Sponge cake captures the summer season’s flavors



Editor’s note: Jane Crosen of Penobscot is a mapmaker, freelance editor and author of “Maine Mapmaker’s Kitchen,” together with her husband, Richard Washburn. She is working on a second cookbook.

 

Now We’re Cookin’

 

By Jane Crosen

I love making this fruit-and-cream-layered sponge cake, a light and luscious summertime dessert. Ripe juicy fruit, real whipped cream, fragrant cake, crisp toasted almonds — freshness is what it’s all about, so the recipe is scaled small.

Dressed with a dollop of cream and a sprinkle of almonds, it’s a beautiful finish to an intimate dinner party — and, if you have any left over, healthy enough to enjoy as a breakfast treat.

Strawberries, cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries…the variations are endless, depending on what you have for fresh fruits in season.

Bright, soft stone fruits and berries seem to work best. If you’re short on fresh berries, fill them in with banana slices. My late-summer creation pictured here featured sliced red plums with late-ripening blueberries picked at Cooper Farm in Sedgwick. It took just a little over an hour to make, and six blissful minutes to disappear!

Eat it up fresh — one of life’s ephemeral pleasures, like our Maine summers.

In the colder months, when local fresh fruits aren’t available, this same sponge cake lends itself to a Sicilian cassata, layered with a filling of creamy ricotta pressed through a sieve, sweetened and sprinkled with orange liqueur-soaked dried cherries and shavings of dark chocolate (see “Maine Mapmaker’s Kitchen” for recipe variation).

 

Layered Sponge Cake

4-5 servings

 

Sponge Cake, cooled and sliced horizontally in thirds

12/3 cups fresh berries and/or stone fruit(s) in season, sliced (or combine with bananas)

1 to 2 Tbsps. honey

1 tsp. lemon juice (if fruit is prepared ahead)

2/3 cup whipping cream

1 Tbsp. plain yogurt (optional)

¼ tsp. vanilla

1 rounded Tbsp. organic sugar (or to taste)

Honey to drizzle

¼ to 1/3 cup raw almonds, halved or sliced, lightly toasted

 

I usually whip the cream and prepare the fruit while the cake is baking, but both can be prepared ahead and refrigerated till you’re ready to put the cake together.

If using stone fruits, pit and slice. Berries should be rinsed and picked over, and strawberries sliced if large.

If preparing ahead of time, drizzle sliced fruit and bananas with honey and lemon juice to preserve color; otherwise drizzle the fruit with honey as you assemble the cake.

Near assembly time, pour the cream in a chilled bowl and whip until stiff, then whip in the yogurt (if desired), vanilla, and sugar.

Although presliced almonds are easier, I prefer to split whole almonds in half by hand (carefully) using a paring knife; toasted, they look nicer and taste fresher, adding a delicate toasty flavor and crunch.

Toss the almond halves in a baking pan and toast for about 3 minutes (less time for slices), either in a toaster oven set to 350 degrees F or in the oven while the cake is baking; just keep careful watch, shaking the pan once or twice, to make sure they turn evenly pale gold, no darker.

 

Sponge Cake

1 Tbsp. salted butter

¼ cup organic sugar

1 large egg, separated

1 Tbsp. canola oil

1 Tbsp. honey

¼ tsp. vanilla

2 drops almond extract

¼ cup whole-wheat pastry flour, fine-ground

2 Tbsps. oat flour (or pastry flour)

1/3 cup unbleached flour

¾ tsp. baking powder

1/8 tsp. salt

¼ cup milk (or milk with a little yogurt)

 

Cream the butter with the sugar in a mixing bowl. Reserving the egg white in a separate small bowl (see note), mix into the creamed mixture the egg yolk, oil, honey, almond and vanilla extracts. In a separate bowl sift together the flours (2/3 cup total) with the baking powder and salt.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly butter and flour a 3½-7-inch loaf pan (even if non-stick).

Add the dry mixture to the creamed mixture a third at a time, alternating with the milk. Whip the egg white until fairly stiff, then fold it into the batter using a spoon or flexible scraper. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake about 25 minutes or until the top of the cake is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center tests clean. Cool the cake enough to loosen from pan, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Carefully slice the cooled sponge cake lengthwise in thirds, using a large serrated bread knife. Lay the bottom cake layer on a small oval plate. Spread about a third of the whipped cream evenly over the cake. Spoon about half of the fruit over the cream, and drizzle with honey (if not premixed with the fruit).

Set the middle cake layer on top of the filling, and repeat (perhaps adding a sprinkle of almonds). Cover with the rounded top cake layer.

Drizzle a thin bead of honey over the top (to hold the nuts), then decorate with about half of the toasted almonds. Cover the assembled cake with a roomy plastic bag (the almonds will keep it from sticking) and refrigerate, along with the remaining whipped cream, until ready to serve.

Serve the cake in thick slices, laid sideways on a dessert plate, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of toasted almonds.

Best served the same day it’s made; leftover cake will keep 1 to 2 days refrigerated.

 

Note about whipping

A single egg white may seem a small amount to whip, but that’s all the extra lofting this diminutive cake needs, and a small deep bowl is key.

I use a vintage oatmeal/soup bowl just big enough for our beater. Having upgraded from a traditional top-handled crank beater, we love our “joystick”-style OXO, a sturdy ergonomic design with wire beaters that whip efficiently and detach in one unit for washing.

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