How to make the perfect sponge. Snow. And a little wild sweetness.

This is what I could see from the window when the sun came up this morning.


No sun and no land. All white.  But more on that later.  First we need to discuss Christmas. As you know I am from New Zealand. Christmas in New Zealand means cold ham, cold roast beef, salads, huge bowls of leafy greens, maybe some  roast potatoes and roast kumara.  Beetroot jelly. Salmon Mousse.   That kind of thing. Every family has a different tradition. My mother was not a traditional kind of person.

I honestly cannot remember a recurring menu. Every year was something different.  But never heavy because it was summer and we lived by the beach. And you cannot swim on a full stomach you see. We had to wait an hour after eating to go back to the beach. It was torture. So, though we would have sat down to a lunch at the big table with the good cutlery it would not have been very formal.  Funny how I can not remember many Christmas dinners. Mum was sick such a long time I suppose. I remember the food from when she was younger and baked a lot. But she became sick when I was a teenager, so I did most of the cooking after that and  neither my father nor my mother had family that came on Christmas day so we were free to have any kind of Christmas food she liked I suppose.   Christmas for us was less about the food and more about the beach and new books.

She always made a Christmas cake (too late for me to start one now,  it needs to sit for at least a month if not longer,) plum duff (same problem) and  trifle, meringues and whipped cream.    I can make those.

You do realise that you will have to wear a sunhat don’t you, I said to The Matriarch. This will be a New Zealand dinner. We will be pretending it is summer.  Beautiful pacific salads, cold meats and off to the beach in the afternoon! Then our friend Celia from Fig Jam and  Lime Cordial said I hope you are making a Trifle. Well, I know a challenge when I see one.

Double hit on the trifle!

My Mother’s Trifle was a layered dessert of sponge soaked in sherry, (though when it was made for kids there was no sherry and the sponge was soaked in raspberry jelly instead), custard, fruit, blackcurrant jelly (my mother made tree-tomato jelly!) and whipped cream.  So, firstly I need to have a sponge. No it is not called a sponge cake, it is called Sponge. Less of the cake and more of the spongy air. But a sponge takes practice.

So yesterday I dug about in my oldest recipe book and found my old sponge recipe (I won first prize at Napier Intermediate for my sponge when I was 12)  but it was about five lines in a weird kind of shorthand that I have long since forgotton, I wonder if Beatrix Potter had the same problem. So I looked it up  on the interwebs and mixed and matched and came up with this for you.

Celi’s Sponge from School.

(For the ingredient amounts I referred to this recipe plus the method is very close to what we were taught at school, with pictures as well,  so do follow it if you are unfamiliar with how to make a NZ  sponge.)

And Here are my tips for making a sponge. snow-and-spinges-059

Measure everything carefully.


Make sure your eggs are at room temperature.snow-and-spinges-086

Beat the egg yolks in a different bowl to the egg whites.  If the egg white even smells a yolk it will not whip up fluffilly. (is that a word?)


When you add sugar to the whisked egg whites, go slow, hum to yourself, enjoy.


Sift the flour and cornflour twice, from a height so it drifts down. Then when you add it to the egg mixture, shake it in through a sifter again, little by little, folding it in with a spatula as you go. No machines from now on! Start humming again.


If you have not made a mess you are doing it wrong!

Carefully pour it into the lined cake tin. It will take only 30 minutes to cook. Cool the cake tin on a rack, undisturbed until quite cold. It will shrink a little.  That’s ok.snow-and-spinges-110


And now because you have all been so good,  and  asked so sweetly, here is a little bit of sweetness. They were play-fighting while I was baking. snow-and-spinges-039




And back to our snow pictures. We had a lovely lot of snow, maybe even four inches, I never can work it out. I had to get out early and take these fast.

snow23-024 snow23-021 snow23-013 snow23-010

Before this guy started plowing the snow out of the way. What is it with men and snow?. It is no sooner settled on to the ground that they are itching to go out and shovel and push  and blow and bucket it out of the way. 


