Lemon Butter Sponge Cake


Finished photo of 3 layersBy definition, a sponge cake is a light. airy tender cake of the foam variety meaning the egg whites are beaten separately and the egg yolk base is folded into the whites along with flour.  It can be varied easily and is used as a base for many fillings.  The name comes from its open structure which resembles a sponge.  The plain sponge cake on its own is rather neutral and doesn’t have a lot of flavor which is why recipes often brush the sponge cake layers with liqueur based washes..  However, by enhancing it with lemon zest and adding a little butter it becomes a more flavorful vehicle for fillings.  By omitting the zest,  you have a basic Butter Sponge Cake.  By omitting the butter, you have a basic Sponge Cake.

Another characteristic of the sponge is that it doesn’t contain shortening except in the Butter Sponge Cakes.  Sponge cakes can be dry if the egg whites are over beaten.  It is better to under beat them than get them too stiff.  When the whites are too stiff, it is difficult to fold the flour in without deflating the whites.

Normally, any type of sponge cake or Genoise, the French version, are leavened only with the beaten whites and the air beaten into the yolks.  I have added baking powder to insure success, especially if  you are new to this type of cake.  It can certainly be omitted if you are a purist.

It is important to beat the egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla until light and almost white in color.  The whites are beaten with a bit of sugar to stabilize them and the two are folded together with flour.  To make is easier to incorporate the flour, half is added at a time and the flour is sifted into the mixture to lighten it.

The butter can be difficult to incorporate if added directly to the sponge cake batter as it has a tendency to sink to the bottom of the bowl.  By taking a small amount of the batter and whisking in the melted butter, the mixture is emulsified and much easier to fold into the larger amount of batter.

Sponge cakes have a well deserved reputation for being difficult.  However, by following the steps below and being careful not to over beat the egg whites, it really is easy to bake the perfect Lemon Butter Sponge Cake.

This recipe makes three layers about 1 1/4 inches each.  At the end, I give you the ingredients for a two layer version.

This cake will be used in a follow up blog at a later date for one of Vienna’s most famous cakes – the Dobos Torte.

Lemon Butter Sponge CakeIngredients
1 1/4 cups cake flour (150 grams or 5 1/3 ounces)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
9 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, divided (200 grams or 7 ounces)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 lemons, zested
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line three 9×2 inch cake pans with parchment rounds and spray the centers only.  See Cake Pan Prep   Set aside.

Whisk together the flour and baking powder and set aside.Flour-BP

Flour, baking pwder mixedPlace the egg yolks, 1/2 cup of sugar (100 grams or 3 1/2 ounces) and vanilla in a mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment.  Eggs, sugar, vanilla in bowlBeat until very pale yellow and very fluffy.  Egg yolks beating 2Towards the end add the lemon zest. Lemon Rind inThe mixture should form ribbons when the whisk is lifted.  Egg Yolks ribboning

In a clean bowl with a clean whisk attachment, place the egg whites. Egg whites in bowlBeat until the whisk leaves a trail in the egg whites.  Egg whites just before sugarSlowly add the remaining sugar and beat to medium peaks.  Whites sugar inWhites on whiskPour the egg yolk mixture Sifted flour egg overYolks over whites and sift half the flour over the egg whites.  Sifting first flour overSifted flour in bowlVery gently fold in.  Folding 1Folding in 2Sift the remaining flour over the batter and fold together.  Sifting flour over batter second timeTake about 1 cup of batter and remove to a bowl.   1 cup in bowlWhisk in the butter;butter in bowlwhisking butter in return this to the main amount of batter and whisk in.  butter batter over batterbutter batter foldingFinished patterDivide between the three pans (290 grams or 10 ounces each) and smooth tops using a small offset spatula.. Smoothing layerSmoothing layer 2 Bake for 12 to 14 minutes.  They will just begin to color and spring back when the center is lightly touched.Finished layersThe layers will be flat and still clinging to the side of the pans.Clinging to t he side of the pan

Cool completely.  To release the sponge cake layers, go around the edges with a small, flexible spatula.  Turn the layer out, remove the parchment and turn right side up.  See Cake Pan Prep.

