A classic genoise sponge cake is made with four simple ingredients: flour, sugar, eggs, and butter. Ready for a French pastry lesson?
WHAT DOES GENOISE MEAN?
If you didn’t know, this classic genoise sponge cake is a favourite when it comes to French pastry.
For example, genoise sponge makes the base for many beloved cakes, like the fraisier (a strawberry layer cake with marzipan, mousseline cream, and hints of kirsch).
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.
CLASSIC GENOISE VIDEO TUTORIAL
When I was in school for baking and pastry, we always had a demo before replicating the recipe.
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GENOISE VS SPONGE CAKE
Do you know those sponge cakes that have gorgeous volume and can be cut into four tiers?
That’s not a genoise sponge.
That kind of volume is only achieved through chemical leaveners, like baking powder.
While you could add baking powder to bring a genoise cake to greater heights, it wouldn’t be a genoise sponge anymore.
It would just be a sponge cake.
HOW IS GENOISE CAKE LEAVENED?
A classic genoise sponge is leavened through the power of eggs alone, so don’t even think about pulling out the baking powder!
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!
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 (with the whisk attachment) to beat the eggs and sugar to what’s called the “ribbon stage”.
Let’s walk through the genoise method together, step by step, 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 step 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 this sponge cake recipe, I call for the eggs to be at room temperature.
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.
BRINGING EGGS TO ROOM TEMPERATURE
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.
Alternatively, slip your whole eggs into a bowl of hot tap water and let them warm up for five minutes or so. It’s better than nothing!
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.
By the way, if you want to see what this looks like, scroll back up and give the video a watch!
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.
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, but life is better with butter!
A classic genoise sponge cake can be made with or 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 using)
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.
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.
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 SPONGE?
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.
WHY IS MY GENOISE DRY?
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, jelly, or whatever else you have planned for your genoise cake, 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.
MAKING GENOISE SPONGE CAKE
I cannot 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.
PIN IT FOR LATER
Love and gratitude,