I used to wonder why anyone would want to bake a cake that has to be soaked in syrup in order not to be dry! But even though a genoise would probably not feature in someone’s list of favorite desserts like a chocolate lava cake would, it is actually an incredible base for many desserts. With its perfectly light and airy texture, the genoise can be handled very easily and soaks up flavors really well such as in a Fraisier or a Mocha cake.
What Is A Genoise?
Originating in Genoa (Italy), a genoise – or sponge cake – is a foam-based cake that is leavened by whipping eggs. In its most basic form, a genoise is only made up of three ingredients: eggs, sugar and flour. The sugar and flour are usually added in equal amounts. And the sugar to eggs ratio should not be greater than 1 to 1.25. So for example, when using 2 large eggs (100 g), you shouldn’t add more than 80 g of sugar1. In this recipe, we’ll be using 60 g.
The eggs and sugar are beaten until thick and lighter in color. Sifted flour is then folded in very carefully to avoid deflating the batter and developing too much gluten, which would lead to a tough cake. It is possible to replace up to half the amount of flour with cornstarch for a more tender cake. Some bakers like to add a little bit of melted butter for a richer cake and softer crumb. The fat will have a tendency to deflate the batter, leading to a denser cake, and should be added last.
Whipping The Eggs And Sugar
When whipping the eggs and sugar for the genoise batter, there are two ways you can go about it. You can either mix them while heating them. Or you can mix them at room temperature, without any heat involved.
Using a double boiler
Some recipes will call for warming the eggs and sugar first, in a bowl placed over a pot of simmering water. When you warm the eggs and sugar, two things will happen:
- The egg proteins, which are initially coiled up, will start to unravel from the heat. The proteins will then be able to stabilize the air bubbles incorporated during mixing, leading to an increase in volume.
- The sugar will melt more easily.
When making genoise batter, you can first heat the eggs and sugar in a double boiler (whilst stirring) until the temperature reaches 43°C (110°F). Heating beyond that temperature might cause the eggs to cook prematurely.
Once the mixture is warm enough, remove from the heat and continue whisking until light and thick.
This is easiest option if you own a stand mixer and are using room temperature eggs. Just place the eggs and sugar in the mixing bowl and let the mixer do the work for you! This will take a while, about 10 minutes.
What speed should you set the mixer on? Start beating the eggs and sugar on high speed for 1-2 minutes then lower the speed to medium. Why? Beating on high speed for too long will cause large air bubbles to form and pop. As a result, the cake won’t be properly leavened and will be dense. The ideal genoise is made up of very fine air bubbles, which can be achieved by mixing at medium speed.
When should you stop mixing? When the batter thickens, lightens in color and doubles in volume. You’ll also notice that when you lift the beater, the batter falls back into the bowl in a ribbon and doesn’t disappear immediately into the remaining batter.
Adding Flour To The Genoise Batter
Once the eggs are properly whipped, it’s time to add the flour.
- Sift the flour and add it to the whipped eggs in several additions.
- Using a spatula, gently fold in the flour. You’ve incorporated so much air into your batter. It would be a shame to let this work go to waste! Don’t forget the flour that might have sunk to the bottom of the bowl!
Flour clumps in the batter: To prevent this from happening, it’s best to add the flour in several additions. Corriher1 recommends adding a little bit of sugar to the flour before folding it in.
With Or Without A Cake Pan
Once you’ve mixed the batter, there are several things you can do with it.
- Spread it on a baking sheet: The genoise can be spread on a baking sheet and then two circles are cut in the baked cake. Pro: Pouring the batter on parchment paper is practical when you don’t have the pan size needed. Con: The downside to this method is that you would need to prepare more batter.
- Fill a cake pan: Pour the batter into the pan and then slice the cake horizontally when it’s baked. And if you don’t want to slice the cake, you can use divide the batter equally between two pans of the same size. Pro: You’ll get a nice and tall genoise. And you won’t have any wastage since the cake is already the right size. Con: You might not have the suitable pan or cake ring. Nothing a few calculations won’t fix! You can calculate how much batter you’d need for the pan size you have. You’ll find in the recipe card the amounts needed for a 16 cm pan as well as 20 cm and 23 cm (6, 8 and 9 inch cake pans respectively).
- Make genoise disks: Draw two circles (of desired size) on the back of parchment paper that will serve as a guide. Then pour and spread the batter within the lines. Pro: If you are terrible at slicing the cake in layers like I am, you can skip this step if you immediately divide the batter into two cakes. Con: The cake will spread and flatten. This is fine if you prefer thinner layers of genoise. But if you want a thicker layer, it’s best to go with the pan.
Better rise in cake pan
Why does a genoise baked in a cake pan rise more than genoise disks that are spread on parchment paper? When you bake the genoise, the water present in the batter (whole eggs are 73% water) will start to evaporate. If using a cake pan, the steam will be trapped by the edges of the pan and will have nowhere to go but upwards, causing the cake to rise2.
Preparing The Pan For The Genoise Batter
The genoise has a tendency to stick. It’s best to take some precautions so you can unmold it easily!
- Generously grease the pan.
- Pour flour into the pan (not as much as I did!) and holding the pan from the outer part, tilt it until all the surface is covered in flour.
- Discard the excess flour.
Hold the pan from the outer part and try to keep your fingers away from the floured surface. The genoise will stick if the pan is not properly coated with flour.
Pour the genoise batter into the prepared pan and bake! Philippe Urraca3 has a neat trick for getting a flat cake, with no raised surface in the middle. Once you fill the pan, using a bowl scraper, slightly push the batter from the middle towards the sides, creating a shallow well.
Baking The Genoise
The genoise is ready when it has a nice golden color. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. If you divided the batter into two thin disks, it should take about 13 minutes at 180°C (356°F). A thicker cake, poured into a cake pan, will take a bit longer, around 15- 20 minutes.
Once the genoise is fully baked, cool it down for a few minutes then invert it onto a wire rack, to prevent condensation from forming on the cake.
Tips For Making Genoise
The most common issues when making genoise are probably that the genoise is dry, dense and doesn’t rise. Let’s quickly recap some important points to avoid these issues.
- Mix the eggs and sugar on medium speed to the ribbon stage: Since we won’t be using any chemical leavener, it’s important to incorporate enough air into the batter when whipping the eggs. If you stop mixing too early, your cake won’t rise well and will be dense.
- Add the sifted flour gradually: Don’t add the flour in one go to avoid flour lumps which would affect the texture of the cake.
- Fold in the flour very gently: You don’t want to deflate the batter or your cake won’t rise. Overmixing the batter will also lead to a tough and rubbery cake because more gluten will have been formed.
- Bake the cake immediately: Don’t let the batter sit before baking it as it will deflate and won’t rise properly when baked.
- Don’t overbake the cake: Remove the cake from the oven when it has an even golden color and starts to pull away from the edges of the pan. If you overbake the cake, it will be too dry.
And that’s it! Next time, I’ll show you how to use the genoise to make a fraisier! A wonderful strawberry cake filled with mousseline cream! It’s probably my favorite cake right now and I can’t wait to share it with you!
You Might Also Like
1Corriher, S. O. (2008). Bakewise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking. Scribner.
2Gilles, C. (2009). La Cuisine Expliquée. Editions BPI.
3Uracca, P. (2017). Pâtisserie: French Pastry Master Class. Chêne.