Thursday, 17 September 2009

MM Heirloom Ginger Fluff Sponge

I grew up with a mother who loved to bake sponges. It was her heritage. They appeared on birthdays and often in between. If ever I want a light fluffy sponge that rises sky high I can go home to my mum’s place. Every now and then I feel maybe I should embrace my culinary history and bake a sponge.

Now let me explain what I mean by a sponge. When I met E he would tell me how much he loved sponge cake. Oh my mum will make you a sponge, I would tell him. But we discovered that his sponge was not my sponge. He is talking about a dense buttery sponge that I might call a butter cake, a pound cake or even a plain cake. My sponge is an airy fluffy cake – a bit like angel food cake – that is lots of eggs, very little flour and no butter or oil.

A sponge cake in my childhood was always two layers sandwiched together with whipped cream or lemon filling, iced with white or pink icing that dripped over the sides and often decorated with a ring of hundreds and thousands around the edge. Little kiddie fingers would scoop up the dribbles of icing. Every now and again my mum made me happy by baking one that was chocolate instead of vanilla.

Recently I saw a recipe for a Ginger Fluff Sponge in the weekend papers that interested me. It had golden syrup, a little cocoa and fragrant spices. Much more my sort of thing than a plain vanilla sponge. The measurements in dessertspoons made me feel nostalgic. I decided to try it. The opportunity presented itself on the weekend when E and I had our wedding anniversary.

I spent enough time with my mum to know a lot about baking sponges. They have no shortening so even the tin is dusted with flour after greasing to ensure no butter touches the cake. The batter must be handled gently, the flour must be sifted and a metal spoon – not wooden – must be used to fold in the flour. If the flour is not folded in properly you end up with what we called flour bombs. I know that a sponge cake is a challenge with a high degree of difficulty. I made them in high school home economics classes and don’t think I excelled. This is something to be feared.

So you would think I would be careful to follow the recipe exactly. I meant to. But as my mum always makes hers without any flour I was curious to try this one gluten free. So I substituted soy flour for the plain flour. I also realised at the last moment – when it was too late – that I didn’t have cream of tartar and the baking powder was the wrong mix of bicarb and cream of tartar (1 part bicarb to 2 parts cream of tartar) according to this website. I used 1 tsp of baking powder rather than the bicarb and cream of tartar. I also didn’t warm the golden syrup or prepare the tin traditionally.

I shouldn’t have been too surprised that it wasn’t a great success. It tasted great but it didn’t rise as it should have. Not like my mum’s sky high marvels. Not even with all my sifting. I am not sure if it was my changes or just my lack of skill. I have noted my changes on the recipe below. Fortunately I had a secret weapon. I covered it with chocolate ganache, which hid a multitude of sins. (Actually I mentioned the sponge to E last night and he said, oh you mean the chocolate one.)

I found it strangely moreish. The spices and ganache paired wonderfully. E was most pleased with my efforts. I’d like to tell you that Zinc serenaded us on the guitar while we ate it but life is more mundane. We ate it watching Midsomer Murders on the telly like an old married couple. It is just the sort of thing they might enjoy with a cuppa tea in a ye olde worlde cottage on that show while wondering who is the latest serial killer.

I was congratulating myself on finding a modern twist on a family favourite. But as T S Eliot said, in my beginning is my end. Yesterday I had lunch with my grandmother yesterday and told her I made a sponge. She laughed when I told her it was flat. You should always follow the recipe that your mother and I use, she advised. I told her it was ginger fluff. Oh my mother used to make wonderful ginger fluff sponges, she said. My aunty Liz was in the kitchen and nodded in agreement. I was amazed and delighted to find that my discovery had led me back to my great-grandmother’s kitchen.

My mother told me that it took her some practice before her sponges rose as spectacularly as they do today. But I am sure they are now a match for her grandmother’s legendary sponges. I remember my mum’s family proudly telling her she made sponges just like her grandmother. Maybe I shall further explore the daunting world of baking sponge cakes. Maybe one day I will make them just like my mum.

I am sending this post to Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi for September’s Monthly Mingle, because the theme is Heirloom.

Ginger fluff sponge
(from Cath Claringbold’s of Thelma Marshall’s recipe in The Age Good Weekend Magazine on 22 August 2009)

  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ cup castor sugar
  • 1 dessertspoon of golden syrup, warmed (I didn’t warm it)
  • ½ cup cornflour
  • 2 heaped dessertspoons plain flour (I used soy flour)
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp cocoa
  • 200ml cream (mine had 45% fat)
  • 100g dark chocolate (mine had 45% cocoa solids)
  • 1 tsp icing sugar
  • walnuts or hundreds and thousands or coconut or other to decorate

Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease and line two 20cm round cake tins (NB the traditional way is to grease with butter and then add a little flour and tap around the tin so it clings to the buttered surface and any loose flour is discarded.)

Beat eggs and sugar until pale, thick and creamy. Add golden syrup and beat to incorporate. Sift dry ingredients into a separate bowl and then sift these ingredients into the bowl with the egg mixture. Use a metal spoon to gently fold flour in until just combined.