Mama was fine last night and so I have left her with the others with access to the outside. Kupa was better yesterday too. I am beginning to think that he does not do well in the cold. But he won’t stay in the warm corners  either. Everyone does better when it is a little warmer.

Have a lovely day.

Your friend on the farm,


64 Comments on “How to make the perfect sponge. Snow. And a little wild sweetness.

  1. Lovely sponge! My gluten free ones are always sad and puddingy in the middle; the gf flour simply won’t hold air the same way. And lovely, lovely photos of snow, Boo and Marmalade. Your NZ Christmas sounds a bit like what we’ll be having here in Chiconia, including trifle!

    • Interesting you learned to make a sponge in school…I learned to make popovers!!! 😉

    • Yours most probably undercooked Kate.

      This is a prize winning gluten free sponge recipe!
      Ingredients –
      1 cup sugar 3 tablespoons water 4 eggs, separated 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1 1/2 cups cornflour, make sure it is gluten-free ( cornstarch) 1 teaspoon baking powder, gluten-free 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 1/4 cups whipping cream 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1/4 cup strawberry jam, warmed 250 g strawberries, thinly sliced 1 tablespoon icing sugar Directions
      Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Coat 2 spring form pans with baking spray, then line with baking paper. The baking spray helps keep the paper from moving around.
      In a microwave bowl or small saucepan, place the sugar and water. Bring to a boil. Stir every now and then to dissolve the sugar.
      Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff. Slowly drizzle in the hot sugar mixture with the mixer running. Then beat really hard for 3 minutes. Mix in egg yolks and vanilla.
      Sift together cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Carefully fold these into the egg mixture. Pour into prepared pans.
      Bake 18-20 minutes. As soon as you remove them from the oven, drop the pans from knee height, square on the floor – seriously! This is a strange sponge making trick that ‘shocks’ the cake and stops it from deflating.
      Then immediatly turn sponges out onto a wire rack or baking paper to cool upside down.
      Beat cream and vanilla until soft peaks form. Warm jam for a few seconds in the microwave.
      Place one sponge on the serving plate. Spread first with jam, then whipped cream.Top with strawberry slices. Then put second sponge on top. Dust with icing .

      Good luck! 😀

      You can just erase this Celi after Kate sees it. Sorry it is taking so much space.

      • OK, seen it, saved it, you can delete it if you need to! I’ll have to give it a try even if it’s only to test the novelty of throwing my cake on the floor! I’ll let you know how it goes…

  2. Thank you for the lovely pictures and the recipe. ? The snow looks cold and I don, t do cold even tho I do live in Bulgaria..I like my warm hearth…….

    • The recipe is in the link, my recipe is so old it makes no sense, it is more that method that is important to me.. c

  3. That is the spongiest sponge! And I love that you have custard, jelly, fruit and whipped cream in your trifle (just like mine). My mum and I argue every year about what should go into it! Beautiful snow shots and the play fighting is cute indeed – my pups do it too and it make sme laugh 🙂

    • What else does your Mum put in it? I know we used the canned mixed fruit though, that seems important.. ha ha ha .. c

      • She’s more about leaving things out 😦 Although sometimes instead of sponge she puts ladies finger biscuits or crushed amaretti. She doesn’t think it needs custard and I disagree!!

          • It needs all of the above AND a healthy slug of sherry to soak the sponge, ladyfinger biscuits or whatever else you’re using. Trifle needs sherry… My favourite trifle recipe involves ginger cake, orange jelly, a dash of Cointreau and chocolate custard, but I can see it’s not for everyone. And I’m still working on perfecting a Black Forest Trifle…

    • I am doing fine as i am still not doing anything heavy. But am trying to clean one room at a time, and lunch will be NZ simple.. only the four of us.. c

  4. Looking bleak out there… I want some snow. That’s a good looking sponge :D. I want your cat and dog by the way – they are wonderful.

