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Recreating Classics: Vanilla Sponge Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Nn, M.D.

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Hello eGullet, it's been some time since I've posted anything on here, and I have spent the greater part of 2023 in high experimentation. I recently moved to a new place with a bigger kitchen, and my job now affords me a lot more free time, so I have spent most of this time throwing my entire imagination at my bakes. A few things have worked, but the vast majority have not. However my experimentation has not been in vain; rather, I would say 2023 was a year of meaningful exploration that will echo throughout my bakes for years to come. But towards the end of the year I could feel myself becoming fatigued. I had wanted so desperately for my bakes to all of a sudden be the exact flavors and textures I had been looking for, but when you experiment in baking, there is no guarantee of success. And where I would triumph on flavor, there would be poor textures, or vice versa. Needless to say, by the end of 2023 I was deeply frustrated with the yields of a year of experimentation.


So in 2024, I have committed to recreating classic recipes. These are bakes that I like, reasons I started baking in the first place. I want to revisit recipes that inspired me to tie on my apron, recipes that will hopefully propel me forward in my journey of baking self-actualization. I am hoping that I can share this journey with the eGullet community and continue to learn and grow throughout the process.


My first dalliance with classic recipes is--to me--the essence of baking. I cannot think of a more inviting treat to walk into than a vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. So many birthdays, parties, and gatherings with loved ones happened around vanilla cakes with chocolate frosting, and a cake like this feels like the perfect place to anchor my 2024 resolution. My goal with this cake was not to add any gimmicks or novel twists; if anything, I think the combination is perfect as it is. I wanted to express myself through this recipe, both to honor the ingredients and flavors themselves while also acknowledging my own experiences. So I have opted for a vanilla genoise sponge, adapted from this recipe and method (which I highly recommend for anyone new to the genoise sponge), and my proprietary chocolate frosting, which lies somewhere on the spectrum between a German buttercream and Russian buttercream.




Vanilla Genoise Sponge Cake

- 8 jumbo eggs

- 280 g granulated sugar

- 260 g cake flour

(or 65 g cornstarch + 195 g pastry flour)

- 80 g ghee

- 40 g half and half

- 10 g salt

- 10 g vanilla extract

- 10 g vanilla bean paste (optional)


1. Preheat your oven to 355˚ F. Line 3-8" baking tins with parchment paper. Sift your cake flour (or cornstarch + pastry flour) 2-3 times and set aside. Combine ghee, half and half, salt, and vanilla in a heat-safe bowl or cup and set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, add eggs and granulated sugar and whisk to combine. Set over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is warm to touch and sugar is dissolved. Transfer bowl to your mixer with the whisk attachment and mix on highest speed until you reach ribbon stage. Then whisk an additional 5-6 minutes on lowest speed to break down large bubbles.

- Remove saucepan from heat and place ghee mixture in the warm water.

3. Fold in sifted flour in two additions, making sure to scrape the sides and the bottom and thoroughly combine. There should be no streaks of dry flour remaining.

4. Pour over the warmed ghee mixture and fold to combine, again making sure to scrape the sides and the bottom. 

5. Distribute batter between 3 tins (each should have about 350 g of batter). Use a skewer to pop large air bubbles; drop tins on the counter a couple of times as well.

6. Bake cakes for 28-30 minutes. Check the cakes around 25 minutes: press the top of the cake and if the top gently springs back, the cake is done; if the fingerprint stays, leave the cakes for another 5 minutes and check again.

7. Remove cakes from the oven and drop tins on the counter again to release the steam. Allow to cool completely upside down on a wire rack before removing from the tins.



Chocolate Buttercream

- 454 g butter (4 sticks: I used 3 sticks unsalted and 1 stick salted butter)

- 115 g bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

- 360-390 g sweetened condensed milk (1 can)

- 2 jumbo eggs

- 15 g buttermilk powder (1 tbsp)

- 45 g Dutch process cocoa powder (3 tbsp)

- 10 g salt


1. Allow butter to come to room temperature before handling. Using a whisk or a hand mixer, whisk together the butter until it is light and fluffy in texture. In a heat safe bowl, melt your chocolate and allow it to cool to room temperature. Set both aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, add your remaining ingredients and whisk to combine. Set over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture comes up to 165˚ F. Transfer bowl to your mixer with the whisk attachment and mix on highest speed until the mixture reaches room temperature.

3. With mixer on low speed, add 2 tbsp portions of your whisked butter and allow each addition to incorporate before adding the next.

4. Once all the butter has been added, mix manually and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. Pour in the cooled chocolate and mix the frosting together on medium speed for a minute.

5. Again, scrape sides and bottom manually and then mix on high speed for 2-3 minutes.


To assemble the cake, I made a simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar) and added about 50 g to each of my sponge layers once I had trimmed off some of the caramelization. Using a 2 oz scoop, I added about 3 scoops of frosting between each layer of sponge and then put a thin coat on the outside as my crumb coat. I chilled the cake for 15 minutes and then added my final coat of frosting. I decided to try a decorative rim on the top of the cake with what I had left.


Overall, the cake is exactly what I was looking for. It has been a long time since I've had cake I enjoyed this much, and from something so simple too. Making this has confirmed to me that I am on the right path, as I am now more excited than ever to revisit my favorites and re-learn the joys of baking.

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