A Perfect Cake for All Summer Long

Recently on a favorite French website, I spotted a recipe for a sponge cake scented with ground hazelnuts, and served with strawberries and mascarpone whipped cream. Since local strawberries are omnipresent right now in markets and farmers’ stands in our New England town, I was anxious to try this dessert on my side of the Atlantic.

French recipes are typically abbreviated and often assume that cooks know basic culinary  techniques, so I read up on sponge cakes. Prepared with a minimum of ingredients (usually eggs, sugar, and flour plus seasonings), they can still be challenging to make. The eggs need to be at room temperature for best results, and then are separated. The yolks along with sugar need to be beaten for several minutes until pale yellow and thickened, and the whites should be whipped just until firm and glossy, and stiff enough to form straight peaks when a beater is lifted from them. The whites are what make sponge cakes rise, so most recipes suggest not greasing the baking pan to ease the batter’s rise up its sides.

These simple directions need to be clearly explained so that is how I came to bake this cake five times in the past two weeks! For more info I also relied on some excellent videos, especially one done by Claire Saffitz for the NY Times. She suggested adding some oil to lighten the yolk mixture to loosen it before the whites were incorporated, and I followed that lead.

For my version of the French original, I added some ground almonds in place of hazelnuts. And I included a filling assembled with purchased strawberry preserves, grated orange zest, and a hint of orange liqueur.

Served with a bowl of fresh sliced strawberries and another of crème fraîche-scented whipped cream, this cake has been a huge success with friends and neighbors, all of whom have been willing testers!



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French Sponge Cake with Strawberries and Whipped Cream with Crème Fraîche

4 large eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted and ground into a powder
4 tsp water
3/4 tsp almond extract
3/4 cup strawberry preserves (See market tip)
1 tsp grated orange zest
1  tsp orange liqueur such as Triple Sec, Grand Marnier, or Cointreau, optional

Confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling
Whipped Cream with Crème Fraîche (Recipe follows.)
1 qt strawberries
Mint sprigs, optional

1.Arrange a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Have ready a 9- inch springform pan but do not butter or flour it. (Do not use a dark colored springform pan as it can affect the baking of this cake.)

2.Separate the eggs, adding the yolks to one medium-large mixing bowl and the whites to another medium-large mixing bowl. Add half of the sugar (1/4 cup) to the bowl with the yolks and with an electric mixer, on medium high speed, beat the mixture until it has thickened and becomes a pale yellow color, about 3 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the pan as necessary. Mixture should form a ribbon when a spoonful of it is dripped over the batter. Gradually, beat in 1/4 cup canola oil until it is very well absorbed into the egg mixture. Reduce speed of mixer to low and beat in the flour. Next beat in the almond extract and 4 teaspoons of water. Finally beat in the ground almonds. Stop mixer and scrape down sides of bowl if necessary while adding the flour and the ground almonds. Set bowl aside.

3.Add the remaining sugar, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar to the bowl with the egg whites. With an electric mixer (with clean beaters) on low speed, beat the egg whites until foamy and then gradually increase speed to medium high. Beat the whites until firm white peaks have formed. Don’t over beat or it will be difficult to fold the whites into the yolk mixture.

4.Remove about a half cup of the beaten whites and stir them into the egg mixture to lighten it. Then, fold a third of the remaining whites into the egg yolk mixture using a rubber spatula to cut the whites into the batter going from the top to the bottom of the bowl in a circular fashion. Repeat two more times, folding a third of the whites into the batter each time.

5.Transfer the batter to the springform pan and smooth the top with an offset metal spatula or a table knife. Lift the pan and rap it gently on a countertop. Transfer pan to the oven.

6.Bake until the cake springs back when touched on top and is golden, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and invert pan onto a rack; cool in the pan upside down to room temperature. When cool, reinvert pan. Run a paring knife around inside edges of the pan to loosen and remove the ring from the springform pan. The cake will have deflated some during cooling. Reinvert the cake one last time (so bottom of pan is on top) and with a paring knife or metal spatula, gently loosen the cake from the bottom of the pan. Some bits of cooked cake will stick to the bottom of the springform pan. That’s okay.

7.Use a serrated knife to halve the cake crosswise, and gently remove the top layer. (I often do this by using the removable bottom of a tart pan to lift the top layer off.)

8.In a small bowl whisk together the strawberry preserves, orange zest, and if using, orange liqueur. Using a metal spatula, spread the mixture on the bottom layer of the cake and then cover with the top layer. Sprinkle cake generously with confectioners’ sugar and garnish the center with a few strawberries and if you like with a mint sprig. Serve with bowls of whipped cream with crème fraîche and with sliced strawberries. Garnish each serving with berries and cream and, if desired, with a mint leaf. Serves 8

Whipped Cream with Crème Fraiche
3/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
6 tbsp crème fraiche
11/2 tbsp confectioners’ sugar

1.In a chilled mixing bowl, whip the cream with an electric mixer on medium high speed until soft peaks form. Then lower speed and beat in crème fraiche and sugar. Beat on medium high speed until just firm. Transfer to a serving bowl. (Whipped cream can be prepared 1 day ahead.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)

Market tip:  I have used both Bonne Maman and Smucker’s strawberry preserves in this recipe.

Cooking tip: As the strawberry season ends, I plan to replace these berries with sliced peaches and will use peach preserves, lemon zest, and some Amaretto for a new version. Apricots and plums paired with appropriate preserves and lemon or orange zest could also be stars of this summer confection!

Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2024  

2 thoughts on “A Perfect Cake for All Summer Long

    • Jill, Thanks soooo much! Somehow that slanted mark must have gotten removed from the flour measure.
      I just FIXED it. Hope you enjoy this cake. We’ve eaten it all week and are still enjoying it! Betty

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