Cooking with Pat Part 2 …
The world’s best sponge cake …
Well, nearly.

Forenote: No daughters, daughters-in-law or granddaughters were harmed in the making of this blog post though one came close 😉 

I should have read the signs and got out while I was ahead.

My bowl was too deep. My spatula too heavy. My beaters too small. My oven not hot enough. My baking powder the wrong brand. My eggs (gifted that day from a farming friend) were alas … too warm.

getting ready to make the sponge

The Christmas pudding suddenly felt like a doddle.

Pat might have been in my kitchen, but we were in her territory now. Serious sponge-cake-cooking territory. A scary frontier controlled by five foot nothing country cooks wielding time-worn wooden spoons.  These women look harmless but don’t underestimate the power that lies behind those pressed aprons.

And me? I’ve never cooked a sponge in my life. Why would I?

Pat has cooked hundreds. Many, many hundreds.

Pat ready to go

So when I asked her if she’d like to do a blog piece on the fine art of sponge making she came complete with sponge tins, old school sifter, measuring jug, paper doilies, freshly pressed linen apron (get out now!!) and lipstick.

I was clearly out of my league.

Pat greasing the warmed tins with butter.

And while I offered to help do you think I could elbow my way to the kitchen bench.

Pat cracking eggs.

Hush child. Watch and learn.

Adding the yolks to the mix

You just look for the air bubbles. There’s one now. That’s what we want.

Looking for air bubbles.

Can I sift the flour?


Twice sifted flour.

Can I ever so gently fold in the flour by the breeze at the window?


Folding the flour in by the window

Very lightly folding in the flour.

Can I spoon out the mixture – with the lightest of touches? A little in one tin, a little in the other, bit by bit so they both have the same?

Not this time Marg.

Gently spooning out the mixture

Can I check to see if they’re ready?

Maybe next time Marg.

Pat checking the cakes in the oven

But you can get the apricot jam out of the fridge because it needs to be at room temp to spread on the cakes.

apricot jam

It’s been a long time since I felt like a little girl in the kitchen.

turning out the sponges.

And as I sat quietly, relegated to a corner on my little stool, licking my wounds the bowl and beaters, I contemplated how no cookbook can ever replace a lifetime’s experience in the kitchen. I also thought about those hundreds and hundreds of sponges Pat has made and shared over the years: for charity, for her friends, for special events and most importantly for her family. As a cook, she has the most important ingredient of all: generosity.

We’re very lucky.

It’s just a pity our sponges were, by Pat’s standards, an unmitigated disaster, because as I said … My bowl was too deep. My spatula too heavy. My beaters too small. My oven not hot enough. My baking powder the wrong brand. My eggs (gifted that day from a farming friend) were alas … too warm. And faffing around taking photos didn’t help the process either.

However, this is what I learnt …
Some sponges will never be great sponges but … they will make damned fine lamingtons. There’s probably a lesson for life wrapped up in there.

Pat’s Famous Sponge Cake Recipe (this is Pat’s adaptation of the recipe on the side of the Fielders Cornflour box).

3 eggs (4 if they’re small) – separated
pinch salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/2 cup castor sugar
2/3 cup of Fielders Cornflour (don’t even think about substituting another)
1 very rounded tablespoon of plain flour
1 rounded teaspoon of Aunt Mary’s Baking Powder (again don’t substitute).

Important note !!
Everything you do must be done with the lightest of touches.

Pre-heat oven 190 degrees conventional/170 degrees fan forced.

2. Place two 20cm sponge tins and the cake rake in the oven to warm them.

3. Remove cake tins, let them cool a little and grease generously with butter, by hand.

4. In a bowl that’s not too deep, beat egg whites (eggs should be cold) with salt until soft peaks form. Preferably use a mix master rather than a hand held one. And one that has nice open beaters. Pat adds the salt after it’s been beating for a bit.

5. Very gradually beat in sugar, a little at a time, and continue beating until stiff.

6. Add the egg yolks in one go, and shortly after, the vanilla essence, and beat until combined. I’d never seen this before but if you take out the beaters and give it a gentle fold, quite large bubbles should make their way to the surface.

7. Sift together 3 times (cornflour, plain flour and baking powder) and add to the egg mixture. Take your bowl and small spatula to an open window and carefully and lightly, fold the mixture together. DO NOT STIR. AND DON’T OVER FOLD.

8. Divide the batter lightly, and little bit by little bit, evenly between two greased sponge tins. Take the cake rack out of the oven.

9. Bake for 18–20 minutes. And don’t open the door of the oven unless you have to. If you do, open it just a crack and quickly.

