Earlier this year, in an episode of one of my favourite cooking programmes, ABC1’s ‘The Cook and The Chef’, Maggie Beer (the cook in the title) baked what she called a fail-proof sponge cake, using a recipe from Stephanie Alexander’s cookbook. For those of you outside of Australia not familiar with these two names, let me tell you that Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer are both household names here in Australia. They had co-authored ‘Tuscan Cookbook’ after travelling to Italy together on a cooking tour. Stephanie Alexander is a renowned restaurateur and of course wrote ‘The Cook’s Companion’, generally regarded as the cooking bible for Australian.
Maggie Beer, on the other hand, is the driving force behind the revival of an ancient cooking ingredient, verjuice. She is also the producer of the commercially available verjuice here in Australia. For those of you not familiar with this ingredient, verjuice is an acidic juice made from unripe fruit, primarily grapes, which is used in cooking as a gentle acidulant. Maggie also appears weekly here in Australia on the aforesaid TV cooking programme, and has just recently released her new cookbook, ‘Maggie’s Harvest’.
Anyway I digressed, the cake in question is a cornflour sponge cake, a uniquely Australian-style sponge which is feathery-light and wonderfully soft and fluffy. The two halves of the cake made by Maggie rose so high that when she sandwiched them together, the cake looked like a tower! It was a reverent moment for me! I have baked cornflour sponge a few times before, and none had risen as dramatic as the one shown in that programme. Of course, I had used different recipes before. So I just had to try out this recipe myself. This recipe asked for cream of tartar and bicarbonate of soda to act as raising agents. Although I had seen a few other sponge recipes using these two ingredients as raising agents before, I always thought they were just older recipes from times when baking powder was not easily available and I usually just substituted with baking powder instead. Now I know better! I made this cake, albeit with very slight adjustment, using just two eggs, which is usually just one half of a normal sponge, and look!
The cake rose nearly to the rim of my 6cm tall cake tin! Wow! Wow! Wow! The cake batter when I filled into the tin was less than half the height of the tin! So do not be alarmed that the batter may not be enough if you’re going to try this recipe, bake it and be amazed!
See how light and airy the texture of the cake is – the bottom half of the cake was actually about the same thickness as the top half before filling, but the combined weight of the jam and cream had squashed it down due to its softness and lightness!
Makes one 20cm cake
50g (5 tablespoons) cornflour *
10g (1 tablespoon) vanilla custard powder
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
2 eggs, separated
1/8 teaspoon salt
100g (scant 1/2 cup) caster sugar
1/2 cup strawberry or raspberry jam, slightly warmed for easier spread
1 quantity Crème Chantilly
Pure icing sugar, to dust
* The cornflour used here is the wheaten cornflour, or wheat starch – NOT the real corn starch.
1. Preheat over to 170°C. Butter a 20cm x 5cm deep round cake tin and line the base with baking paper. Sift together cornflour, custard powder, cream of tartar and soda twice.
2. Beat egg whites and salt in an electric mixer until bubbly. Gradually beat in sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until thick and meringue-like. Beat in egg yolks, one at a time. Fold in sifted dry ingredients gently but thoroughly, do it in two batches.
3. Spoon mixture into the prepared tin and place in middle of oven. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until cake feels springy when touched lightly in centre.
4. Remove from oven and cool for about 5-10 minutes in the tin on a wire rack, away from draughts, then carefully slip cake out of tin and peel off paper.
5. Invert cake on a clean tea towel lined wire rack and cool completely. When cold, split the cake in half horizontally, spread the bottom sponge half with jam, then top with the cream. Place the other sponge half on top and dust lightly with icing sugar.
Spread the bottom half of the cake with jam.
Cover with a layer of crème chantilly.
Place the other half of the cake on top and dust with icing sugar.
Texture: Airy, fluffy & feathery-light
Consume: Best within 1-2 days
Storage: Chill, covered, in the refrigerator
Recipe Reference: ‘Jackie’s Mum’s Sponge Cake’ recipe from ‘The Cook’s Companion’ by Stephanie Alexander