It’s an integral part of Pesach for many people. There is no special plate. There isn’t even a brachah over it! Can you guess this well-known part of Pesach?
It’s sponge cake.
Sponge cake comes in two types – angel food and true sponge. Angel food cake has cream of tartar, an acid ingredient, which used to be combined with baking soda and salt to make a form of baking powder before baking powder was produced commercially. Cream of tartar is what gives the angel food cake the pure white colour, and it also creates an acid reaction in the batter.
Sponge cake has a more delicate cousin referred to as sunshine cake. Most people, however, refer to the Passover version as sponge cake.
Sponge cake is usually baked without shortening or butter or baking powder but with lots of eggs. Its lightness and texture come from careful handling and the air beaten into the eggs. Recipes with nine to 12 eggs are not uncommon.
The aim of making a sponge cake is to beat the maximum amount of air into the yolks and whites while handling them as little as possible to retain the air. Eggs should be room temperature when beaten. An electric or rotary beater gives better results than whipping by hand. Since there is no baking powder, the main rising factor is the air plus steam.
In making a sponge cake, it is important that the yolks are beaten until light and thick, and the whites must be beaten until they are stiff and glossy. Essences such as vanilla lemon or orange rind add special flavour to a sponge cake.
The best pan for a sponge cake is a tube pan with removable rim. Thus the central tube gives support to the batter.
In Israel, many oldtimers use a wonder pot (sir pella) about which I wrote a cookbook in the 1970s for people without an oven (and reprinted recently for those whose cookbook was lost or had fallen apart). It is basically a sponge cake pan that sits upon a coned base and then has a lid with strategic holes around its top to let out the steam. It is placed on a burner atop the stove for baking.
A regular sponge cake pan should be ungreased. A preheated 350-degree oven is the best heat for baking a sponge cake.
When the cake is done, the pan should be inverted to cool for about an hour and a half. Before removing the cake from the pan, the sides should be loosened with a knife. It is best not to try to cut a fresh sponge cake with a knife, Use a divider with prongs instead, and slide it back and forth gently.
Here are two different kinds of sponge cake.
Miriam’s banana cake
This is from one of my close friends in Overland Park, Kansas, who is a really creative cook and is now 88 years old.
o 7 separated eggs
o 1/4 tsp. salt
o 1 cup mashed bananas
o 3/4 cup potato starch
o 1 cup sugar
o 1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350. In a bowl, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry, then refrigerate.
In another bowl, beat egg yolks until thick and lemon coloured. Gradually add sugar and salt, beating continually.
Fold in bananas and potato starch. Fold in egg whites then nuts. Turn into an ungreased tube pan and bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes. Invert pan to cool.
Orange glazed Sabra sponge cake
o 1/2 cup unsalted pareve margarine or 1/4 cup +2 tbsp. oil
o 2/3 cup sugar
o 1 tsp. orange rind
o 2 tbsp. Sabra liqueur
o 3 separated eggs
o 2 tbsp. sugar
o 1/2 cup potato starch
o 3 tbsp. Sabra liqueur
o 4 tsp. orange rind
Preheat oven to 325. In a bowl, cream margarine or oil and sugar. Add 1 tsp.orange rind, 2 tbsp. Sabra and egg yolks and blend.
In another bowl, beat egg whites until stiff, gradually adding 2 tbsp. sugar. Add to creamed mixture gently, then stir in potato starch.
Pour into greased tube pan. Bake at 325 for 45 minutes to one hour. Let cool for at least an hour then gently remove to a plate.
Meantime, in a bowl, combine orange juice, 3 tbsp. Sabra liqueur and 4 tsp. orange rind. While cake is still hot, punch holes around cake with a toothpick and pour over glaze.