August 23 is National Sponge Cake Day, a holiday to celebrate the dessert favorite. Recipes for the sponge cake date back over 400 years, so it’s been around a lot longer than other desserts we enjoy today.
Here’s what you need to know about the history of sponge cake and the holiday.
1. The Origin of the Holiday Is Unknown, but Searches for It Date Back to 2006
Like many food holidays, National Sponge Cake Day doesn’t have an origin. It just suddenly appeared on the web. National Day Calendar notes that it could not track down a creator of the holiday.
Google Trends shows that there were searches for the holiday as far back as 2006 in the U.S. A Google search found that the site Gone-Ta-Pott, which was created in 2004, mentioned the holiday in 2007. By 2010, the holiday was mentioned on a Smithsonian Institution blog.
2. The Oldest-Known Sponge Cake Recipe Was Published in 1615
According to the Smithsonian, the oldest-known recipe for sponge cake was published in 1615 in The English Housewife: Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman, a book by English writer Gervase Markham.
The sponge cake recipe also appeared in Lydia Maria Child’s The American Frugal Housewife in 1832, showing that the recipe was popular on both sides of the Atlantic by then. Here’s the full recipe from Child’s book:
The nicest way to make sponge cake, or diet-bread, is the weight of six eggs in sugar, the weight of four eggs in flour, a little rose-water. The whites and yolks should be beaten thoroughly and separately. The eggs and sugar should be well beaten together; but after the flour is sprinkled, it should not be stirred a moment longer than is necessary to mix it well; it should be poured into the pan, and got into the oven with all possible expedition. Twenty minutes is about long enough to bake. Not to be put in till some other articles have taken off the first few minutes of furious heat.
Child was a Massachusetts-born writer and journalist. She died in 1880 at age 78.
What’s Cooking America notes that Italian Renaissance cooks in the 1400s created “biscuits” which were more like the predecessor of the sponge cake than what we call biscuits today.
3. Sponge Cake Makes for a Great Passover Dessert Because It’s Not Leavened With Yeast
Since sponge cakes are not leavened with yeast, they make for great desserts for Passover. As the New York Times noted in 1990, making a sponge cake is an easy solution to figuring out what can be the most difficult part of a Passover meal. Passover sponge cake recipes usually include matzo meal, coconut, matzo flour, potato flour or nut flour.
You can find plenty of Passover sponge cake recipes online. Here’s one from Family Circle. Another recipe can be found at Shalom Boston.
The Huffington Post shared gluten-free recipes for Passover sponge cake, in lemon and chocolate espresso flavors.
4. The Victoria Sponge, Named After Queen Victoria, Is 1 of Britain’s Favorite Treats
Since the sponge cake recipe first appeared in a British book, it makes sense that the British would love sponge cake. As Express notes, the Victoria sponge cake is “officially Britain’s favorite baked treat.” The cake is named after Queen Victoria.
The National Trust told Express in 2013 that it sold over 171,000 slices of Victoria sponge in its tea shops in 2012.
“I agree with our visitors, as my favourite cake is the Victoria sponge too. It’s light, fruity, and quintessentially British,” Clive Goudercourt, National Trust development chef, told the Express.
The Victoria sponge is also known as the Victoria sandwich or Victorian cake. It usually includes raspberry jam and whipped or vanilla cream.
5. The Chiffon Cake Is a Mix of Sponge & Butter Cakes
One popular alternative to the basic sponge cake is the Chiffon Cake. Popular in the U.S., this is a mix of both sponge and butter cakes. It uses vegetable oil instead of shortening.
As What’s Cooking America reports, the cake was credited to Harry Baker, a Los Angeles insurance agent. He invented it in 1927 and started selling the cake at the Brown Derby Restaurant. It wasn’t until 1947 that General Mills bought Baker’s recipe and published it in a Betty Crocker pamphlet. The recipe also appeared in a 1948 issue of Better Homes and Gardens, where General Mills billed it as “The first really new cake in 100 years.”