  5. Oh I so miss sponges! Like you I won a certificate of honour for my Victorian Sponge when I was at school. I tried to make one years ago and it was a total flop, so I tried again later, same result. Then I read that the ‘butter and flour’ in the US is not the same as in England. So had to go find European butter and experiment with different flours. Now there is only me, a big sponge is just too much for me to eat, so stopped making them. However I do love to make a Trifle if I have company (and always soak my sponge in Sherry!). So you decorate the top of your trifle? My Mum always put pretty things on the top – sometimes smarties, or chocolate buttons or candied fruit.

    • A Victoria sponge is different again. It’s method is more cake like I think, I hear Viv makes a good victoria sponge. Our sponge is made combining whipped egg whites and whipped yolks with a little flour and lots of sugar.. you should try it, it might work for you and I know your chickens would love to eat the left overs.. c

  6. I love this post! It is just so cozy with the blanket of snow, the fluffy friends, and the baking. Love the pictures, especially the first photo that looks like it’s from the Dust Bowl.

  7. I absolutely love the pics of Boo and Marm … that kitty is just growing up so fast and Boo is just the perfect “Mom” for that baby! I’ve never made sponge but kinda makes me think of an angel food cake. Wishing you a lovely Sunday!!

  8. I think I’m going to have to try the Sponge. It looks wonderful!

    My favorite picture is the action shot of Boo and Marm with the kitty’s paw in the gaping maw of the ferocious dog. And the sepia toned shots are wonderful, too!

  9. We are much the same with a cold lunch… but one must have the Christmas Pudding with cream, and of cause the Christmas cake that was baked months ago and kept good in silver foil and doused with plenty of brandy…. yum yum…

  10. Your sponge looks awesome! I will have to give it a try. And I am very happy to hear that Mama is still on the mend.

    We have a foot or so of snow on the ground here, and now it’s getting a little sleety. I love the snow, but the ice is going to make it difficult! Glad it’s Sunday! Enjoy being warm inside :*)

  11. The snow pictures are extraordinary. They look like old wet plates or something of that nature. Cool….very cool, in fact. Good sponge lesson….absolutely on the button. The Blue and kitten pictures makes the term “fighting like cat and dog” seem very gentle and loving….such good pictures and even better models:)

  12. Lovely sponge!!! 🙂 Boy oh boy….holey what a messy baker you are!!! 😉 But I know that it tastes delicious!!! LOL That’s what counts!!!! 😀 Neat doesn’t mean tasty!!! I love the recreation of a New Zealand Christmas! I am a seafood lover and swimmer as I grew up on the Atlantic Ocean. So it sounds lovely to me!!! We sold our lovely pool…sigh…. I sure do miss a good swim! I used to swim every single day!!! Pruned!!! LOL
    I sat here and gazed at Boo and Marmalade playing for the longest time!!!! I just love to see them! So lucky!!! They have grown very close! Boo is the best pup ever!!! He is gentle and loving with his little buddy! Hope you are feeling better! Still sore…I know…baby steps!
    Cold and dismal….uffda….the sun is shining here this morning!!!!! Glad the gloominess is over at least for today for us!!! Yay! I feel cheery today! Have to go do a little shopping this afternoon. Need a dog bone cookie cutter! Making homemade dog treats!!! Gifts for the kids pups!!! 😀 Everybody gets a prezzie!!! 😉 Kitties are getting homegrown catnip bags!!!!
    Finished my cookies last night! Yay! Made seven different kinds this year. Not making truffles or chocolate covered cherries unless I get a second wind! LOL Now onto the dog treats, rosettes and lefse!!!! Oh and the mini fruit breads…almost forgot!
    Menu for buffet and dinner the next day is all planned. Having hot mulled homemade apple cider at night spiked with butterscotch snapps Christmas Eve! Champagne Christmas day!!!
    Can’t wait to see the kids!!!!
    Love to you Celi!!!! (((hugs))) Hi to the fellowship!!!

    p.s. still below zero…fleece tights and polartec today…brrrrr….my squirrel is back!!! 😀

  13. Good news on Mama. I’m very pleased about that. Love the cold photos. They almost look sepia it’s so cold. Peder is in the kitchen making a fresh pear tart. He likes my new kitchen, although I had to reset the temp and program on the oven because he had it all wrong. Problem with these new appliances is that they won’t let you be intuitive. A very happy Sunday to you.

