Genoise (pronounced "JENN-wahz") is a simple sponge cake made with eggs, sugar, flour, and sometimes melted butter and vanilla extract. If made correctly, it's a light and fluffy cake that is frequently used in layer cakes. It can be flavored with chocolate and other ingredients or left as a classic vanilla cake, paired with jam, cream, buttercream, fruit curd, and more.
What Makes a Genoise and Genoise?
A genoise cake, also known as Genovese or Genoese (named after the Italian city of Genoa), is especially common in Italian and French cuisine. The cake's signature airy texture doesn't come from yeast or chemical leaveners like baking powder or baking soda. Instead, air is whipped into the whole eggs and sugar until light and airy. The simple cake is used as the basis for a number of classic desserts, such as a jelly roll, Black Forest cake, Jaffa cake, and much more.
How to Make a Genoise Cake
Genoise sponge cakes are made using the foaming method of cake-making, in which the sugar and eggs are combined and beaten until the sugar is no longer grainy and the mixture is light, making ribbons in the bowl. Some traditional recipes call for the mixture to be gently warmed over a bain-marie as it is beaten—warming the mixture helps generate a fluffier foam.
Next, cake flour is carefully folded into the whipped egg mixture a little at a time. Folding (rather than stirring) helps to prevent the foam from deflating. Some recipes call for butter, making for a richer cake. At this point, the melted butter is folded in before transferring the batter to a pan and baking.
Troubleshooting Genoise Cake
Because genoise lacks the extra push of leavening, it can be tricky to achieve the proper lift and texture. It's not uncommon for bakers to open the oven and find a flat, chewy pancake. Here are some common reasons for genoise problems and how to avoid them.
- Not enough whisking. When beating together the eggs and sugar, a few minutes of intense whisking simply won't be enough. If you're mixing by hand, there's a good chance it'll take 7 to 10 minutes of intense whisking until the mixture reaches the ribbon stage. You're looking for a mixture that turns pale, light, foamy, and when you lift the whisk, the batter that runs off produces ribbon patterns that linger on the surface before sinking into the bowl. You shouldn't feel any grains of sugar in the mixture.
- Too much heat. If you choose to heat your egg and sugar mixture over a bain-marie, be careful not to heat the mixture too much. You only want the batter to be warm to the touch—this will help dissolve the sugar and will speed up the mixing process. Too hot and you'll cook your eggs, making it impossible to properly beat air into the mix.
- Over-mixing. While you want to beat the eggs and sugar to death, everything changes when you add the flour. Add half of the flour and very gently fold it into the eggs. Go in a circular pattern, over and under, scraping the bottom of the bowl as you go to prevent clumps. Add the remaining flour and fold just until combined. If adding butter, drizzle it along the edges of the bowl to prevent it sinking straight to the bottom. Fold just until mixed.
- Over-baking. After all that hard work, the last thing you want to do is over-bake your cake and make it dry. When done, the cake should be golden-brown, well-risen, feel springy to the touch, and be just starting to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Genoise sponge cake is the blank canvas of the cake world. While light and airy in texture, plain genoise is meant to be adorned with flavorful fillings and toppings. The airy but sturdy structure makes it ideal for adding drizzles and soaking in mixtures of fruit juice, coffee, and liqueur. Colorful jams, jellies, and curds are welcome fillings, as are mousses, buttercreams, whipped creams, and more.
The actual cake itself can be flavored, as long as it doesn't interfere with the cake's ability to rise. Chocolate genoise is a standard variation on the plain genoise and is made by substituting cocoa powder for part of the flour. It's commonly used to make Black Forest cake.