How to Make Sponge Cake as Epic and Airy as Your Favorite Bakery Does

Be a star baker with our step-by-step guide to making a light, fluffy sponge cake from scratch.

Is sponge cake the same as angel food cake? Since they both rely on beaten eggs to make them light as a feather, they're similar. But if you closely compare sponge cake vs. angel food cake, you'll realize that sponge cakes are richer than angel food cakes because they contain egg yolks and whipped whites.

So what is sponge cake, exactly? Think of it as the happy medium between richer chiffon or butter cakes (because sponge cakes contain little or no butter or oil) and uber-light angel food cakes. If you're curious about how to make sponge cake, you've come to the right place. Below, we have your complete guide on how to make light and airy sponge cake from scratch.

Since flavors and the ingredients can vary, sponge cake recipe step-by-steps can too. So use this how-to-make-sponge-cake process as a rough guide, then follow the directions given on the specific sponge cake you choose. Regardless of the flavor of cake batter or topping, these Test Kitchen answers to "how do you make sponge cake light and fluffy?!" will score you cloud-like results—and rave reviews.

How to Make Sponge Cake From Scratch

Hot Milk Sponge Cake with Broiled Coconut Topping
Blaine Moats

Wondering what ingredients you need to make a sponge cake? Unlike many classic cake recipes composed mainly of flour, sponge cakes are primarily made with eggs and call for less sugar and flour. This makes the crumb light and airy yet absorbent and sturdy all at once—the ideal vehicle for syrups and fruits or to use as part of a cake roll.

Step 1: Separate the eggs.

Egg being separated
Peter Krumhardt

If your recipe calls for beating the egg yolks and whites separately, begin by separating the egg whites from the yolks. Eggs separate more easily when cold, so separate them immediately after taking them out of the refrigerator. Even the tiniest bit of yolk can inhibit the beating of the whites.

To ensure that no yolk gets into the whites as you separate the eggs, place each white into a small bowl (such as a custard cup), then transfer the white to the extra-large bowl where you will eventually beat them. Place the yolks in a small mixing bowl. If any yolk does get into the white, do not use it; refrigerate that white for another use.

Allow the egg whites to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. (For safety, do not let eggs stand longer than 30 minutes at room temperature.) The standing time ensures that the whites will reach their full volume when you beat them.

Step 2: Prepare the cake pan.

If greasing the pan is part of the plan, use a paper towel or pastry brush ($8, Amazon) to evenly spread shortening or butter on the bottom, corners, and 1 inch up the sides of the pan.

Some sponge cake recipes call for flouring the pan to ensure no crumb gets left behind. If that's the case for your sponge cake, sprinkle a little flour into the pan, then tap the pan so the flour covers all the greased surfaces. Tap out any extra flour into the sink.

If the directions call for lining the pan with waxed or parchment paper, place the pan on the paper and trace around its base with a pencil. Cut just inside the traced line; place the paper in the bottom of the lightly greased pan, smoothing out any wrinkles or bubbles.

Step 3: Aerate the flour.

measuring flour
Kritsada Panichgul

Before measuring flour for your favorite sponge cake recipe, stir the flour in the canister to aerate and loosen it. Spoon the flour into a dry measuring cup ($23 for a set, Williams-Sonoma). Level it off with the flat side of a knife. (If you skip this aeration step or shake the cup to level it off, you risk adding too much flour.) Next, mix the other dry ingredients specified in the sponge cake recipe, which may include baking powder or cream of tartar.

Step 4: Beat the egg yolks.

Beating egg yolks
Kritsada Panichgul

If your recipe calls for beating the yolks separately from the whites, beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer ($40, Target) on high speed for about 5 minutes or until thick and lemon-color. After beating for 2 to 3 minutes, the yolks will be the right color but probably not thick enough. When ready, they will hold a ribbon when the beaters are lifted from the bowl (see photo).

Some recipes call for beating the egg whites and yolks together and adding sugar during the process. In this case, follow your sponge cake recipe's step-by-step instructions.

Step 5: Beat the egg whites.

Stiff peaks
Scott Little

If your sponge cake recipe calls for you to beat the egg whites separately from the yolks, thoroughly wash and dry the beaters. In a clean, dry mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on medium to high speed until soft peaks form. At this stage, the tips of the egg whites will curl when the beaters are lifted.

Gradually add the granulated sugar, beating on high speed until stiff peaks form. At this stage, the tips of the whites will stand straight up when the beaters are lifted.

Folding batter
Andy Lyons

Step 6: Fold the ingredients together.

Some recipes call for folding the egg yolk mixture into beaten egg whites, then folding in the flour mixture. Use a spatula ($8, Amazon) to cut down vertically through the mixture. Move the spatula across the bottom of the bowl and bring it back up the other side, carrying some of the mixture from the bottom over the surface. Repeat, rotating the bowl until ingredients are combined. A key reminder for how to make sponge cake: Try not to overmix, as this can decrease the volume of the batter and result in a tough crumb.

Step 7: Pour batter into the pan and bake.

Cake doneness test with finger
Scott Little

Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake as directed in the recipe, using the doneness test given in the recipe. For most sponge cakes, you can tell when the cake is done by touching the top lightly with your finger. If the top springs back, the cake is done.

If the recipe specifies a toothpick test, insert a wooden toothpick near the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is ready.

Cool cake as directed in the recipe. After the sponge cake is completely cooled (usually about 1 hour), frost if desired. These homemade frosting recipes can help take virtually any dessert to the next level.

Our Top 7 Tips to Make Sponge Cake Just as Incredible as a Bakery

Keep these pointers in mind:

  1. Mind the egg temp. Because it's such a vital part of how to make sponge cake, we'll offer another reminder: Room-temperature eggs whip the best, so allow them to sit out for about 30 minutes after you separate the yolks from the whites.
  2. Consider sifting the flour. If you notice any lumps in your flour as you scoop it into the measuring cup, try sifting it with a flour sifter before incorporating the flour with the wet ingredients.
  3. Add flour in portions. As you combine the flour with the egg mixture, try doing so in thirds. Doing a bit at a time will help you steer clear of overmixing or compromising the fluffiness of the beaten eggs.
  4. Check the bottom of the bowl. If it looks like no streaks of flour remain in the cake batter, gently swipe the spatula along the bottom of the bowl once or twice more to guarantee you haven't missed any pockets of flour.
  5. Cure a chocolate craving. To transform a vanilla sponge cake into a chocolate version, add 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder to the flour.
  6. Keep the door closed. Try your best not to peek. If you open the oven door to check on your sponge cake before it's done, it can collapse due to the quick temperature change.
  7. Bake immediately. Aim to bake the cake as soon as you transfer the batter to the pan(s).

Sponge cake is a terrific make-ahead dessert idea. Store it for up to 3 days on the counter in an airtight container, or refrigerate the sponge cake recipe for up to 1 week. If desired, you can freeze sponge cake for up to 3 months. (In case you missed it, here's how to freeze every kind of cake.)

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