Thursday, November 26, 2009
I've learnt quite a bit about sponges lately. For a start, a good sponge should be light and airy, moist and with minimal crumb. It should taste sweet, but not overly so, and there should be a complete absence of "eggy" flavour. Once you've got it mastered, expect to become very desirable company - watch that phone run hot when word gets out, with requests like, "Can you make a sponge for me? I've got folks to feed at a birthday/wedding/treaty signing at Versailles - ta!". I like to think that I've finally joined that esteemed group; the one pictured above was my entry in the sponge section of the baking competition at the Waipukurau A & P show (that's Agricultural and Pastoral for you cosmopolitan types) - and it won first prize! It looks a little worse for wear but then it had been sitting out for four hours by the time I took the shot. The sponge was the culmination of three months trialing of various recipes, and my gradual education in the science that is sponge making.
What did I learn? Quite a bit, but one thing in particular stood out: folding is the most important part of the sponge-making process. The egg white mix acts as a leavener, harbouring air in its mass which will give the sponge volume. When folding in the dry ingredients, you want to disturb the whites as little as possible, while also insuring that the dry mix is fully incorporated into it. Using a slotted spoon, scrape around the inside of the bowl, then slice down the middle of the mix to the bottom of the bowl. As you slice through the bottom and work your way back up, you should be picking up up a fair amount of mix. Once at the top, fold the mix you've collected over on the surface. Repeat this action and rotate the bowl as you work, until the ingredients are just mixed. Most of you probably already know all of this, but it's relatively new territory to me - there's nothing like making close to a dozen failed sponges before you start to understand the process.
I made the final cake the day before the competition. On the big day, it was split, sandwiched with strawberry jam and cream (a classic pairing, like Lennon and McCartney, or Smith and Wesson) and then off to the showgrounds at 8:30 am for submission.
Judging started at ten that morning. Half an hour later, they finally make it to my wee sponge. Careful consideration and deliberation ensue...
Yes! The thumbs up!
...or she has cream on her thumb. Whatever the reason, I won - woohoo! According to the judges, my sponge had good structure, was light, springy and airy,. Here's my prize, a fifty dollar voucher to be spent at local antique and collectables store, Piccadilly. Cheers!
The section with the most entrants was the Christmas cakes, with around nine or ten entries. They looked grand, covered in icing and packed full of nuts and fruit. It was a busy morning for the judges, with a lot to sample.
And the sponge recipe?
Never Fail Sponge Cake
4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tbspn custard powder
3/4 cup cornflour
1/2 tspn baking soda1 tspn cream of tartar
Turn oven on to preheat at 165c, and grease a round baking tin. Beat egg whites until stiff. Continue beating while gradually adding sugar. Add egg yolks, beat until well combined. Add triple sifted (from a height) dry ingredients to egg mix and fold using a slotted metal spoon. Bake for 25 minutes (the original recipe said 20 but mine wasn't quite ready at that time, so consider your oven's pernickety temperament when setting a time). Leave in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove and place on a rack to cool.
Below are a few photos of the show. For those of you who don't know, the A & P show is a key feature of life in small town New Zealand. Held in late spring all across the land, the show is a coming together of town and country, allowing townsfolk a glimpse of rural life. Livestock judging, dog trialling, sheep shearing and field ploughing displays are just some of the events that fill the day. All manner of entertainment can be found there too, with carnival games and rides, trade displays, petting zoos and a myriad of vendors selling food. All this, and big tractors too! One of the traditional aspects of the A & P show are the various competitions on offer to those wanting a challenge. Events range from tractor pulling, to dressage and equestrian events, right through to "Best Bantam" and, of particular interest to me, the baking contests.
A big thank you to Lorraine (for the recipe is hers) and to Lizzy for their help - much obliged! By the way, click on the link for a couple of alternate sponge recipes plus a brilliant lime, ricotta and strawberry filling - clickclack.