Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The ULTIMATE Chinese Sponge Cake recipe

Since making my granddad's birthday cake in July last year, I've had two occasions to try my hand at recreating some well-loved Chinese Birthday Cake classics: a taro cream cake for my dad's birthday:

 And mango cream cake for my grandmother's birthday:

Both turned out well...for a cake-decorating newbie like myself. Since I have no plans to open up a professional bakery business in the near future, I'm not too fussed about the uneven frosting, or the wonky piping, or the lopsided look of the finished cake (no doubt due to my rudimentary torting skills). As for the recipient of the cake - I think they were so moved by my gesture that they either ignored or were oblivious to the aesthetic faults of the cakes.

The Chinese-style sponge cake base

If there's a thing more nerve-wracking than cutting up a mango into paper-thin slices, it is the actual making of the sponge cake base. Or indeed, finding a recipe for the sponge cake base. There's a reason the Chinese-style sponge cake is known as "gai don go" or "ji dan gao" (literally: egg cake) - the recipe I chose uses a whopping total of 9 eggs! Imagine the horror of messing up and having to chuck away 3/4 dozen eggs :S Allow me to spare you the anxiety of trawling through the internet and present you with the ULTIMATE Chinese Sponge Cake recipe. No, it's not mine. But I have made it twice already and both times, the result was the lightest, most fluffy sponge cake I've ever tasted, so I do feel some sentimental attachment to it. 

The sponge cake, halved and ready to be filled with whipped cream and mango pulp.

Despite my harping on about it, there really are only two fiddly steps in the recipe: the whipping of the egg whites with cream of tartar and caster sugar (to form a meringue), and the folding in of the egg yolks and flour into the meringue. The air trapped within the beaten egg whites is what makes the sponge cake rise, although the baking soda does play a role. An extremely runny batter is a sure sign that you've deflated the egg whites, and the cake probably won't turn out as spongy as you would like. Just be gentle, and use a rubber spatula to fold in the sifted dry ingredients, and all should be well :D

The recipe I've included below is only for the sponge cake. I shall write up separate posts on the making of the mango and taro cakes.

Recipe for the ULTIMATE Chinese Sponge Cake

Adapted from Chinese Forums; original recipe provided by the user 'purplemama'

Makes one 25cm round cake


1 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
9 eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup caster sugar (I used some ground-up homemade vanilla sugar)
1/2 cup water, around room temperature
1/4 cup oil (go for something without a pronounced flavour, like canola oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. Line a 25cm diameter springform cake tin with aluminium foil. Don't grease or flour the foil, since the foil gives the cake something to cling onto as it rises while baking. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius (or 350 degrees Fahrenheit), and place the baking rack towards the bottom of the oven.

2. In a clean, dry bowl, combine egg whites and cream of tartar, and beat with electric beater or mixer until foamy. Gradually add in the caster sugar while continuing to beat. Beat until egg whites are white and glossy, and stiff peaks form.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, water, oil and vanilla until creamy (you may also use an electric beater or mixer for this step).

4. Sift together the cake flour and baking powder.

5. Whisk the sifted cake flour and baking powder into the egg yolk mixture. Whisk well to stop lumps forming.

6. Add about 1/3 of the meringue (from step 2) into the egg yolk and flour mixture, and whisk in. This is to help loosen the egg yolk mixture.

7. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the rest of the meringue. Fold the two mixtures together with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the lined springform tin. Bake for 50 minutes - 1 hour. Cake is done when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

8. Once done baking, turn off the oven and open the oven door slightly. Allow cake to cool within the oven for 5 minutes, before removing and letting it cool within the tin for 15 minutes. Remove from springform tin, and allow it to cool thoroughly on a cooling rack.


  1. Stumble across your recipe and gave it a try. The cake came out fluffy and light however it did fall back by about a 1/4 from its' original size also my top was not smooth like in your picture, mine had bubbled somewhat. I'm still at the novice stage so any advice on how to prevent the falling back and bubbling would be great.

    1. Hi Puzzle - the reason it looks so smooth is because the top was actually the BOTTOM of my cake. My cake sunk while it was cooling too! What I did was trim around the edges so that it was reasonably level, then invert it so that the lumpy top became the base and the smooth bottom became the top :D

      My apologies for the unintentional deception xD I'm glad you tried the recipe, and the cake turned out nice and fluffy!

  2. I am planing to make this cake for my dads birthday,by the way what did you use to make those roses for your dads birthday cake (first picture)

  3. Hi GeE - sorry for the late reply! Hope you ended up using this recipe :D I didn't make the roses; I kept them from my birthday cake (which was from a Chinese bakery).

  4. Hello! I was wondering if cream of tartar was required for the recipe. Can it do without it?

    1. Hi Jeenera, sorry for the late reply! The cream of tartar is to help stabilise the beaten egg whites, and stop the 'meringue' from collapsing too much when you mix in all the other ingredients. I think you can do without it - just be gentle when you fold in the other ingredients :)