Old-Fashioned Sponge Cake

Sundays were special when I was a kid. Sunday was the one day in the week when the whole family could spend the whole day together. When I was very young my father’s work week ended at noon on Saturday, so we had Saturday afternoons free for fishing, berry picking or visiting. But a lot of the time, those afternoons were devoted to “chores,” a euphemism for hoeing the garden, mowing the lawn, cutting and splitting firewood, and other such unpleasant activities.

Sundays, however, were mostly set aside for fun activities with an intermission for the church service after Sunday dinner. We lived about two miles from Trinity Lutheran Church near the tiny village of Phipps, Wisconsin, where my father had been baptized and confirmed, and we went nearly every Sunday. It was a small country church, one of three served by a minister who conducted the first service of the day in Glidden, Wisconsin, drove forty miles to Cable where he led midmorning worship at the log chapel where my Aunt Hilda was married and then drove another sixteen miles for the service at our church.

Besides this challenging Sunday schedule, he also taught catechism classes, visited homebound members of the congregations, buried and married folks and met with church elders. He was a busy man.

Winter storms sometimes forced cancellations of services at Cable and Phipps, but the church in Glidden had enough people living within easy walking distance that services were conducted every Sunday, even on the opening weekend of deer season. Church was cancelled at Cable and Phipps when the men and boys set off in search of the wily whitetail. In the days before the two car family, hunters had first dibs on the family vehicle, so non-hunters and children had no way to drive to church.

Except for that one Sunday a year, church was an integral part of a day that began with Dad’s driving to town to buy a Sunday paper. Since he didn’t have to go to work and there was no school bus for us kids to watch for, Sunday breakfasts tended to be relatively leisurely affairs. About once a month, they featured orange juice. The exact timing depended on sales at the two local grocery stores. When oranges were on sale, Mom bought a bag, and we had orange juice.

People like great Aunt Hattie, who lived in California, wouldn’t have called it orange juice, because Mom added water to make sure that there was a glassful for everyone. One of my earliest memories is of washing oranges under the pitcher pump in the kitchen. Dad would cut the oranges in half, we would squeeze them on on the round juicer and Mom would add sugar and water until the juice tasted right to her. Then she would add the orange peel halves and give the mixture a good stir before serving glasses of what most people would call orangeade. We loved it.

Later, Mom would use the orange rinds to flavor things she baked—like orange sponge cake. Orange sponge cake recipes call for lots of eggs, which was no problem in the Rang household. Mom’s hens kept us well supplied.

Here is how to turn oranges and eggs into a wonderful cake.


6 large eggs
1 1/3 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup orange juice
1 T orange zest
3/4 tsp. cream of tartar


Start by bringing the eggs to room temperature. Set them on the counter a couple of hours before you start the cake or put them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.

Wash and dry the oranges. Remove a generous tablespoon of zest from the oranges with a zester or kitchen grater and squeeze a half cup of juice from the fruit.

Preheat the oven to 325º and mix the flour and one-third cup of sugar in a small bowl.

Separate the eggs into two mixing bowls. With an egg beater or electric mixer beat the yolks until they are lemon colored and begin to thicken. Beat in the orange zest and juice and continue beating the yolks until they are very thick, gradually adding two-thirds cup of sugar and a quarter teaspoon of salt.

Transfer the flour and sugar mixture from the small bowl to a sifter and sift the dry ingredients very gradually on top of the yolk mixture. Use a spatula to fold the dry ingredients gently into the yolk mixture.

Wash the beaters thoroughly. Sprinkle three-fourths teaspoon of cream of tartar on the whites and beat them until soft peaks form. Continue beating while you add a half cup of sugar until stiff peaks form.

Fold the egg yolk mixture gently but thoroughly into the beaten egg whites and put the batter into an ungreased ten-inch tube (angel food) cake pan. Run a table knife carefully through the batter to remove any bubbles.

Bake on the center shelf in the oven for thirty to forty minutes. Check for doneness at thirty minutes. If the top of the cake is dry and springs back when you press down gently on it, it is done. Take it from the oven and invert the pan until the cake is completely cool.

Run a table knife around the tube and inside the pan to remove the cake from the pan.

NOTES: If you don’t have cake flour in your kitchen, you can make do by using 1 1/3 cups minus 2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour.

We balance the inverted pan on a bottle while the cake cools. Works great unless you jostle the pan.

This cake is delicious by itself, wonderful with ice cream and heavenly with whipped cream. Don’t think of spoiling it with “whipped topping.”

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