At this point, they can be used immediately or frozen.  I freeze the layers individually without covering them as they are tender and easily squashed at this point.  As soon as they are frozen, I cover them for longer storage.

Yield:  870  grams or 30 ounces.  Three layers about 1 1/8  each each . 

Two Layer Ingredients
1 cup sifted cake flour (100 grams or 3 1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 egg, separated
3/4 cup sugar, divided (150 grams or 5 1/3 ounces)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large lemon, zested
4 tablespoon butter, melted (60 grams, 2 ounces or 1/2 stick)

Follow the directions above.

Pastry has not only been my profession, but my passion. If there is anything in particular you would like to see or any questions about baking or pastry, please let me know. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss a post!
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15 thoughts on “Lemon Butter Sponge Cake

  1. Kim

    I have always found sponge cakes a bit boring but adding the zest and a bit of melted butter might change my mind. Thanks for all the details in your instructions.

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Kim: I think sponge cakes are great carriers for good fillings. Tomorrow the Dobos Torte is a perfect example of this. Hope you enjoy it.

  2. Vivian Vuong

    Sandy, thank you for your tips on baking an even cake. I used your advice and my cakes look so much better. I barely have to trim much off the cake. You are a godsend.

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Sandy – So glad the cake layers are coming out better for you. Thanks for letting me know. I’m always interested to know if my advice is helpful


      1. hfletcher Post author

        I should have said Vivian. Sorry about that. I think I was focused on your calling me Sandy when my name is Helen. I ended up making the same mistake. Hoe you find this as funny as I do. Thanks again Vivian.

  3. Vivian Vuong

    My sponge cakes comes out very uneven on the top and sides. I’ve used ingredients at room temperature and wrapped the baking pans, but to no avail. Do you have tricks for baking beautiful even sponge cakes?

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Vivian: As you can see from the photograph, if you follow the recipe and prepare the pans as I have told you, you should be fine.

      The reason for your sponge failures can be for many reasons including a bad recipe, overheating the egg whites, not folding in the egg whites properly and also from not smoothing the batter well in the pans for just a few reasons. I have never wrapped a cake – there is no time in a professional bakery. I don’t know the reason for that. Make sure you look at the method I used at the bakery for baking flat layers at https://www.pastrieslikeapro.com/2013/07/cake-pan-prep-or-how-to-get-a-flat-cake-layer/#.U4fA5V4T2EM.
      Try this recipe and see if this doesn’t work better for you. Thanks for reading.

  4. Sandy Warner

    This is lovely! What do you suggest for ingredient adjustment if I wanted to make a chocolate butter sponge instead?

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Sandy. Substitute 25% cocoa for the same amount of flour. We did this at the bakery also. Just mix the dry ingredients together and use as called for.

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Not at all. We made it in a half sheet pan at the bakery. Just add a bit more time because it will be thicker in a 9×13 pan.

      1. Mari gold

        Thanks, you really are one in a million. I don’t know how you do all that that you do in 24 hours. M

  5. susan abraham

    Thanks a lot for the post on sponge cake. It was really useful. As you said the sponge cake is not flavourful. I have always thought why we cant use regular butter cake instead of sponge cake for gateaus. Please give me an answer.

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Susan: Butter cakes, by nature are much heavier for one thing. Another reason is its neutral flavor allowing the filling to carry the cake or gateaux. It can be flavored with sugar syrup washes if desired or, as here, citrus rind adds a ton of flavor. It can be rolled and its texture is completely different from a butter cake. I recently made a Boston Cream Pie with a butter cake and it was all wrong in flavor and texture. The pastry cream fell flat and the butter cake overtook taste. Although neutral in flavor there are definitely places where sponge is the best. The Dobos Torte which I will post next week would not work at all if a butter cake was used. Thanks for the comment.

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