10. When cooked, turn them upside down on the cake rack with the tins still on them. Hold the cake rack against the sponge as you do that. Quickly turn the second one on to the rack. Leave for a couple of minutes then lift tins off.

11. Cover with the lightest tea towel or cloth you have. If it’s cold, Pat actually warms the tea towel near the oven.

12. When cool, cut each cake in half. Generoulsy smear apricot jam on the bottom half. Cover with whipped cream (with marsala whipped in to taste. If no marsala use a little vanilla – a poor substitute.) (I new there had to be grog in there somewhere!) …  and lots of fresh passionfruit (2). Cover with the top half. Either dust with icing sugar or make some passionfruit icing which is the kids’ favourite.  (icing sugar, a generous ounce of butter, and 2 passionfruits. A drop of hot water if necessary)

13. After icing has set (set it in the fridge in hot weather), wrap very lightly in grease proof (waxed) paper. Place in airtight tin. If you’re thoughtful it’s not airtight, place a plastic bag under the tin lid and close. To freeze, put the cake, wrapped in waxed paper on a plate, place in a freezer bag and seal. Will keep for a month in freezer. Otherwise keep it in the fridge in airtight tin or plastic bag. Chances are it won’t last that long 🙂

P.S. We may end up regrouping and having another go in Pat’s kitchen, with Pat’s utensils. If we do, I’ll bring you some pics of the finished product.

P.S.S. As I’ve mentioned before, Pat has a great sense of fun and don’t worry. She is more than capable of defending herself.

Have a happy weekend.


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    1. Tracey
      Posted 22 February 2013 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      Did she put her lippy on especially ? – she looks beautiful

      • Marg
        Posted 22 February 2013 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        She’s amazing Tracey. Puts us all to shame. No, not specially. That’s just Pat. x

    2. Posted 22 February 2013 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      Oh just loved this post, what a joy and Pat creates perfection with such efortless ease. As a child I grew up with our neighbors as stand in grandparents and nothing ever tasted as good as Mrs Conell’s sponges. This reminded me of those days waiting patiently to lick the spoon and how it’s something I never did learn to do myself. It’s something I’d love to pass onto our children xxx

      • Marg
        Posted 22 February 2013 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

        Thanks lovely Lisa. Perfection? Not in this particular instance but you can blame me lol 🙂 Try it with the kids. Let me know how you go. Have a feeling I may end up with some Postscript edits 😉

    3. Posted 22 February 2013 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

      This is just wonderful – so evocative – great post xx

      • Marg
        Posted 22 February 2013 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

        Ah you gorgeous thing. Thanks Fran x

    4. Posted 23 February 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      Again Marg, your pictures are wonderful. And I love the character that is Ms. Pat. You created a space in time by asking her to be there and then interpreting this with words and pictures. You made it a story and one lovely daggone post.

      • Marg
        Posted 23 February 2013 at 8:17 am | Permalink

        Morning Shalagh. So appreciate your lovely feedback. Thankyou. Ms Pat – love it! She is a character indeed! Marg xox

    5. Susan Douglas
      Posted 23 February 2013 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      Lovely Marg x

      • Marg
        Posted 23 February 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        Thanks Sue x

    6. Margaret Andersson
      Posted 2 July 2013 at 3:41 am | Permalink

      Fantastic Marg!!!! Have never been able to make a sponge. 🙁 Your words and photos create the perfect image and mood to give it a try! When I get back from South Africa I’ll be giving it a RHG. Love your posts. xoxoxo

      • Marg
        Posted 2 July 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        Thanks Margaret! x Hope you’re having a ball. A very memorable time to be in South Africa I imagine with Madiba so sick. Good luck with the recipe. Let me know how you go.

    7. vi
      Posted 28 August 2014 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

      Hi Marg just want to ask where can I buy Fielder’s corn flour in NSW? I can’t find it in coles or Woolworths.

      • Marg
        Posted 29 August 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        Hi Vi,
        That’s exactly where I would have said to go. That’s where I’ve always bought it. Or maybe IGA? I’m sure other corn flours would probably be OK but that’s the one that Pat always insisted on.

        • Nichelle Simpson
          Posted 24 July 2016 at 10:45 am | Permalink

          My grandma’s insists in fielders too. Although it is dsrn near impossible to find these days. And whether or not it’s just coincidence, it is better with fielders.

          • Marg
            Posted 18 August 2016 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

            And better with an Aga stove I think too Nichelle but unfortunately we don’t have one of those lol 😉

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