Monday, 25 March 2013

Basic Sponge Cake (Wheat Free)

Behold the beauty; marvel at the moistness; love the lightness; and do an admiring-action-that-begins-with-'N' about the nommage. This is the Anna-Victoria Sponge (see what I did there?)

As a non-wheat eater, it's sometimes hard to find a recipe that works and tastes nice that doesn't contain wheat. I'm always massively underwhelmed by the 'free-from' products that can be bought from most supermarkets, and and similarly disappointed with gluten-free flour mixtures and taste and feel like dust. Now, I will stress that I'm lucky enough to not be full-on coeliac, and as such I'm not allergic to all kinds of gluten, I'm just intolerant to wheat. As such, I can use spelt flour, which is a God-send. So to my fully coeliac friends, spelt is not gluten-free only wheat-free, as mentioned in my last post. Don't use this recipe if you tend to have near-death-experiences when you eat gluten.

This recipe is very different from the usual fairy-cake/sheet-cake/birthday-cake recipe where the butter and sugar are creamed together and so on, because in my experience those kinds of cakes aren't as nice when made with spelt. So, there will be a few explanatory details thrown in with this recipe.

So, without further adon't, here's the recipe.

This will yield one 7x9 inch (17x24 centimeter) rectangle, 7 inch (18 centimeter) round, or 8x4 inch (21x10 centimeter) loaf cake.

  • 4 ounces (115 grammes) white spelt flour
  • 2 ounces (55 grammes) cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 medium eggs, at room temperature
  • 4½ ounces (130 grammes) caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence (preferably the pure and natural kind)
  • 1½ ounces salted butter (if lactose intolerant, see notes); if using unsalted, add ¼ teaspoon of salt to the flour.
  • 1½ ounces sunflower oil
  • 3 tablespoons (45 milliliters) hot water

For the whys and what-fors, read the notes section at the end. If the scientifics don't bother you, bake away.

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F, Gas Mk.4, or moderate). If I turn my oven on directly before preparing the cake mixture, it's usually preheated by the time the mixture is ready.
  • Prepare your tin for baking by greasing it on all sides then dusting with flour. Alternatively, you can line the tin with non-stick baking paper, or waxed paper. Here in Ireland, we have this marvelous sillicone-greased paper, and it works a treat.
  • Sieve the spelt flour, cornflour, and baking powder (and salt, if using) into a bowl and set aside.
  • In a little saucepan, or a bowl suitable for microwaving, melt together the butter and sunflower oil and set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together with an electric hand mixer for about 4 or 5 minutes. It's ready when it is doubled in size, lemon-coloured, and leaves ribbon trails on itself when the beaters are lifted. If you don't have an electric hand mixer, you can use a balloon whisk, just set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Gently heating the egg mixture speeds up the process, and this means you won't snap off your arm by whisking for hours.
  • Add the vanilla essence and, while still whisking, gradually pour in the melted butter and oil mixture.
  • Sieve in half of the flour mixture and fold in using a spatula, balloon whisk, or metal spoon. Use any of these but please don't use a wooden spoon or electric beater: you WILL undo the last 10 minutes spent on getting air into the eggs and sugar.
  • Fold in the hot water until fully incorporated, followed by sieving in the second half of the flour. Fold until just mixed.
  • Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin, and bake in the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes. Don't be tempted to open the door until after three-quarters of the cooking time has elapsed: the cake will sink.
  • Once 20 minutes is up, you can test the cake. If it's done, it should be springy to touch, set on top, and a cocktail stick or skewer stuck into the thickest part will come out with one or two crumbs sticking to it. You don't want the skewer to come out clean, because the cake will be too dry, but yet there should be no raw, liquidy mixture on the stick either. If it's not done, put it in to complete the whole 25 minutes; if it's not done after 25 minutes, your oven has a cold.
  • When the cake is baked, let it cool completely in the tin. Once completely cold, you can decorate it however you like.
For the scientifically minded, the basic formula of this cake is: for every egg use 1 ounce of liquid fat, 1½ ounces of sugar, 2 ounces of flour, and 1 tablespoon of hot water. 1 teaspoon of baking powder is added for every 6 ounces of flour, or one can use self-raising flour.

A note on the flour: I use a mixture of 2 parts spelt flour to 1 part cornflour for two reasons. The now-first reason, which I discovered by accident while doing it for the what-is-now-the-second-but-was-the-first reason, is because the texture is way lighter and fluffier when cornflour is added. The now-second reason is because spelt flour is quite expensive and when I was in my poor student days, I wanted to pad out the spelt flour with a cheaper flour to save money. The fluffy texture was a serendipitous side effect of my frugality.

A note on the sugar: Caster sugar is the best for this because the grains are small and dissolve easily into the eggs as you're whisking. If you want, you can use a soft brown sugar, either replacing it completely or in part, just don't use coarse sugar, like Demerara or table sugar: the eggs just won't reach the same volume, and the cake will have a grainy texture.

A note on the butter and oil: When I say liquid fat, I mean fat that isn't in solid form, like room temperature butter or block cooking margarine. For the fat to be dispersed evenly throughout the cake mixture, I whisk liquid fat into the eggs and sugar, as opposed to creaming. However, the reason I don't use all oil is for a) flavour, and b) sturdy structure once the butter has returned to solid form after cooling the baked cake. If you don't want to use butter for whatever reason, you can use block margarine, just don't replace it all with oil.

A note on the shape and size of the cake: If you don't want to make one big cake, this recipe is ideal for fairy cakes. This three-egg quantity will yield 14 or so cakes, which is a weird number, but to make the usual 12 fairy cakes one would need to make a mixture from 2½ eggs, which is as akward as Hell. As such, I just make 24 cakes with a 5 egg mixture; simples.

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