Italian Sponge Cake

Even though they have similar ingredients, small changes make a big difference between foam and butter cakes.
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YIELD Makes one 9-inch cake

You would never eat this cake without soaking it; it's just too dry on its own. But when you spoon or brush a liqueur or syrup over it, it drinks it in and is transformed. This recipe only produces one cake because, conventionally, you cut this cake in half, usually filling it with a cream infused with the same liqueur you used to soak it.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1-1/2 cups sugar, plus more for lining parchment paper
  • 5 extra large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 drop of lemon oil, optional
  • 1-1/2 cups cake flour, sifted, plus more for flouring the cake pan
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter for greasing cake pan; nonstick cooking spray or vegetable oil may be substituted

PREPARATION:

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Put the sugar, eggs, vanilla and lemon oil (if using) in the bowl of a stand mixer fit with the whisk attachment. (If you don't have a stand mixer, you can put the ingredients in a bowl and use a hand mixer with the blending attachment.) Beat starting on low and raise to medium and whip until the mixture is thick, shiny and ivory in color, and has multiplied several times in volume, approximately 15 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape as much mixture as possible off the whisk attachment and into the bowl.
  3. Add the flour and patiently fold it in with a rubber spatula, then pour in the oil, and fold in until fully absorbed into the mixture.
  4. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan. Pour the batter into the pan, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula.
  5. Bake until the cake begins to pull from the sides of the pan and is springy to the touch, 30 to 40 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour. The cake should be at room temperature before you remove it from the pan. Put a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet, top with sugar, and turn the cake out onto the parchment; the sugar will keep it from sticking. If you are not going to ice it immediately, refrigerate the cake until ready to decorate.

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