Recipe: Nurse Gathergood’s Sponge Cake

There’s no mistake — this delightful sponge goes into a cold oven.

Words & recipe: Lucy Corry  Styling & photo: Carolyn Robertson

In the 1980s, my brother Godfrey made sponges using this recipe, which came from the local public health nurse, Ailsa Gathergood. Godfrey, then a sheep farmer, busy entrepreneur, and father of five, reckoned the secret was to “beat the s–t out of it”. But do use an electric beater, even if you have forearms honed by wrangling sheep and small kids. There’s no misprint — the sponge goes into a cold oven.

Serves: 6 to 8


4 eggs, separated
¾ cup sugar
pinch salt
1 cup cornflour
1 teaspoon baking powder
To serve: 1 cup cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, ¼ cup jam or passionfruit curd, 2 tablespoons icing sugar


Grease a round 22cm cake tin, then line the base and sides with baking paper. There should be a collar of paper standing three centimetres proud of the tin (this will support the risen sponge as it cooks).

Beat the egg whites and salt until stiff. Keep beating and gradually add the sugar, a couple of tablespoons at a time. Continue beating until the sugar has dissolved and you no longer feel little grains of it when you rub a bit of the mixture between your fingers.

Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well between each addition.

Sift the cornflour and baking powder over the top and gently fold into the egg mixture with a large metal spoon. Keep as much air in the mixture as possible, so be thorough but gentle. The last thing you want is little pockets of cornflour through the sponge.

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Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin and place it in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 155°C and bake for 27 to 30 minutes. The sponge is done when it shrinks away from the sides of the tin and feels springy to touch.

As soon as you take it out of the oven, drop it on a hard surface, such as the floor, chopping board or benchtop (the theory is that dropping a sponge helps it set in the middle). Then let cool in the tin for 10 minutes before carefully turning out onto a rack to cool completely.

When you’re ready to serve, slice the cooled sponge in half horizontally. Whip the cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Spread each sponge half with the jam/curd and arrange the bottom half on a serving plate. Dollop the cream on this half and set the remaining layer on top. Dust with a cloud of icing sugar.

Lucy Corry is an award-winning New Zealand writer and has been NZ Life & Leisure’s Taste editor since 2018. Her latest book, Homecooked: Seasonal Recipes for Every Day, published by Penguin, is out now, RRP$55.

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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