Baking for Bookworms: Sponge Cake from Longbourn by Jo Baker

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There were a lot of interesting, traditional British dishes to choose from in this book, but since Sarah, the protagonist, had particularly lurid memories of sponge cakes, I thought I would share a traditional sponge cake with you.

The book is filled with food because it primarily takes place in the servants’ domain, and the kitchen is therefore a major part of their lives. The act of preparing food for others that you can never afford to eat is extremely difficult, and shows an extreme class disparity quite sensitively. Most of the dishes are used to add color and description to the lives that are so influenced by the work they do for the Bennet family, and the sponge cake shows the bitter side of Sarah’s childhood in service:

“When she was a girl, and still growing, ravenous, whenever there had been a cake–a sponge cake, dusted with sugar, which Mrs. Hill had conjured up out of eggs and flour and creamy butter–Sarah would never even let herself look at it because she knew that it was not for her. Instead, she would carry it upstairs to be rendered into crumbs, and the crumbs lifted from the plate by a moistened Bennet finger, and the empty smeared plate carried back again. So Sarah would stare instead at the carpet underneath her feet, or at the painting of a horse with a strangely small head that hung at the end of the hall, or the rippled yellow curtains in the parlour, and would do her best not to breathe, not to inhale the scent of vanilla or lemon or almonds; even to glance at the cake was an impossible agony.”                     157

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Thankfully, we can have a slice of this cake. It’s a quite simple cake–you can even make it all in one bowl. You’ll note that the measurements are in ounces because of the cookbook I adapted this recipe from, but you can easily find a conversion chart if you don’t have a kitchen scale.

Recipe adapted from

For Cake:

  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 4 oz self-rising flour (or add 1 tsp baking powder to all-purpose flour)
  • 5 oz sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For Filling:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of your favorite jam (I used raspberry)
  • powdered sugar for dusting

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Preheat oven to 375. Grease two cake pans and set aside.

Making sure your bowl is completely free of grease (I like to take a paper towel with some vinegar and run it all around the bowl and whisk) whisk egg whites until stiff. Add yolks and sugar and beat until creamy. Add in lemon juice and extracts. Fold in flour and salt.

Separate mixture into two pans and bake for 20-30 minutes until the cake is golden and springy.

Turn out onto cooling rack and cool completely before filling.

For filling, beat cream until almost stiff, then add jam and continue beating. Fill the cake with cream and top with powdered sugar.

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My oven cooks things really quickly, and even though I set the timer for the lowest time, it was still a little burnt, hence the cut edges. But even slightly burnt the cake is surprisingly good. What’s your favorite thing to put whipped cream on? If the answer is everything, then we should totally be friends.

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