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Nana’s Sponge Cake

Nana’s Sponge Cake

Nana’s Sponge Cake

I went home to New Jersey this week to celebrate a couple of family birthdays (my sister and father). We first celebrated in New York City at Gramercy Tavern (review here) and last night’s festivities at Talula’s Garden in Philadelphia (review to follow tomorrow). This was also an opportunity to comb through the coveted piles of handwritten recipes by my Nana in order to bake a birthday cake. Her recipes are a cooking pantheon and treasure trove of wonderful dishes that are held in high esteem by my maternal side of the family. Everyone still wants the originals in fact.

Nanas Recipes

Nana’s Recipes Faded and worn with age.

I absolutely love these recipes. Especially the way they are written. Faded with age and properly worn from use. The minor details left out, almost to guard each dish’s secrets from the following generation. Wrong measurements, ingredients completely missing, wonky cook times, the tip or trick to complete the recipe not quite written or left out entirely on the cards each being up to the imagination to decipher. It makes the process of cooking these dishes slightly a challenge and the results often are failures. The one recipe that everyone in the family loves with equal vigor is her famous Italian Sponge Cake.

This fluffy sponge cake is something that has been repeatedly made over and over by the family.

Nana’s Sponge Cake

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes


  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 tbs cold water
  • 1 1/2 cups flours
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking flour
  • 1 tbs vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 325.
  2. Separate the yolks and whites into 2 bowls. Cream the yolks with the sugar until pale. Gradually add the flour and water in small batches until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla.
  3. Beat the egg whites and baking powder until stiff peaks. Fold into the batter gently. Place the batter into a 9x13 cake pan and cook for 25-30 minutes. Cool.
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The cake itself is a great base recipe to expand upon with different garnishes and flavor combinations. Increase the amount of vanilla, use almond flour instead of the all puropse  or even go the route of a coconut cake. Adding something like this cake to your dessert repertoire can go long way. My mom tends to make it with a standard vanilla custard recipe from Saveur between the layers so for the sake of tradition we went that route.

Saveur’s Vanilla Custard

1⁄3 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1⁄2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup milk

Whisk sugar, yolks, and cornstarch in a 1-qt. pan until smooth. Add butter, vanilla, and milk; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring, until custard is thick, 3-5 minutes. Pour through a mesh strainer into a bowl; cover surface with plastic wrap. Chill completely.

Remove the Sponge Cake from the cake pan. Cut into 3 layers. Spread the custard over each layer and stack. Return to the refrigerator for about an hour then serve.

Nanas Sponge Cake

Nanas Sponge Cake

If you have any heirloom style recipes please feel free to share them in the comments section. If you’re enjoying these articles hit the share buttons.