A classic genoise sponge cake is made with four simple ingredients: flour, sugar, eggs, and butter. Learn how to make it and what desserts to use it in!
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CLASSIC GENOISE VIDEO TUTORIAL
When I was in school for baking and pastry, we always had a demo before replicating the recipe. I do things a little differently around here though, can you tell what it is? If you’re a fan of “silent-film mode”, I hope you’ll subscribe to my YouTube channel!
WHAT DOES GENOISE MEAN?
If you didn’t know, this classic genoise sponge cake is a favourite when it comes to French pastry. It makes the base for many beloved cakes, like the fraisier. Around the holidays, it’s rolled up to make bûches de noël (yule logs), which means it’s great for making jelly rolls, too. Despite its widespread use in French pastry, its origins are Italian. Named after Genoa, the sixth-largest city in Italy, we can now see where the name comes from. Genoise = Genoese/Genovese.
HOW IS A CLASSIC GENOISE LEAVENED?
A classic genoise sponge cake is leavened through the power of eggs alone, so don’t even think about pulling out the baking powder. Both the egg yolks and egg whites are beaten together to create foam. Since foam is basically a bunch of tiny little air bubbles, it makes for an airy batter.
When the cake is transferred to the oven, the heat expands those air bubbles, giving it volume and structure. If you want to learn more about how eggs work in baking, you should read my post on egg theory. Knowing how ingredients work for you in the kitchen is an easy way to level up your kitchen skills!
WHAT DO I NEED TO MAKE A CLASSIC GENOISE?
I’m not usually one to shy away from mixing batters by hand. I quite enjoy beating whipped cream, egg whites, and mayonnaise manually, but this sponge cake is a different story. Actually, I must admit, I’ve never tried mixing genoise by hand, but if you have a whisk and a strong arm, you’re welcome to it! As for me, this is a task I entrust my trusty stand mixer with. If you have an electric hand mixer, you can use that, too, but it will likely take longer. It takes about five minutes in a stand mixer to beat the eggs and sugar to what’s called the “ribbon stage”, but let’s walk through it together, shall we?
PRE-HEAT THE OVEN AND PREP
The very first step is to preheat the oven to 350ºF/175ºC. I highly recommend measuring out all of the ingredients before getting started, which is what kitchen folk do. Having your mise en place (a French term for “set-up”) ready makes kitchen work so much more pleasant. Since there are only four ingredients, this won’t take long, but there’s also the mould to prep.
I like using a round 9″ cake pan when making genoise, but you can use whatever you like. Grease your mould of choice with butter, line the bottom with parchment paper, and dust the remainder with flour. If you’ve never lined anything with parchment paper, it’s a simple matter of tracing the mould onto the parchment paper and cutting it out. This ensures that the bottom doesn’t stick. It might seem like a pain but I’ve broken too many cakes to know that this step shouldn’t be skipped.
In the recipe, I call for the eggs to be at room temperature. The reason? When eggs are cold, they don’t gain as much volume. If you can get your hands on fresh eggs, all the better, as fresh eggs keep more volume during the bake than older eggs do. Remember that egg theory post I was saying you should check out? It comes in handy. Anyhow, if your eggs are at room temperature, you should be in good shape, but if they’re cold or you want to give them an extra boost, there’s a trick.
THE WATER BATH TRICK
This isn’t a step you need to abide by, especially if you’re in a rush, but warming your eggs will enhance their leavening power. It’s simply a matter of filling a bowl with boiling water and setting your mixing bowl on top of it. In the mixing bowl are the eggs and sugar, so just whisk them by hand for a minute or two, which should be enough time to warm them up a bit.
THE RIBBON STAGE
When you first start beating the eggs and sugar, you’re going to have a bright yellow mixture thanks to the yolks. As the eggs and sugar whip around in the bowl (you’ll be using the whisk attachment if you’re using a stand mixer), you’ll notice a couple of changes. For one, the eggs and sugar will transmute into a pale yellow, almost ivory colour. Second, they will be gaining so much volume that they triple in size. When both of these changes have occurred, it’s time to start thinking about testing the batter to see if it’s at the ribbon stage.
The ribbon stage is when the eggs and sugar have enough structure to temporarily hold a shape of their own. I like testing for this by using the whisk attachment and tracing figure eights with the batter to see how it falls. If the mixture falls flat, it needs more mixing. When that ribbon of batter you drizzled holds a figure eight before sinking back into its brethren, it’s ready for the next step.
This recipe calls for cake flour, which is the same thing as pastry flour. You could use all-purpose flour, but I wouldn’t recommend it due to the gluten content. Cake flour is low in gluten meaning the finished product will have a softer, less chewy crumb. One thing you should note is that cake flour has a finer texture, which means it has a tendency to clump together. Sift it. Please, please, please, sift it.
I also highly recommend weighing the flour. For what’s probably the first time ever, I’ve included a cup measurement for this recipe in addition to the weight. I haven’t done a flour theory post yet (I want to), but cup measurements aren’t precise enough. There are factors like humidity; how packed the cup is; whether the cup is level; and if the flour is sifted or not that makes weighing it so much easier. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, what are you waiting for?
