When we think of ‘cake’ or ‘sponge’, we tend to think of something made with flour and eggs and butter and sugar in fairly equal quantities. The classic Victoria. The irresistible Madeira. But often we see unfamiliar techniques as daunting and assume that they are hard. We shouldn’t.
This is a genoise sponge – to me, it’s French, even though it’s named after the Italian city of genoa. It’s made by whipping whole eggs for ages and ages and ages until really light and solid, then folding in optional melted butter and then flour. Yes, you can make this sponge without any butter whatsoever.
But today I don’t recommend doing that. First, we’re filling this with whipped cream so it smacks of going to Starbucks and ordering a skinny hot chocolate with flavoured syrup and whipped cream on top. Then, the flavour of the butter is special in this sponge.
We make what’s called a “beurre noisette”, which is basically just butter that’s melted and then burned slightly. It gives the sponge an amazing nutty flavour, which works very well with the vanilla cream and the inevitable strawberries on top. If you really want to make it special, you might want to make a quick caramel by melting sugar in a pan drizzling this on top.
First, preheat your oven to 190C/170C fan/Gas 5. Grease and line two 7-inch tins with butter and then a disc of baking paper for the bottom. Dusting them with a little flour will help stop them sticking.
Melt your butter over a medium heat in a saucepan. Once it is melted and bubbling, keep heating. It will begin to turn brown. Stir it around and when it is dark but just shy of burnt, take it off the heat and let it cool.
Break your eggs into a large bowl and add your sugar. Whisk these on the highest speed your electric mixer goes for 10-15 minutes. When you think it is done, it’s not. Keep going. This isn’t a hard step; it just takes a little patience.
When your sugary eggs are super-light in both colour and texture, turn your speed down and drizzle in your butter very slowly around the edges of the bowl. Then, add your flour and fold it in with a large metal spoon until your mix is smooth.
Divide your mix between your tins and bake your cakes for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and springy – press down lightly with a finger to check. There’s no need for using skewers with these wee cakes. Leave them to cool in the tins.
Whilst they are cooling, whip your cream, vanilla and a few tablespoons of caster sugar on a slow speed or by hand. As soon as it starts to come together and thicken, stop. Finish it by hand, tasting to make sure it doesn’t need more vanilla or sugar. Chill until needed.
Layer your cakes with some sliced strawberries followed by a thick layer of cream in the middle. Dollop some more cream on top, then finish with some whole large strawberries.