Seder Sweets

It’s Pesach! Pass the Sponge Cake

How a British dessert became the go-to for American Jews.

By Joanna O'Leary April 12, 2017

Marble sponge cake 2 gvsnh2

The most Jewish sponge of all is marble cake.

During Passover (this year it's from sunset April 10 until sunset April 18), the cake of choice for the Chosen People is sponge cake, a confection over 500 years in the making…er…baking.

English author Gervase Markham recorded what is commonly thought to be the earlier reference to sponge cake when he offered his own personal recipe in The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman, a domesticity guide published in 1615. Culinary historians consider this citation as proof that sponge cake is a British invention. I agree, but would add it’s also proof that dudes telling chicks how to act is nothing new. 

Sponge cake is so named for its supple “spongy” quality, caused by aeration of the batter through the inclusion of a large proportion of violently beaten eggs. While regular British sponge cake (also called "Victoria Sponge," as it was a favorite of the eponymous queen) incorporates flour in addition to butter, sugar, eggs and baking powder, the Passover version, developed over time by Jewish cooks in America, swaps out flour for matzoh meal or potato starch. Passover sponge cake thus tends to be denser in texture but no less delicious.    

Making your own sponge cake is fairly easy but if you’re pressed for time this Passover, I suggest heading to Three Brothers Bakery, which is offering three different flourless varieties.  The “plain” sponge will please conservatives, but those looking for unorthodox options will appreciate the marble sponge with swirls of chocolate or the decadent concord sponge, chocolate cake with layers of chocolate meringue and crowned with crushed meringue cookies. Pick up a 6-by-6 inch square for yourself or a 9-inch round for your Pesach posse.

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