Maybe it's overwhelming to offer four recipes at once, but remember that they're all similar in composition.
- Sponge Cake. Sift the flour with any other dry ingredients (such as cocoa or spice). The eggs, which may or may not be separated, are beaten with sugar to the highest peaks you dare attempt, and then gently folded with the flour. The French often bake sponge cake in a high mold, rather than a tube or flat pan. Don't undercook a sponge cake or it'll collapse.
- Pound Cake. Combine a pound each of butter, sugar, flour and eggs, along with flavoring and a teaspoon or so of baking powder. Bake in a loaf pan at 325 degrees Fahrenheit until done for about an hour. The recipe can be reduced as long as you stick to the proportions.
- Gâteau. Recipes vary wildly depending on the desired outcome, but the basic formula is as follows: Blend together flour (often augmented with finely ground almonds or hazelnuts), butter, sugar and egg yolks. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks, and gently fold into the first mixture. At this point, the concoction can be used for pastry recipes or baked as a cake in a slow oven.
- Génoise. Probably the most complicated of the bunch, the generally accepted ratio for génoise is two parts flour, two parts sugar, one part hot melted butter and several eggs. Dry flavoring, such as cocoa, is sifted into the flour, and the amount of flour is reduced accordingly. The eggs and sugar are whisked together over a simmering water bath and then in a mixer until the volume expands dramatically. The flour, which has been kept warm all this time, is gently folded in. Bake in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven until the edges begin to shrink from the pan and the top is springy.
Keep in mind that though all cooks like to improvise, it's important to follow a delicate cake recipe closely. Texture and leavening depend on a precise ratio of ingredients blended together carefully. If you need some tips for developing your cake-making skills, continue on to the next page.