by Tess Schulze
This is one of my favourite recipes because it is delicious, easy, and so versatile! If you’re bored at home or ever find yourself in a pinch and need a quick cake (who’s never had a cake emergency?), this is the perfect recipe.
Baking a cake is basically a delicious science experiment. The type of ingredients used, the way that you combine them, and the way you bake it can either make or break or your recipe. The one I plan to share with you here is a combination of methods I learned while working in a couple of different bakeries. It does take some trial and error sometimes, even if you have a step-by-step guide! Don’t worry, though, I will break down each part of the process and give you notes and tips on how to bake the best sponge cake. Once you have the basics of cake-baking down, you can turn this recipe into any variation you please!
What you will need for this is:
- Vanilla extract
- Self-raising flour*
- Bicarbonate soda
- Confectioner’s sugar**
*If you don’t have self-raising flour, you can use plain flour and simply add some baking powder. I will walk you through this variation later on.
**These ingredients are for the buttercream frosting.
Ideally, all of these ingredients should be at room temperature. This allows you to mix everything together properly and bake the tastiest treats. I think what I like most about this recipe is that it is based on the weight of the eggs you are using. If you only have 2 eggs, then you can tailor the recipe for what you have. Using three medium eggs is enough to fill a 6×2 in. cake tin, or enough to make approximately 12 cupcakes. You want to make sure that whatever vessel you are using to bake, that the batter fills it up to ⅔ of the way.
Before we start, preheat your oven to 170C and prepare the pan(s) you plan to use.
1. First we have to weigh our eggs:
We now have the measurements for the rest of the ingredients. There is some space for a little wiggle room on weight, though I do try to keep it within a couple of grams over or under. I will be using the measurement of 180g for the rest of this recipe (this means we will need 180g of butter, sugar, and flour), but be sure to match your own egg weight when following along.
2. In a large bowl, weigh out 180g of softened, unsalted butter.* Using a hand or a stand mixer,** beat the butter until it turns white and fluffy.
*If all you have is salted butter, just use less salt later on in the recipe.
**You can also use a wooden spoon for this part, but it takes a lot of time and strength to get the butter to the right consistency.
In the picture on the left, you can see what the butter looks like when you first begin beating it. It is lumpy and very yellow. The second photo is the butter beaten to the correct consistency; it is white in colour, smooth, and fluffy. Depending on how much butter you are using, it takes about 5-10 minutes of beating on high to get it just right. It is nearly impossible to overbeat the butter at this stage, so don’t be afraid to go an extra minute or two if you aren’t sure.
3. Once your butter is ready, it’s time to measure in our 180g of sugar! For this recipe, I used caster sugar and a little bit of dark brown sugar (130g caster and 50g dark brown) because I love the chewy depth it lends to cakes. The type of sugar that you use does change the flavour and the fluffiness of your finished product. Caster sugar inevitably yields a fluffier and lighter cake and is the most used by cake bakers; but granulated sugar can do the trick just fine, too!
When you’ve chosen and weighed out your sugar, beat it into the butter until it is smooth and fluffy, making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally so that everything is incorporated nicely.
It usually takes about 3-4 minutes of beating on high speed to get the butter just right. You want your ingredients to be light and fluffy, or your finished cake can come out too dry, stodgy, and it won’t hold its form too well.
4. Now that the butter and sugar mixture is ready, crack your eggs into a separate bowl and lightly beat them. Pour them into the butter mixture and beat until just incorporated (this means there aren’t any bits of loose egg white or yolk in the mixture).
The next part to this step is to add some vanilla extract; your standard recipe for a sponge cake will call for about a teaspoon of vanilla for a batch of batter this size. A great trick for a tastier cake is to double the amount of vanilla the recipe calls for, so I added two teaspoons to fill out the flavour a little more. Beat the vanilla into the egg mixture until medium peaks begin to form, making sure to scrap the sides of the bowl as needed.
This should take about 3-5 minutes of beating on high. If you are experienced with making meringue or whipped cream, you will know what the different peaks look like. Pictured above is what your batter should look like at this point: it should hold its form, but still be a little bit on the runny side. You can test this by giving the bowl a little shake and the mixture should still move slightly. If you have stiff peaks (this means the mixture doesn’t move at all, even if you turn the bowl upside down), don’t worry! You will just have to be extra careful during the next step of the recipe.
If you’re still not sure, here is a handy guide for the different peaks.
5. Next, we can measure out our dry ingredients. I prefer to sift my dry ingredients directly into the wet ingredients, while others prefer to whisk their dry ingredients together in a separate bowl before adding it to the wet. Some people argue that using cake flour or sifting the flour first makes for an even fluffier cake. There is truth to that, however, these are all means to the same end: namely, you want to make sure that there aren’t any dry lumps in your cake and ensures everything is mixed in thoroughly.
Measure out 180g of self-raising flour,* 1 ½ teaspoons bicarbonate soda, and ¾ teaspoon salt.** Mix or sift into the wet ingredients and beat on medium-high speed for about 3-5 minutes or until smooth and a little fluffy.
*If you don’t have self-raising flour, add 2 teaspoons of baking powder for every 150g of plain flour. For this version/weight of the recipe, 2 teaspoons will get the job done.
**If you used salted butter, just use about ¼-½ teaspoon of salt.
Now that your ingredients are all combined, fold two tablespoons of milk into the batter. Any sort of dairy product works for this stage – if you have plain yoghurt, full-fat milk, semi-skimmed, or even buttermilk. Dairy helps hold your cake together, provides acid for the leaveners to react to, provides extra flavour and moisture, and slows down the browning process in the oven.
