Every baker needs a reliable recipe for a simple sponge cake. This easy vanilla sponge cake recipe delivers consistently fabulous results. Adapt it with fillings to suit your latest whim safe in the knowledge that the basic sponge cake is as light and fluffy as any quality cake should be.
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This week I’m going back to basics. Right back to where my love for baking began: with an easy but highly reliable recipe for a simple sponge cake.
As a food blogger, it is easy to get caught up in creating content that has a unique twist to it. Something that requires that extra bit of effort to push up the wow factor of a recipe.
But the truth is that everybody, food bloggers included, needs a stash of quick, easy and reliable recipes to hand to pull ourselves out of the scrapes that the demands of modern life can put on our precious time.
I’ve been making this simple sponge cake recipe for as long as I can remember. It’s the cake that my mother first taught me to make as a small child. Yes, it’s the one that I begged my mother to let me bake at every opportunity possible, and more in between, from that day forward. Thank you, mum, for this legendary recipe… and for letting me scrape the bowl clean every time we baked together.
Why this simple sponge cake recipe rocks
What sets this recipe apart from many other vanilla sponge cake recipes is that the egg yolks and whites are separated:
- The yolks are beaten into the batter.
- But the egg whites are whipped to stiff peaks and folded in at the very end.
This helps trap tiny air bubbles into the batter, thereby adding in extra lightness to the baked sponge. It’s seemingly not common practice, but I do occasionally come across similar recipes using this technique.
Yes, it is an extra step, but, believe me, it’s so worth it. I think this quick and simple technique is the secret to light and fluffy cakes that also taste delicious.
This recipe for a simple sponge cake is the recipe that I still turn to time and time again because it gives consistently fabulous results. The only difference between the c1980 recipe my mum taught me and the one I’m presenting today is that I’ve added a touch of vanilla extract and I’ve used an electric whisk rather than creaming and whisking the old-fashioned way – by hand (hard work).
So if you’re looking for a really simple vanilla sponge cake recipe, give this one your attention. It’s pure joy to make and the result is light & bouncy pillows of golden sponge that can be sandwiched together with pretty much any filling of your choice.
Butter/ baking margarine: whichever fat you prefer to use, ensure it is at room temperature as it will be easier to cream with the sugar.
Baking margarine reportedly creates lighter and fluffier cakes than butter. However, butter has a richer, fuller flavour. Both work well in this recipe, so which one to use is really down to personal preference.
Eggs: use large eggs to produce cake batter with a soft dropping consistency.
Sugar: white caster sugar is the best option to use in this simple sponge cake recipe. It has a fine texture that dissolves easily when baking.
Vanilla extract: do include this ingredient as it really lifts the flavour of this basic sponge cake. If you proceed without vanilla extract you’ll be making a plain sponge cake (harking back to the 1970s). Do not use vanilla essence. It might be much cheaper, but it is a woefully inferior product.
Plain flour and baking powder: this recipe lists both plain flour and baking powder as ingredients. You can use self-raising flour instead, but remember to omit the baking powder if you do so.
Jam and cream: these are optional ingredients useful for filling and decorating when making this small sponge cake recipe. However, a range of other fillings and spreads can be used instead. I’ve listed a few ideas further along in this post.
Here are the 9 easy steps to vanilla sponge cake perfection:
- Grease and line the baking tins (even if they claim to be non-stick).
- Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
- Add the egg yolks, milk and vanilla extract. Beat well.
- Sift the flour & baking powder into the bowl.
- Mix in.
- Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks and stir a spoonful into the batter to loosen it.
- Fold the rest of the egg white in using a large metal spoon.
- Spoon into tins and bake until golden.
- Turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely, then fill the cake and decorate as desired.
These steps take me around 20 minutes to complete, so it’s a relatively quick recipe to pull together.
Once made, it’s up to you how to fill and decorate this simple sponge cake. I went for some uncomplicated piping, using a Wilton 8b nozzle since I have yet to inherit the decorating skills of my mother – she’s a master when it comes to cake art.
Although this is a straightforward recipe for a simple sponge cake there are some important tips to share to ensure you get the very best out of it:
- Always use digital scales and grams to measure baking ingredients. It’s a much more accurate system than using cups. For this reason, I do not offer cup measurements.
