Sponge Cake Layers

Sponge Cake Layers

Prep Time


Cook Time



Sponge Cake Layers

Light, airy sponge cake layers obtain their height from vigorously beaten eggs, which form a network of air bubbles that rise in the heat of the oven. After baking and cooling, these layers—either vanilla or chocolate—can be paired with a variety of fillings and frostings to make appealing desserts, such as a Classic Birthday Cake (see related Williams-Sonoma recipe).

This recipe courtesy of Williams-Sonoma.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Mastering Series, Cakes, Fillings & Frostings, by Elinor Klivans (Simon & Schuster, 2005).


  • Unsalted butter and flour for preparing the pans
  • For vanilla cake layers: 1 cup cake flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • For chocolate cake layers: 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant coffee powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • 1 Preheat the oven and prepare the pans: Position a rack in the middle of an oven, so the cakes will be evenly surrounded with heat, and preheat to 350€F. Place a small amount of butter on a piece of waxed paper and spread the butter evenly over the bottom and sides of two 9-inch round layer cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper, butter the paper, then sprinkle lightly with flour. Tap out the excess flour.
  • 2 Sift the dry ingredients: Suspend a fine-mesh sieve over a small bowl. If making vanilla sponge cake, add the flour and salt. If making chocolate sponge cake, add the flour, cocoa powder, coffee powder and salt. Lightly tap the rim of the sieve to encourage the ingredients to pass into the bowl. This both combines the ingredients and aerates the flour (compacted flour produces a less tender texture, or crumb). Set aside.
  • 3 Beat the egg yolks with half the sugar: In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Fit the stand mixer with the paddle attachment or a handheld mixer with the twin beaters. Beat on medium-high speed until thickened, pale yellow and the batter falls back on itself like a ribbon when the beater is lifted, about 3 minutes. Stop the mixer occasionally and, using a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl sides. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined. If using the stand mixer, scrape the yolk mixture into a large bowl. Wash and dry the mixer bowl thoroughly and aerate the flour (compacted flour produces a less tender texture, or crumb). Set aside.
  • 4 Beat the egg whites with the remaining sugar: To the clean stand mixer bowl or a large mixing bowl, add the egg whites. Fit the mixer with the whip attachment. Beat on medium speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue beating, moving the whip around the bowl if necessary, until the whites look shiny and smooth and hold slightly bent peaks—soft peaks—when you stop the mixer and lift the whip, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and beat in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar at a rate of about 2 tablespoons every 15 seconds. After all of the sugar has been incorporated, beat the whites for 1 minute more. When you stop the mixer and lift the whip, the peaks will be firm and straight; these are stiff peaks.
  • 5 Fold the egg whites into the egg yolks: Using a rubber spatula, pile about one-third of the egg whites on top of the yolk mixture. Then, using the spatula, fold the mixtures together: Slice down through the center to the bottom of the bowl, pull the spatula to the side and, keeping the flat side of the spatula against the side of the bowl, bring the spatula up and over the top of the egg whites, bringing some of the yolk mixture with it. Rotate the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the folding action until no white streaks remain. This first addition will lighten the batter. Now, pile the remaining egg whites on top of the mixture and fold them in using the same technique.
  • 6 Fold in the flour mixture: Still using the spatula, fold in the flour mixture in 4 additions: Sprinkle about one-fourth of the flour mixture over the egg mixture, then, using the same technique as above, fold in the mixture just until no streaks of flour (or cocoa powder) are visible. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture. (Adding the dry ingredients in small amounts prevents their weight from deflating the egg mixture.) The batter will be light and foamy.
  • 7 Bake the cakes: Pour the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly. Use the spatula to scrape every last bit from the bowl and then to smooth the surface lightly. Bake the cakes undisturbed for 18 minutes. If the cakes look set and the surface is lightly browned, touch the tops gently. If they feel firm, insert a thin skewer or toothpick into the centers. If it comes out dry, the cakes are done. If it comes out wet or with crumbs clinging to it, set the timer for another 2 minutes, continue to bake and check again. Repeat this process until the cakes test done. The cake layers will probably take a total of 20 minutes. The timing may vary a minute or two depending on the cakes' positions in the oven. Using pot holders, carefully transfer the cakes to a wire rack.
  • 8 Unmold and cool the cakes: Let the cakes cool in the pans for 15 minutes. Run a thin knife along the inside edge of each pan to loosen the cake, keeping the knife pressed against the side. Invert a wire rack on top of 1 cake and invert together. The cake will release from the pan. Lift off the pan and peel off and discard the parchment. Using both hands, turn the cake layer top side up. Repeat with the second layer. Let cool completely on the racks, about 45 minutes. The cake layers will shrink slightly as they cool. The cakes are now ready to be filled and frosted.
  • 9 Use or store the cakes: If not using the cake layers right away, tightly wrap the cooled cake layers individually in plastic wrap and store them at room temperature for up to 2 days.
  • 10 Split the cake into layers: When you are ready to fill and frost the cake, place the cake on a cool work surface. Hold a ruler alongside it to measure its height and note the midpoint. If the cake isn't even on all sides, try to find an average. Using toothpicks, mark the midpoint of the cake at 4 to 6 equally spaced intervals around the cake. The picks will guide you as you cut the cake into 2 equal layers. Using a long serrated knife and a sawing motion, cut the layer horizontally to make 2 layers. Don't worry if the layers are uneven; they can be masked with filling or frosting. Place a large sheet of waxed paper on a countertop, lift off the top cake layer and place it on the waxed paper while you cut the second cake in the same manner.
  • 11 Prepare to assemble the cake: Look at the cake layers and determine the order in which they will be layered. Put any uneven layers in the center of the cake, and reserve one of the smooth cake tops for the top tier. Makes two 9-inch cake layers.
  • 12 Pastry Chef's Tips: It is important to beat egg whites in a spotlessly clean and dry bowl. Any trace of grease, fat or water will prevent them from expanding to their full volume. If your egg whites do not expand in volume after a few minutes of beating, discard them and start over with a clean, dry bowl and fresh egg whites.
  • 13 If the parchment paper used to line the pan sticks to the bottom of the cake, dip a pastry brush in warm water and lightly brush the paper. The water should loosen it, making it easier to remove without damaging the cake.


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