When the batter looks like the picture on the right, you are ready for the next step!
6. Fill your cake or cupcake tin ⅔ of the way full. Once your cake is oven-ready, pop it into the preheated oven. If you are baking a 6×2 in. cake, it will bake for approximately 25-30 minutes. If you are baking cupcakes, it will take 15-18 minutes.
There are many different ways to test if a cake is ready and the way I find to be most foolproof is by using the “spring test” and a toothpick in the centre of the cake. If you gently touch the top of the cake and it springs back, it is most likely ready. I still double check with a toothpick by poking it into the centre of the cake and if it comes out clean, it’s ready to remove from the oven and it is ready to cool!
Allow the cake to cool almost completely on a rack before attempting to remove it from the tin. Once removed, allow it to cool to room temperature before handling it any further.
If you are baking cupcakes, gently remove them from the tin as soon as they come out of the oven. This prevents the liners from becoming greasy as the cakes cool.
The colour of the cake will vary depending on the type of sugar you use. As you can see above, the colour of the cake I made is slightly dark – this is because of the dark brown sugar I added.
7. While your cake is in the oven, make the buttercream frosting. Buttercream is incredibly simple to make and it’s easy to change the colour and the flavour!
Buttercream is a simple 1:2 ratio; one part butter, two parts sugar. For this recipe I did 200g softened butter:400g confectioner’s sugar.
With your stand or hand mixer, beat the butter for 8-10 minutes until it has changed in colour and is fluffy. Just like with the cake, you can’t overbeat plain butter so don’t worry too much about under beating. Once you have the right consistency, add the confectioner’s sugar and beat the mixture until combined. At the start, it will look like a clumpy mess but keep beating until it starts to reach a more pasty consistency – about 3 minutes. Stop the mixer and add in the flavouring of your choice! For this recipe, I used two teaspoons of vanilla extract. Beat for another 3-4 minutes.
Once you have beaten your buttercream for the right amount of time, you may find that it is quite thick and difficult to scoop. This is easily fixed by adding a tablespoon of milk at a time until it becomes smooth and spreadable. If you add too much, don’t worry! Simply leave it out on the counter for a little while or put it in the fridge. If it sets too much, simply beat again and milk as and if needed.
If you want to add food colouring to your buttercream, this is the point where you would do so. Simply mix the colouring in with a spatula until it reaches your desired level of colouring (if you don’t mix it completely, you get a lovely marbling effect).
8. Decorate your cake! Once your buttercream is done and your cakes are cooled, it’s time for my favourite part of cake making: decorating! You can spread it with a spatula, a wooden spoon, or use a piping bag. If you really want to get into it, there are guides you can find online to help you. When it comes to decorating, the sky’s the limit!
If you are using a piping bag, the easiest way to fill it is by putting the prepared bag (this means the tip is already in it) into a tall glass and folding the excess bag over the outside of the glass. Scoop buttercream into the bag and remove from the glass, gently squeeze any air bubbles out of the top of the piping bag before twisting the end shut.
Once decorated, eat and enjoy!
9. Variations/Finale notes. As I mentioned at the start of this article, one of the things I really love about this cake is its versatility. Once you have the science of cakes down, it is easy to wing it with flavours. You can add fruit, nuts, chocolate, anything you want! If you are adding fruit: squeeze a bit of lemon into the cut fruit to prevent browning, add a couple tablespoons of sugar to begin maceration, and/or add a couple tablespoons of flour and mix well (this step prevents the fruit from sinking while the cake bakes). Any extra fillings should be folded in at the very end before pouring the batter into the cake tin.
If you want to make a spice cake, add the spices you want to the dry ingredients. If there is an extra ingredient that you want to add that is wet (e.g. molasses* or ginger stem), make sure to add them and mix well before sifting in the dry ingredients.
*I absolutely love cooking and baking with molasses. Blackstrap molasses can be very difficult to find and very pricey once you do. Lucky for you I have done heaps of digging online and found the best deal to be Holland & Barrett at £1.99.
Just like cake decorating, the sky’s the limit on variations!
Rustic Sponge Cake
This recipe makes one 6×2 in. cake or 12 cupcakes
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15-30 minutes
Total time: 30-45 minutes (not including cooling time)
180g unsalted butter, softened
180g caster sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
180g self-raising flour
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons bicarbonate soda
2-4 tablespoons milk
200g unsalted butter, softened
400g confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat oven to 170C and prepare cake tin.
In a large bowl, beat the butter with a mixer until it becomes white and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3-4 minutes, until the mixture is smooth.
Add in eggs and vanilla and beat until medium peaks begin to form.
Sift the rest of the dry ingredients into the wet and beat until the batter becomes light and fluffy.
Fold in 2-4 tablespoons of milk. Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the centre. If making cupcakes, bake for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the centre.
Once done, leave the cake to cool on a wire rack. If baking cupcakes, remove the cakes from the tin as soon as they come out of the oven to prevent the liner from getting greasy.
While the cake is baking, beat butter with a mixer until it turns white and fluffy (approximately 8-10 minutes). Once fluffy, add in the confectioner’s sugar. It will be quite dry and lumpy at the beginning, but keep beating until it comes together. When it has come together, add in the vanilla and continue beating the buttercream until it is light and fluffy (another 4-6 minutes). Beat in 2-4 tablespoons of milk as needed until the buttercream reaches a spreadable consistency. The buttercream will keep for a week if kept in an airtight container in the fridge. When you’re ready to use it, simply beat again and add milk as needed.
Decorate your fully cooled cake, eat and enjoy!