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Yellow sponge cake: génoise

I’ve been searching for years for a sponge cake recipe. A cake that’s less dense in texture than the typical American butter cakes, that’s not necessarily made by the creaming method, which is to say, by beating soft butter and sugar until creamy and somewhat fluffy, then adding the other ingredients (eggs, flour, etc.). So, I’ve been learning about the foaming method which yields sponge cakes. I had always thought that meant beating egg yolks and whites separately, folding in other ingredients appropriately…and I always felt just a bit too lazy to whip egg parts separately, and not a small amount intimidated at the prospect of folding, which I tend to overdue in the spirit of trying to incorporate every last bit thoroughly.

A couple things helped me along. First, I found a couple encouraging recipes that — THANK THE ALMIGHTY FSM — included weight measurements for flour. Second, I discovered the balloon whisk.

Oh, I still need practice using the balloon whisk, like learning to judge when to stop with the folding motions and not deflate all of those lovely egg and sugar bubbles (i.e., do the bare minimum, don’t obsess over batter appearance thoroughness). And I still cheat (with not much guilt) a bit by adding some baking powder. Yet I still love the realization that I can make a nearly meringue-like structure with whole eggs and sugar.

génoise sliced in half

As influenced by Michael Ruhlman’s sponge cake from Ratio, and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Gold Passion Génoise (minus the passionfruit and frostings) from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.


  • 5 eggs, at room temperature
  • 6 ounces sugar (just over 3/4 cup), total; 3 tablespoons vanilla sugar comprised part of this. If you don’t have vanilla sugar, use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, at room temp or slightly warmer
  • 3 ounces pastry flour; I used unbleached white.
  • 1 1/2 ounces rice flour; I used white medium grain, not mochi..
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder


  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF degrees; I use the “convection baking” setting on the oven. Cover the base of a 9-inch non-stick circular pan — a springform pan would be ideal &mdash with a circle of parchment paper. Butter and flour the base and sides of the pan.
  2. Sift the pastry flour, rice flour and baking powder in a bowl; set aside.
  3. Combine eggs, sugars, vanilla if using, and salt in a mixing bowl. Set the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, and whisk until the temperature is about 90 to 100ºF degrees. The idea is not to sterilize or even gently cook the eggs like a custard; it’s to warm and dissolve the ingredients so that they’ll maximize in volume during the next step.
  4. Using the whisk attachment on your mixer, beat the egg-sugar mixture until it has tripled, or even quadrupled in volume. It’ll become pale yellow, and its texture in between a ribbon and very soft, droopy-drippy peaks. It’s this foamy mixture that will aid in leavening the cake.
  5. Sift (again) the flour mix into the egg-sugar mixture. Using a balloon whisk, fold the flour in as few movements as possible. If flour gets on the side, tip the bowl to gloop it with the egg-sugar batter. If flour congregates near the bottom, make a large spinning motion with the whisk to remove and disperse it. Keep in mind, though, that some small pockets of flour is okay, since you still to need to mix in the butter.
  6. Add about a cup of the batter — I shake a glop from the balloon whisk — into the melted butter. Using a piano whisk (a narrower whisk good for blending, rather than folding), mix this up well. Pour back into the main batter bowl, and fold with the balloon whisk. Again, it doesn’t have to be perfectly, smoothly incorporated.
  7. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Pop it into the oven.
  8. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes; the cake should be done when it pulls away from the sides of the pan. Immediately remove it from pan and place on a rack to cool.
  9. After cooling, apply your favorite filling, garnishing and flavoring techniques. 🙂 Génoise lends itself well to being soaked, er, coated with sweetened alcoholic liquids, such as a simple syrup flavored with Grand Marnier. Buttercream, ganache, jams, whipped cream, or even simply powdered sugar work nicely, too.

1st failed attempt and 2nd successful attempt

On the left is the failed first attempt: too little rise, too dense. On the right is the more successful second attempt. Here are the likely culprits:

  • Oven too hot; I had it at 350ºF degrees the first time.
  • Not greasing and flouring both the base and sides of the pan.
  • Too much flour: too heavy.
  • Neglecting to mix in some of the batter into the melted butter. Pouring the butter straight needed more folding and movement.
  • Over-baking! As soon as the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, remove it from the oven.
  • …And, of course, over-beating the batter…

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