakes; the top of the cake is not iced or decorated apart from a dusting of icing sugar.
Although the first sponge cake recipes date back to 1615 England, it wasn't until the 18th century that they gained vast popularity, as the use of yeast as a leavening agent dwindled with the rise of beaten eggs instead. Today is National Sponge Cake Day. To help you celebrate, I have included a recipe from Emeril Lagasse from the foodnetwork.com. Hope you Enjoy!
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8 large eggs
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a small saucepan, warm the milk and 2 teaspoons of the butter together over medium-low heat.
- With an electric mixer fitted with a wire whip, beat the eggs and 1 cup of the sugar on medium-high speed in a large mixing bowl until the mixture is pale yellow, thick, and tripled in volume, about 8 minutes.
- With the mixer on low speed, beat in the warm milk mixture. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a small mixing bowl. Add half the flour mixture to the egg mixture and blend thoroughly until smooth. Repeat with the other half. Add the vanilla and mix gently.
- Grease a 17 by 12-inch baking pan or jelly-roll pan with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Pour the cake batter into the pan, spreading it evenly. Bake until the cake springs back when touched, about 15 minutes.
- Cool for about 2 minutes, and then gently flip it out onto a large sheet of parchment paper. Let cool completely.