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Citrus Sponge Cake

September 22, 2015

For the holidays this year, I knew I wanted to share this cake with you. My Dad was a man who loved simple desserts. A piece of sponge cake and a glass of tea, and I mean glass, was all he needed to be satisfied. As his time here was drawing to a close, it was no easy feat to get him out of the house. As he grew frailer, I felt him withdraw more and more. When I came to visit him, he often kept his arms at his sides.  One day I called him on it and said, “You are still here, Daddy.  Your baby expects a hug when she sees you.”  He looked at me and lifted his arms  to hug me.  After that, he made sure to offer a real hug at every visit.

When his 88th birthday approached, I wanted to do something for him that would make him smile inside and out, something that would be just right for him. I decided to make this festive version of a classic sponge cake–moist, with the juice of an orange, and fragrant with citrus zest.  I packed up the cake, a thermos of tea, and a small folding table, and headed off to pick up my parents. Over my Mom’s protests, I helped ease my Dad into my Jeep.  Together with my Mom, we drove off to nearby Roxbury Park, where we found  a lovely bench with the basketball courts immediately behind us, and the children’s playground beyond a gentle meadow facing us. Perfect.

The fresh air, the sounds of children playing, the sight of people walking by, all the things my Dad loved.  My parents had no idea what I was doing when I set up the little table in front of my Dad, and set out the sponge cake, complete with birthday candles.  Never mind that the breeze kept blowing the candles out.  Later, my Dad told me it was one of his best birthdays ever.  As it happened, it was his last birthday with us.  So, in honor of my Dad, I offer you Citrus Sponge Cake.

Using a large tube pan, the cake easily serves 16.  It contains 7 eggs.

7 eggs

This is a departure from my usual style of baking, but it’s a special cake for any special time of year, and, if it makes you feel better, you can always cut each slice in half lengthwise. But I can pretty much guarantee that people will come back for the second half.

7 egg yolks

The cake calls for cake flour, which I did not have on hand.  That should never stop you. It’s a well-known baker’s trick that, from every cup of flour, remove 2 tablespoons flour and replace with 2 measured tablespoons of cornstarch.  Then sift the heck out of the flour mixture.  What do I mean by that? I mean sift it five  times. Not a biggie.

flour + cornstarch2 c. flour (- 2 T. flour) +2 T. cornstarch = cake flour


citrusjuice of 1 orange ⇒ moist cake

zest of a lemon and orange ⇒ flavorful cake

batterbatter 2batters up:

pre- egg whites and post folded-in beaten egg whites

battaer in panpre-game

baked cakepost-game

sponge cakeFor You, Daddy… and for all of us…

Wishing you a Sweet New Year

with Good Changes

Print This Recipe

Citrus Sponge Cake

gently adapted (I sugar) from Judy Zeidler’s classic Gourmet Jewish Cook


7 eggs, separated

1/2 t. salt

1/2 t. cream of tartar

1 c.  granulated sugar

Grated zest of 1 orange

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 1/2 c. sifted cake flour (or see NOTE below)

1/2 c. orange juice

NOTE: No Cake Flour? NO Problem! Measure one cup of regular unbleached flour and place in medium bowl. Take out 2 tablespoons of the flour AND SUBSTITUTE WITH TWO TABLESPOONS OF CORNSTARCH. Now measure out the remaining  half cup of flour and remove one tablespoon of flour from it before adding to the bowl. Now substitute one tablespoon of cornstarch for that spoon of flour. To make it extra light, sift this flour/cornstarch mix FIVE times. Yes, yes, five. It takes no time and it ensures ultra light flour. Just like cake flour.


Preheat the oven to 325°F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the salt and cream of tartar and beat until stiff enough to cling to the side of the bowl but not yet dry. Blend in 1/4 cup of the sugar. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks with the remaining 3/4 cup sugar and orange and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Gently fold the yolk mixture into the beaten egg whites.

Next,  in 3 batches (ending with flour), gently fold the flour alternately with the orange juice into the egg white mixture. Do not overmix.

Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the cake springs back to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. If you have a slow oven, you might try  bringing the oven temperature  up to 350° for the last 5-10 minutes of baking.

Remove from the oven and invert immediately onto a wire rack. Cool. Loosen from the sides and center of the pan with a sharp knife and unmold to a serving plat­ter.

Ta Da! A sponge cake to swoon over. You’ll have to sponge ’em off the floor.

Serves 16.

Citrus Spongs Cake


  1. A beautiful memory! Shana Tova & Gmar chatimah Tova


    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Oh my, your story so touched my heart. What a wonderful expression of love you gave your father. Food and fond memories go hand in hand through out our lives. Thanks for making other people always feel so special. You are gifted that way.

  3. Oh Judy, what a bittersweet story! That’s so lovely that you made your dad’s last birthday so special and wonderful for him!
    I have a lot of catching up to do as I’ve been gone for 6 weeks! Hope to see you soon!

    • Christina, what a delight to hear from you! Thanks for your words – I knew I wanted to share this memory… and the cake too…

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