FOLD IN THE FLOUR
Okay, so your flour is weighed and sifted, terrific! Add the flour to the eggs, or sift it directly into the bowl and gently fold it in. You do not want to overmix. Just fold it until everything is combined. The more you mix, the more volume you will lose in the long run, so don’t get too happy with the spatula.
The butter is optional. A classic genoise sponge cake can be made without butter and still turn out beautifully. I add butter for flavour and extra moisture, but if you’re out of butter or don’t want to bother with it, don’t sweat it.
FOLD IN THE BUTTER
If you’re a big butter fan like I am, scoop out some batter into a separate bowl and fold the melted butter into that portion. This ensures that the butter doesn’t flatten the whole shebang. From there, add the buttery batter back to the main bowl and gently fold it in until just incorporated. That’s it. Your batter is ready, so pour it into the prepared mould and remember to scrape out the bowl!
That didn’t take long, did it? Now pop it into the pre-heated oven and set a timer for 30 minutes. If your oven runs hot, take a peek after 25 minutes, but if you don’t know how your oven runs, get yourself an oven thermometer. It’s on my top ten list of tools every baking enthusiast should have.
There are two ways to tell if the genoise is done. One, it’s sprung away from the pan. The other way is to pierce the centre with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, it’s ready! Transfer the cake pan to a wire rack to cool for ten minutes before popping it out of the mould. Allow the sponge cake to cool completely before using it.
CAN I FREEZE GENOISE?
Yes, absolutely! Once it’s baked and cooled, wrap it up in plastic wrap and enclose it in a ziplock bag to protect it from freezer burn. If you have company over a lot, this is an easy hack that will let you put an easy homemade dessert on the table. It’s also a smart way to prep in advance because it cuts the amount of work of making a dessert in half.
WHAT ARE SOME WAYS I CAN USE A CLASSIC GENOISE?
I love using genoise to build my own layer cakes from scratch. Once you have the foundation, it’s a pretty easy thing to do! I may have alluded to some of these ideas at the beginning of the post, but here are some other ways to use a classic genoise sponge in your desserts:
Layer it into trifles.
Christmas logs (bûches de noël)
Use it as a base for mousse cakes.
Pipe it into ladyfingers.
Turn it into a tiramisu.
GENOISE IS THIRSTY
I almost forgot! Compared to other sponge cakes, genoise can be a bit dry. Fear not, genoise loves simple syrup. Before filling it with your cream, frosting or jelly of pick, brush on a bit of syrup. Simple syrup is a cinch to make and you can also flavour it to suit your dessert’s needs. Shoot, you can even spike it and make it a wee bit boozy! Now go make your dessert dreams come true.
THANK YOU FOR POPPING BY THE KITCHEN!
I can’t wait to hear how this classic genoise recipe turns out for you! What are you planning on using it for? I hope you let me in on your baking fun by leaving a comment below or tagging me on Instagram. Oh, and if you’re into the genoise, you’ll want to check out this classic recipe for French Madeleines. They’re these precious cookie-sized cakes that are just wonderful. Talk about a real treat!
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CLASSIC GENOISE INGREDIENTS
3 eggs room temperature
70 g (1/4 cup + 2 tbsp) sugar
100 g (1/2 cup + 2 tbsp) cake flour
45 g unsalted butter melted
butter, parchment and flour for prepping the cake pan
CLASSIC GENOISE INSTRUCTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350ºF/175ºC.
Trace and cut out a circle of parchment, grease the cake pan with butter, insert the parchment cut out and dust with flour.
Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together until the mixture triples in volume, reaching the ribbon stage. The ribbon stage is attained when you test the batter and it temporarily holds a shape.
Sift the flour and fold it into the egg mixture in stage until incorporated.
In a separate bowl, ladle out a portion of the batter and fold it with the melted butter.
Return the buttery batter to the main mixing bowl and gently fold it with the remaining batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 30 minutes. Check for doneness by inspecting to see if the edges have sprung away from the pan or by inserting a toothpick into the centre.
Allow it to cool on a wire rack for ten minutes before removing from the pan.
PRINTABLE CLASSIC GENOISE SPONGE CAKE RECIPE CARD
Classic Genoise Sponge Cake
- 3 eggs room temperature
- 70 g (1/4 cup + 2 tbsp) sugar
- 100 g (1/2 cup + 2 tbsp) cake flour
- 45 g unsalted butter melted
- butter, parchment and flour for prepping the cake pan
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF/175ºC.
- Trace and cut out a circle of parchment, grease the cake pan with butter, insert the parchment cut out and dust with flour.
- Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together until the mixture triples in volume, reaching the ribbon stage. The ribbon stage is attained when you test the batter and it temporarily holds a shape.
- Sift the flour and fold it into the egg mixture in stage until incorporated.
- In a separate bowl, ladle out a portion of the batter and fold it with the melted butter.
- Return the buttery batter to the main mixing bowl and gently fold it with the remaining batter.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 30 minutes. Check for doneness by inspecting to see if the edges have sprung away from the pan or by inserting a toothpick into the centre.
- Allow it to cool on a wire rack for ten minutes before removing from the pan.
- Eggs can be brought to room temperature by submerging them in warm water. Alternatively, you can start out by whisking the eggs and sugar over a bain marie until it’s room temperature.
- When baking, it’s best to measure ingredients by weight rather than volume.
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Love and gratitude,