For my latest Early American baking challenge, I tried a recipe from the The Virginia Housewife or, Methodical Cook cookbook (1838) written by Mrs. Mary Randolph, who was Thomas Jefferson’s cousin. She entitled the recipe, “Savoy or Spunge Cake.” It’s a light, 3 to 4-ingredient cake that is centuries old, named after the Savoy Region in what is now France.
Here is Mrs. Randolph’s recipe:
“Take twelve fresh eggs, put them in the scale, and balance them with sugar: take out half, and balance the other half with flour;
separate the whites from the yolks, whip them up very light, then mix them, and sift in, first sugar, then flour, till both are exhausted;
add some grated lemon peel; bake them in paper cases, or little tin moulds. This also makes an excellent pudding, with butter, sugar, and wine, for sauce.”
For my recipe, since I don’t have the “paper cases” or “little tin moulds” that Mrs. Randolph was referring to in her recipe, I used cupcake pans instead. Another option is to bake the sponge cake in fancy mini-Bundt pans or one large Bundt pan. Alternatively, the cake batter can be spooned or piped onto a cookie sheet to make ladyfingers. What I like most about this Savoy Cake recipe is its simplicity; it seems to be more straightforward to make than genoise, yet the results are similar.
Below is the recipe, followed by step-by-step illustrated instructions.
The first thing is to preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Generously butter the cavities of cupcake pans (to total 16 cavities). Dust with flour or a combination of fine sugar (not powdered) and flour (2 to 1 ratio). Dusting with a sugar-flour combination is found in some recipes for Savoy Cake, but as this was not mentioned in Mrs. Randolph’s recipe, I simply dusted the greased pans with flour. I once tested out dusting the cavities with sugar, and the cakes turn out to have a sugar crust. The downside was that I had problems removing the cakes from the cavities, so I’ve put off trying that method for the time being.
Sift the sugar into a medium bowl.
Sift the flour into a separate bowl.
Zest one lemon. Set aside the flour, sugar, and flour while you prepare the eggs.
Beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer until lightened in color. I used a hand-held electric mixer to beat the egg yolks.
Separately, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. For this task, I used my standing electric mixer.
After the egg whites have been sufficiently whipped, carefully fold the egg yolks into the egg whites.
Then gently fold in 1/3 of the sugar. This does not have to be done thoroughly, since there is a lot more folding to do.
Fold in 1/3 of the flour.
Repeat these two steps two more times until the sugar and flour are all used up. Finally, fold in the lemon zest.
The batter should still be light and airy. Next, spoon the batter into the cavities of the cupcake pan.
Fill each cavity about 1/2 full.
Bake the cakes in the preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown, a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cakes comes out clean, and the cake is springy to the touch.
The cakes should cool completely in the pan. To remove them from the pan, loosen the sides of the cake with a knife and then carefully pull out each cake from the pan. Don’t panic if some of the sides of the cake sticks to the pan. It can happen, as it did for me for the batch below. Use the knife to help coax the cakes out of the pan (and remember to grease and flour the pan better next time!).
A dusting of powdered sugar is the last step.
You can serve the cakes “as is,” or accompany each cake with the wine-butter sauce as recommended by Mrs. Randolph or some whipped cream and fruit.