  14. Those two are so utterly adorable!
    NZ seems to have the right idea. I can never fathom why we swelter our way through the full traditional comfort-for-cold-climate midday menu!

  15. We sometimes head to the beach for Christmas – but not this year. Brrr. The snowy porch pictures do beg to be a story illustration – (looks lovely, but I’m not the one shivering and dealing with it)
    The NZ menu sound great. We are not going “traditional” this year. But the cake has been resting for weeks here.
    That sponge cake sound delightful – my mother always loved those as part of her childhood…I like the part about making a mess…and having animal romps underfoot.
    Stay warm!

  16. My husband was compelled to come downstairs when he heard me laughing out loud at the pictures of Boo and Marmalade. “What’s so funny?” he demanded. So he came trudging downstairs to have a peak and he had to laugh out loud himself. He says, “Look at those teeth. That guy to tear that kitten to shreds.” So then I explained what a tender, solicitous mother Boo has been from Day One. I think he literally saved Marmalades life. Of course you did the heavy , heavy heavy lifting,Celi, but Boo provided the fur-to-fur so necessary for the soul.

    • You are absolutely right there Equus, having Boo to sleep with was paramount to the wee kittens early days.. otherwise he would have been all alone.. poor thing.. But now the cat shows his teeth and playfights just like a dog so who knows what will happen next!!.. c

  17. Well, of course fluffily is a word. Any cook would know it. I never really gave it a thought that NZ was in the middle of summer at Christmas. Light foods make perfect sense. Never made a sponge but now I will try. We are having traditional Sauerbraten with red cabbage and potato dumplings even though there are only two of us this year. (lots of leftovers…hooray). I love the way snow muffles all the sounds, especially at night. You know it is a guy thing to immediately shovel snow. I don’t even pretend to understand it anymore. Thank you for the CUTENESS today. I was looking at Pinterest and the first pictures of Marmalade when you brought him home. Such a tiny baby. Now look at him!!! He looks like a baby lion cub the way he crinkles his whiskers. Boo is such a good dad with his baby. Now I am off to make Merengues. (yep, can’t spell those, but they sure are good),

  18. The first time I heard the word “fluffily,” my preschool-aged daughter used it to describe her hair. “Mommy, my hair got fluffily today.”

  19. Wow – Father Christmas will get confused with that weather and come early!
    I always liked child trifle the best – sherry belongs in a glass IMHO 😉

  20. All the pics today look golden, like they’re tinted with egg yolks 🙂 I’m pleased Mama’s holding her own – like your tailbone, time will heal.
    We have the variations of the same cold menu each Christmas, of favourites, similar to yours – cold ham, cold chook with mandatory stuffing, mayonnaisey potato salad with peas & boiled egg, mango salsa, simple leafy salad with cherry toms & onion. Plus any seafood leftover from Christmas eve dinner. This year I’ll bake beetroot to have cold with a balsamic dressing.
    I play around with trifle, as the G.O. isn’t fond of the layered version, I deconstruct. Last year I made Madeleines, cornflour custard, blackberry jelly and sliced mango. This year I bought a Pandoro instead of baking the cake component, and we’ll see what fruit is good for the jelly. Basically I get it all ready on Christmas Eve, and we and whoever turns up eats it cold until the fridge is empty. Sometimes we just make a sandwich for Christmas lunch, go, off to the beach, then have a nice dinner in the evening in the cool.
    Cold roast beef has got me thinking though about next year… mmm with horseradish cream.
    Always lovely to see pics of Boo & Marmalade 🙂

