At some point towards dessert, the Book Show’s Ramona Koval offered me the recipe for her bubba’s birthday sponge. Bubba being Yiddish for grandma, that’s really birthday cake for the littlies.

We were at dinner after her recorded conversation with the author Lloyd Jones at the Wheeler (see Mulcher post). Ramona rattled off her recipe: Nine eggs, separated. One and a half, to two cups sugar, depending on your cup, slice into three layers, seal with marmalade and finish with mocha cream … with what one might call an Eastern European flexibility with boundaries and measures.

Nine eggs seemed like a very big cake, so I proceeded to halve the recipe.

Half portion (amendments in italics)
4 eggs, sep.
Whites + 1 cup sugar (3/4 cup)
Yolks + van. essence (1 tsp)
1 cup almond meal
1/4 cup plain flour
1/4 cup lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
(grease and flour cake tin!)
160º, at say 25 min (40 min)

More or less. It got amended along the way.


  1. Whisk whites to soft peaks. Beat in sugar thoroughly, one tbsp at a time.
  2. Beat yolks with vanilla essence, fold into whites. (I beat a couple of spoons of white into the yolks first, before folding.)
  3. Sieve meal (almond, as the s’mart didn’t have hazelnut) and flour, fold into egg mix in three portions, using a slotted spoon (btw, a key utensil for egg whites, if you haven’t got one).
  4. Add lemon. The final mix is satiny and elastic, very nice. Pour, spoon into ring mold. (At this point I see it could have fitted the nine eggs version.)
  5. Bake at 160C for 45 minutes.
  6. Cool, unmold … I had been under the regrettable impression that one need not grease and flour silicon molds. As it was I had to pry the cake off the surface, delicately persuading it with a butterknife.

In The Cake Bible, Rose Levy Beranbaum writes: “Sponge-type cakes that are usually baked in ungreased two-piece tube pans need to cool upside down in the pan to prevent collapsing.” *sigh*


To hide the mange, I beat up some dressing — a Nigella chocolate icing suitable for children. As it seemed rather drab, like a mantle of mud, I flicked on some dragées, which made the cake look somewhat rebellious, boasting its piercing studs.


The cake was good, I’m pleased to report — not too sweet, with a very nice crumb, as they say in the books. The almond meal gives a certain density to the sponge, adding body without much weight. The icing was a mistake, being far too sweet and gooey (it was Nigella).

Easy, good to eat. I suggest a fluffy icing. Mocha cream. Or have it plain with Earl Grey. Thanks, bubba.

Peter Fray

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