Pour into prepared tins and bake for 15-20 minutes. I think it starts to come away from the sides of the tin when done. Cool in tin for 5-10 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

When cake is cool, place one cake, bottom up, on a serving plate. Whip 100ml of the cream with the icing sugar and spread over this cake. Place the other cake on top of the cream. Melt chocolate and cream together in the microwave on medium heat for 1-3 minutes. Pour over cake. Decorate with walnuts, hundreds and thousands, coconut or whatever takes your fancy.

On the Stereo:
The smell of knowledge: Lonsai Maikov


  1. This looks like a cake that you had a lot of fun making! It turned out beautifully and I hope it was delicious!

  2. What a beautiful legacy for you to continue :) I am sure you will be mastering the fluffy sponge in no time, and then your own daughter will talk about it as the stuff of legend. :)

  3. what a lovely story. hope you had a great anniversary, dear johanna, and thanks for your entry. i love things with ginger and i love angel food cake, so this is surely worth a try.

  4. This looks delicious; and reasonably light (minus the chocolate ganache, perhaps! :)

    I've been looking for a good sponge cake recipe for a birthday cake; would it be possible for you to share your mother's recipe, or is a family secret?

  5. I just made some sponge cake for a baking challange and it was great. But I like buttery cake better :P

  6. MMMMMMMM, I love this cake Johanna! It looks so good! I think your mum would be proud! :)

  7. Your sponge is SO beautiful!! Oh my, oh my! I love the heart - so romantic!! I also love the story of your family heritage of sponges - I too have many a dish I'm still trying to make as well as my grandmother (scalloped potatoes, for one...), but your sponge looks incredible to me!

  8. Hi there,

    I also extracted this recipe from the Good Weekend mag and actually made it last night. I made my cake gluten free by replacing the plain flour with Orgran's Gluten Free Plain Flour and it worked wonderfully (in terms of rising - we have yet to cut in and eat it as it is for a work morning tea).

    I must admit I was not taken by the idea of chocolate icing on a sponge cake so I have put whipped cream with chopped glace ginger stirred through in the middle and on the top of my cake - I will have to see how it goes.


  9. It is the first time I hear about a sponge cake and yours looks truly delicious! Great combo of flavors :)

  10. Yep, your sponge is our sponge, too (sponge cake over here). My mum used to make one with seven eggs! I'm sure it tasted great, and it did look lovely anyway with all that ganache and the anniversary heart! Hope the anniversary was a good one. :)

  11. Thanks Maris - it was a fun cake to make - I enjoyed using up some white chocolate in a tube and some edible red glitter for the decoration

    Thanks Susan - it would be nice to master the sponge although I love other cakes more

    Thanks Bee - hope it is something you might enjoy - lovely theme for the MM - will look forward to the round up

    Thanks Laura - my mum's recipe is not a family secret but my mum is travelling - maybe I will see if I can get her recipe when she is home

    Thanks Anh - I love buttery cakes too

    Thanks Jenn - am sure mum will be pleased I have ventured into baking sponges

    Thanks Astra - too kind - scalloped potatoes sounds like a good dish to master

    Thanks Anonymous - hope your sponge impressed all at your morning tea - glad to hear there is hope for the gluten free version - might have to try it again (I like soy flour rather than GF mixes because the mixes never taste that good to me)

    Thanks Ricki - it was a nice but quiet anniversary - and wow - a seven egg sponge sounds like it should reach some height!

  12. Whether a 'success' or not, you tried, and you covered it with choc ganache, which all equals 'heroic' in my book...

    Oh, and I love the name of this sponge, too!

  13. Sponges aren't something I grew up eating but now I really want to try it. Your mom sounds so great.

  14. I love the story behind this cake. What a great submission to the Monthly Mingle. I wish my mom had specific recipes that I could associate with her, but she is not much of a cook. I hope I can create these memories for my future children though.

    To me, this cake looks delicious, but I understand your critical eye when it comes to sponge cake. And really, covering anything in chocolate ganache will make it better!

  15. Love the Heirloom theme but sponges are one of those things I'm afraid I have little talent for!

  16. Thanks a forkful - I love the name too - the recipe suggested chocolate icing which I 'heroicly' interpreted as chocolate ganache!

    Thanks Maybelle's Mom - sponges are a challenge but they make me think of my mum (looking forward to her coming home from her trip!)

    Thanks Joanne - I have created some vegetarian traditions for myself as I grew up with meat traditions - I learnt in our family that it didn't take too much to start a tradition

    Thanks Lorraine - the art of sponge baking isn't as common as it used to be in Australia

  17. I think it's just gorgeous!! My first thought was "Wow! I want that!!" I bet it tastes as good as it looks too! Mmmmm.

  18. How wonderful! I love reading about old rituals being passed on from generation to generation. what a lovely looking cake and thank you so much for taking time to enter it for the Monthly Mingle!

  19. This is really interesting. I wouldn't have thought of combining the spices with the ganache, but it sounds like they combined beautifully.

  20. Thanks Vegetation - very kind of you - it looked yummy but nowhere near as high as the photo on the recipe I took it from

    Thanks Meeta - I love the heirloom theme for the MM because old rituals are so important to remember

    Thanks Fearless Kitchen - I wouldn't usually have this combination but for the suggestion of the chocolate icing on the cake - but it worked well


Thanks for dropping by. I love hearing from you. Please share your thoughts and questions. Annoyingly the spammers are bombarding me so I have turned on the pesky captcha code (refresh to find an easy one if you don't like the first one)