- Check the size of your baking tins and adapt the amount of batter made accordingly. The base recipe listed is for a small sponge cake made in 6-inch tins but I have listed measurements for 7-inch cake tins and 8-inch cake tins too.
- Always grease the base and sides of your cake tins and line the base with baking parchment. Do this even if your tins are nonstick as getting the cakes out will be so much easier if you do so.
- Allow ingredients to come to room temperature before baking. This reduces the risk of the batter splitting and it will be easier to cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
- Don’t forget to preheat your oven. Cake batter needs to be cooked at the correct temperature as soon as possible. This ensures that the baking powder performs optimally and gives the best possible rise to the sponge cake.
- Fold the egg whites in as gently as you can to keep as much air in the batter as possible. Use a large metal spoon and keep folding in until no white streaks of egg white remain.
- Allow sufficient time for the vanilla sponge cake to come to room temperature before serving if it has been stored in the fridge. That’s around 2 hours out of the fridge in winter, perhaps slightly less in the summertime.
Frequently asked questions
The most likely reason is an issue with the raising agent. Was the baking powder accidentally omitted? Has it gone beyond its use-by date?
Check the tin size was adequate for the quantity of batter being made. The cake tin should be approximately ⅔ full once the batter is spooned in. If the tins are too large then the cake will appear thin even though it has risen.
Finally, it is possible that the cake was not cooked for long enough.
It is possible that the batter was not mixed sufficiently. Try creaming the butter and sugar for longer next time (aim for 3-5 minutes).
Also, check your raising agent. Perhaps it was accidentally left out or has been open for too long. Generally speaking, it needs to be used within 6 months of opening and should then be replaced.
There are several reasons why your cake might be dry. First of all, there was a mistake in measuring the ingredients or the instructions were not followed accurately. It’s also possible that the cake was baked for too long or at too high a temperature.
To salvage your cake consider poking holes in it with a cocktail stick and spooning a sweet syrup over it, such as the one used in this orange cake.
If the cake is filled and decorated using fresh cream, then it will need to be stored in the fridge. It will stay fresh for up to 3 days. Remember to bring it out of the fridge 1-2 hours before required to come back to room temperature.
If the cake does not contain cream or any other perishable frosting, then it can be stored at room temperature (in an airtight container). Again, it is best eaten fresh and consumed within 3 days.
Yes, these small sponge cakes can be frozen. It is best to do so before decorating them. Just let each layer cool completely then wrap in clingfilm and pop into the freezer for up to 3 months. When required, just let the cakes defrost at room temperature, then proceed to fill and decorate them as desired.
The base recipe for this simple sponge cake can be adapted to take on other flavours too. Childhood classics were chocolate, coffee or orange. This cake can handle buttercream in place of the cream and glacé icing adorning the top. Really, it ticks all the boxes that a basic sponge cake recipe should be able to tick.
Feed that chocolate craving by replacing 30g of the flour with cocoa powder. Proceed with the recipe as normal and perhaps incorporate a little more chocolate in some buttercream.
Lemon or orange
Omit the vanilla and instead mix in the finely grated zest of a lemon (or orange) in step 3 instead. Use lemon buttercream or orange buttercream to fill and top the cake or stick with the whipped cream but include some lemon or orange marmalade instead of the jam.
Lemon or orange-infused water icing is an alternative option for those less keen on rich buttercream.
Oh gosh. Although I detested coffee as a child I have always adored coffee cake. To give this simple sponge cake recipe a coffee twist dissolve 1 tablespoon of instant coffee granules in 2 tablespoons of freshly boiled water. Add this to the cake batter in place of the milk.
Fill the cake with coffee buttercream or whipped cream and perhaps top with some chocolate-covered coffee beans. Coffee water icing is, again, a great alternative to buttercream here.
Scaling up this small sponge cake recipe
It’s incredibly easy to scale this recipe for a simple sponge cake up to suit various cake tin sizes.
The ingredients listed in the main recipe are sufficient to fill 2 x 6-inch cake tins. Note that these are smaller than average tins (8-inch pans are typical). But a small sponge cake is ideal for serving a dinky household when leftovers are not required.
