This easy strawberry sponge cake recipe consists in two layers of a light sponge cake with layers of whipped cream and strawberries.
A Short History of Japanese Strawberry Sponge Cake Recipe
Did you know that strawberry sponge cake is the dessert of choice (following a meal at KFC) for many people in Japan on Christmas eve? Christmas is not a religious holiday in Japan. Only a tiny percentage of the population identifies as Christian. Christmas celebrations are more focused on couples and romantic celebrations than family. It’s a day for an indulgent meal, capped off with a delicious Japanese strawberry sponge cake.
Portuguese missionaries first introduced sponge cake (now known as Castella cake) to Japan in the 17th century. At the time, eggs, butter, and sugar were expensive ingredients. Sponge cake was only available to the very rich. At the turn of the twentieth century, as these ingredients became more available, Japanese bakeries began to produce more Western-style sweets for the middle classes. Fujiya, a Yokohama-based bakery, introduced the strawberry sponge cake to the Japanese market in 1910. In 1952, Fujiya began marketing a special Christmas season sale, which may have accelerated the association between the strawberry sponge and the holiday. Before widespread refrigeration, bakers made this cake with a more stable buttercream frosting. Now that we all have working refrigerators, we prefer whipped cream.
You Say Sponge, I Say Chiffon, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off!
While Japanese-style strawberry sponge cakes are referred to as “sponge” cakes, they are technically chiffon cakes – a definite post-war invention. Harry Baker, a Los Angeles insurance agent, invented the chiffon cake in the 1920s. Given his name, one wonders whether Baker had been genetically pre-programmed to make this exciting contribution to baking history. In any case, Baker sold his cakes to the famous hat-shaped Brown Derby restaurant and private parties. News of this new light yet moist cake traveled fast. The cake became very popular, but Baker refused for many years to share its secret.
Finally, in 1948, he sold the recipe to General Mills, so that “Betty Crocker could give the secret to the women of America.” General Mills introduced Chiffon Cake to the American public in 1948. It was advertised as “the first new cake in 100 years.” Baker’s secret was twofold: he replaced butter with vegetable oil, and added beaten egg whites to the batter. This mash-up of a traditional butter cake and an angel food cake creates a cake that is light and fluffy, but still very moist. In the 1950s, the cake, along with many other American foods and recipes, migrated to Japan. Like the shift from buttercream to whipped cream, the inclusion of chiffon, rather than sponge cake, only enhanced what had become a Christmas tradition.
A Word About that Strawberry Filling
Traditionally, this cake is made with sliced fresh strawberries, but we find the textural difference between the cake and the fruit a little off-putting so opted for a homemade strawberry jam. Please don’t let our weird strawberry preferences ruin your strawberry sponge cake experience, however. You can easily replace the homemade strawberry jam with a pint of fresh strawberries.
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Useful Tools For Making This Strawberry Sponge Cake Recipe
Easy Strawberry Sponge Cake
- 8-inch round cake pan
- parchment paper
- cake decorating turntable
- disposable piping bag
- piping tips
- cake comb
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 2/3 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 3 cups cake flour
For the filling:
- 1 pint strawberries
- 2 tbsp sugar
For the chantilly cream frosting:
- 8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
- 1/2 cup icing sugar
- 1/4 tsp almond extract
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 6-8 beautiful juicy strawberries
- 2 tbsp strawberry jam
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and line an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper on the bottom. Cut strips of parchment paper to line the sides of the pan. Parchment strips should be 2-3 inches taller than the cake pan in order to give the cake space to rise.
- Separate the egg yolks and whites, placing the yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, or in a large bowl. Beat the egg yolks, vanilla extract, and half the sugar on high speed for at least 5 minutes, until very pale and fluffy. Beatin the vanilla extract, milk, and vegetable oil.
- Sift in the flour, and gently fold it in with a rubber spatula until just combined.
- In a separate bowl, using a hand mixer, whip the egg whites on low speed. Slowly add the remaining sugar. Increase speed and whip for about 5-8 minutes until glossy and stiff peaks form.
- Pour 1/4 of the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture and gently stir to losen it up. Add remaining egg whites to the egg yolk mixture in thirds, folding gently until just incorporated. Be sure to fold from the bottom of the bowl upwards, and around, as the thicker egg yolk mixture will have a tendency to get stuck there.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in comes out clean.
- While the cake is baking, make the strawberry filling:
- Combine the strawberries and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the strawberries dissolve and the mixture thickens. If the mixture is a watery, add 1 tbsp of cornstarch, diluted with 2 tbsp water to thicken. Let the strawberry filling cool to room temperature
- Flip the sponge cake upside down and let it cool fully on a wire rack.
- Once cooled wrap the sponge cake tightly in plastic wrap and allow to cool in the refrigerator or freezer until you are ready to assemble.
Make the frosting:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and almond extract on medium speed using the paddle attachment until smooth and fluffy.
- Switch to the whip attachment and pour the whipping cream into the bowl. Beat until the mixture thickens and lightens to an almost mousse-like texture.
Assemble the cake:
- Use a long serrated knife to slice the cake in half. Place the top half, upside down, on a cake card on a cake decorating stand to make the bottom layer of your cake.
- Place the frosting in a piping bag and pipe a dam around the edge of the cake. Fill the dam in with the homemade strawberry filling.
- If you are using fresh strawberries, pipe a thin layer of frosting over the top of the first cake layer, then top with sliced strawberries, leaving a half-inch border around the edge of the cake.
- Add the top layer over the strawberry filling or fresh strawberries. Pipe the frosting around the sides of the cake and over the top of the entire cake. Use a cake comb and offset spatula to smooth the frosting.
- If desired, pipe some shells or rosettes on the cake to decorate.
- Pile some beautiful fresh strawberries in the center of the cake. Microwave the strawberry jam for 20 seconds and then brush on the strawberries to give them some extra shine.
- This cake can be kept in the refrigerator for several hours, and even overnight, before serving, since the chantilly cream is stabilized with cream cheese, and the strawberry filling (unlike fresh fruit) will not run.
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