  21. I too learned to make a fluffy sponge at school. It was a mark of being a good wife (to be), to produce a really light sponge. I can see from yours that you are still a prize-winner, and you definitely qualify to be a good wife. How about pavlova? Is that in your repertoire? My mother always whipped up a fantastic pavlova at Xmas, with kiwi fruit or strawberries on top. My choir is going to sing on Franklin Rd tonight; the Auckland street where every house is lit up with Xmas lights. Our Christmas song ‘We wish you a merry Xmas’ has been amended to ‘Now bring us some pavlova [and a slab of cold beer]. That’s Kiwi Xmas for you.

    What a nice coincidence that you are pretending to be at the beach, because I was planning to invite you to the beach today: it’s only a click away at

  22. I know so little of baking cakes that it could be a sponge or marble and I couldn’t help you do anything but lick a beater and enjoy a piece of the finished cake. I’ve never spent a Christmas where it was warm, unless we were having a freakish warm spell. Every year I tell myself “Next year I’ll do it.” and it never comes to pass. Great shots of Boo and Marmalade. Like Boo, Max will play hard with the big boys but with a puppy, he’s gentle as can be. Have a great night, Celi.

  23. I am clapping of course on all counts! Me: a traditionalist – never 🙂 ! There is still some lovely asparagus in the stores for firsts, and have not decided on prawn salad or my favourite curried prawns + a big salad of many different leaves! Well, have bought a panettone: one of my Christmas weaknesses, but cheese and nuts and fruits beckon more :D!! Actually I DO make a mean pavlova: hmmm? Slab of cold beer will be substituted with a Sauv blanc methinks!!!! Love,love, love the sweetness and SO glad both Mamas holding !!!!!!!!

    • I adore Pannetone!! I becasme adicted to it when i spent christmas in rome one year.. and yes mama is doing so much better today.. c

      • I do so hope BOTH Mamas are OK!! I have never been lucky enough to have an Italian Christmas, but a lady owning my favourite Italian deli in Sydney would not let me out of it until I bought and tried 🙂 !

  24. Your sponge looks wonderful.

    Our family were big trifle eaters when we were young. My Mother always bought jam rolls to soak in sherry for the main part of the trifle. Then chopped walnuts sprinkled amongst the marinated sponge, homemade custard which was allowed to set. Then Mum slipped a knife down the side of the bowl all around to let the liquid port wine jelly seep into the sponge and then into the fridge for all to set. I believe the English version has lots of cream on top.

    We have roast pork, turkey & ham on Christmas Day, but one year when there was only Mum, Dad & myself and the rest of the family were interstate, we just had crayfish and a big green salad.

    Of course there’s always homemade Christmas pudding, Christmas cake & mince tarts (all made and marinated well before Christmas). We were never big pavlova eaters as children – more the traditioned English Christmas Dinner as she grew up on a Dairy farm.

    I’ve only ever made a sponge once – as a teenager – and we needed to get a saw out of the toolshed to slice it – LOL.
    But my Mother’s sponges were legendary, so why would I try again (at making a sponge).

    I imagine you’d all have lots of hot food now your Christmas is surrounded by snow.

    • What an excellent idea to let the last of the jelly slide down the side, i will try that to and oh yes we always have cream. O loke the idea of a crayfish and a big salad.. my kind of christmas!.. c

  25. Tomato and saffron tart always looks so bright and festive with a salad. I always have a gelato or home made ice cream; usually peach or mango. Its all about having those wonderful seasonal pleasures. I’ll pop around for some trifle though!

  26. Your sponge turned out beautifully! I liked your comment about making a mess if it’s done right; I do know how to make a mess! Glad Mama did ok.

  27. WOW great shots and so happy to hear you are feeling so much better 🙂

  28. Beetroot jelly! I do hope you make that and show us what it’s all about! Your sponge is beautiful and I love the snowy, dusky, pictures. Such talent you have. And Boo and the kitten, can they get any cuter?

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