That’s Frabjous! (and the history of Sponge Cake)

"Yes, that's it" said the Hatter with a sigh, "It's always tea time."  - Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland (1865)

Wouldn't it be lovely if it was always tea time? There's nothing more classic at a tea party than a sponge cake.  ​So just how old is the classic sponge cake?  In cooking history there is a fine line between bread and cake.  Bread usually has yeast, but not always, and cake usually does not have yeast, but sometimes does.  Huh?  So the claim that sponge cake may be mankind's first true cake (baked without yeast) is somewhat of a dubious claim - but we'll go with it!

Sponge cake was invented by the Italians during the Renaissance ... then brought to England by Italian bakers.  The earliest known English sponge cake recipe is in The English Hus-wife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman (1615) by Gervase Markham.  Apparently, Mr. Markham believed that one must be a good cook to be a virtuous "hus-wife".

The most important ingredient in a good sponge cake is ... air!  ​Not anything exotic or strange, just plain old air! 

Mad Hatter Tea Party from 1907 edition of Alice in Wonderland.  Illustration by Charles Robinson.

The Mad Hatter Tea Party
Illustrated by Charles Robinson.  1907 edition.

Cover of "The English Hus-wife," by Gervase Markham (1615).

Cover of "The English Hus-wife"
by Gervase Markham (1615)

The classic pound cake recipe is a pound of eggs, a pound of butter, a pound of flour and a pound of sugar.  And the heavy, dense cake may feel like a pound of bricks in your stomach!  A sponge cake is similar, although often with less eggs and less butter, but the most important step is whipping the eggs up to a foamy froth.  In The Good Housekeeper (1841) Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale advises that when mixing a cake one should "beat it all well together for an hour".  This was long before the electric mixer was invented, so poor Mrs. Hale was beating her cake batter for an hour with a spoon!

Yeast creates air holes in bread, and similarly whipping your cake batter will add air holes as well, resulting in a light and fluffy cake with the consistency of a sea sponge, hence the name.

And what about Angel Food Cake, which has a similar consistency?  Sponge cake is made with the whole egg (yokes and whites), while an Angel Food Cake is made with just the egg whites.  Beaten egg whites hold more air then beating the whole egg, and the lack of yellow yokes creates an angelically snow-white cake.

How can you enjoy a sponge cake with NO calories?  With the Sponge Cake Shawl!  Using Wonderland Yarns by Frabjous Fiber's Mad Hatter yarn, the Sponge Cake Shawl is a squishy garter stitch shawl in bold stripes and delicious squares of color. 

Frab-huh? "Frabjous" is a made-up word first used by Lewis Carroll in Through The Looking-Glass (1872) as Alice reads the Jabberwock poem:

'And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?  Come to my arms, my beamish boy!  O frabjous day!  Callooh!  Callay!  He chortled in his joy.

Frabjous means joyful, excellent and fabulous - and isn't that how we all feel around terrific yarn?  The appropriately named Frabjous Fibers is a small company in Vermont that creates gorgeous hand-dyed yarn - and their yarn's silly Wonderland inspired names will leave you smiling like the Cheshire cat!

For the month of September, we've got all of our Wonderland Yarns by Frabjous Fiber yarns on sale at 20% off, so you can have your cake and eat it, too!

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout​

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