The recipe works on the following basis:
Per egg add the following:
- 60g butter/ sugar / flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon milk
From these measurements, it is easy to calculate ingredients for a 2-layer cake using the following cake tin sizes:
- 6-inch tins (2 eggs + 120g butter/ sugar/ flour + 2 teaspoon extract + 1 teaspoon baking powder + 2 tablespoon milk)
- 7-inch tins (3 eggs + 180g butter/ sugar/ flour + 3 teaspoon extract + 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder + 3 tablespoon milk)
- 8-inch tins (4 eggs + 240g butter/ sugar/ flour + 4 teaspoon extract + 2 teaspoon baking powder + 4 tablespoon milk)
Decorating ideas for vanilla sponge cake
There are a multitude of ways that this vanilla sponge cake recipe could be decorated. I opted for homemade jam, with sweetened whipped cream and some crystalised stem ginger. The quantities required are listed in the recipe card. More decorating ideas include:
- Fill with jam and vanilla buttercream.
- Sandwich the cake layers together with jam and dust the top with icing sugar.
- Add in some fresh fruit, such as strawberries, raspberries or cherries in place of the jam. Again, whipped cream is a great partner in crime here.
- Replace the jam with lemon curd or passionfruit curd.
- Take the creamy filling up a level by using mascarpone frosting.
- Fill with my easy roasted strawberry compote instead of jam.
- Include some edible flowers for a fresh, summery feel to your simple sponge cake.
And of course, this small sponge cake is ideal for use in other recipes too. Perhaps try it when making a trifle.
More easy cake recipes
If you make this recipe for a simple sponge cake I would love to hear how you get along. Share your gorgeous creation on Instagram and tag #littlesugarsnaps so I can see it too. I hope it becomes one of your go-to recipes as well.
Simple Sponge Cake
THIS RECIPE REQUIRES 2 X 6-INCH CAKE TINS
For the Easy Vanilla Sponge Cake
- 120 g Unsalted Butter – softened
- 120 g Caster sugar
- 2 Eggs – large, free range
- 2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoon Whole (full fat) milk
- 120 g Plain (all purpose) flour
- 1 teaspoon Baking powder
- 2-3 tablespoon Strawberry & rhubarb jam
- 250 ml Double (heavy) cream
- 2 tablespoon Icing (confectioner) sugar
- 2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
- 1-2 tablespoon Crystalised ginger (chopped small)
Make the cake
- Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F/ GM4 and grease & line 2 x 6-inch cake tins.
- Using electric beaters, cream the butter and sugar together until light & fluffy.
- Separate the egg white and yolks. Put the whites aside. Add the yolks to the creamed ingredients along with the vanilla extract and milk. Beat until just combined.
- Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and gently stir in, using a large metal spoon until thoroughly combined. Take care not to overwork the batter though.
- Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Take a spoonful and mix it into the cake batter to loosen it, then fold the rest in. Continue to mix until just combined and no obvious patches of egg white are visible.
- Divide the batter between the cake tins and bake for approx 20 minutes until well risen and golden. A cocktail stick poked into the centre of the cake should come out clean
- Remove from the oven when sufficiently baked. Let cool in the tin for 2 minutes, before unmolding. Remove the parchment and allow the cakes to cool completely on a wire rack.
Filling the cake
- Put the cream into a medium mixing bowl with the vanilla extract and sieve the icing sugar in. Whip until the cream holds its shape nicely.
- Place 1 layer of cake on a plate/ stand and spread with 2 tablespoon jam.
- Top with ⅔ of the cream – either pipe it on or smooth it out with a knife.
- Scatter ⅔ of the ginger over the cream and place the second layer of sponge on top.
- Spread a thin layer of cream across the top and pipe the rest of the cream around the edge of the cake (I used a Wilton 8b nozzle) and fill the centre with the remaining jam.
- Garnish with the remaining pieces of ginger.
- Best served immediately but this cake can be covered and stored in the fridge for up to 2 days (let sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours prior to serving).
- 60g butter/ sugar / flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 6-inch tins (2 eggs + 120g butter/ sugar/ flour + 2 teaspoon extract + 1 teaspoon baking powder + 2 tablespoon milk) – the base recipe
- 7-inch tins (3 eggs + 180g butter/ sugar/ flour + 3 teaspoon extract + 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder + 3 tablespoon milk) – this is 1.5 times the base recipe.
- 8-inch tins (4 eggs + 240g butter/ sugar/ flour + 4 teaspoon extract + 2 teaspoon baking powder + 4 tablespoon milk) – this is 2 times the base recipe