Sponge fingers for trifle, for tiramisu, for chocolate mousse, homemade can’t be beaten. These are soft and fluffy, and the best thing is they use up leftover egg whites.
What are sponge fingers also known as?
Sponge fingers, as these biscuits are known in Britain, is a boring name. No wonder they are considered here to be an ingredient rather than an end product. Elsewhere they are called far sexier: ladyfingers, cats’ tongues, savoiardi, boudoirs or champagne biscuits.
They are used in all sorts of desserts in many cuisines, sexy names or not, most famously for tiramisu where they are dipped in coffee and smothered with mascarpone cream. Or in a charlotte which is a kind of ladyfinger palisade guarding creamy mousse and berries inside.
Or in the (in)famous English trifle. I’ve added the ‘in’ because personally I think it was first created when a chef got so drunk, they dumped every dessert ingredient they had in the kitchen into a bowl, with no attention to what goes together.
Sponge! Cream! Custard! Jelly! Tinned fruit! And all sloshed over with copious amounts of sherry that the chef was too far gone to manage. It is not a good picture and trifle is not a good dessert in my books.
How to use sponge fingers in a dessert?
That’s usually what happens to these biscuits, rather than serving them on their dry own. That’s probably because they are quite plain, with just a hint of vanilla.
But I don’t believe in sinking them in a trifle. I think some restraint should be applied when building a dessert. They are the nicest playing second fiddle to just one creamy dessert like posset, custard or mousse but not dunked in it and soggified.
Set on a side plate in their own right, you can alternate a biscuity bite with a mouthful of semi-liquid pudding.
Using leftover egg whites
It’s usually post-Christmas, another holiday or anniversary that we’re left with a bowlful of egg whites, having also lost count of them. That is not a problem: if poured carefully, each egg white will plop separately into another container letting you count them.
Or else you can break them up with a fork and weigh them out: a large egg white weighs about 40-45g.
Freeze them in portions of 3 (120g): egg whites are arguably better to whip, beat and bake with when previously chilled or frozen than spanking fresh.
But then, you can only make so many meringues I find, though they do keep well in an airtight jar. These biscuits are another good use for a backlog of whites.
Classic sponge fingers can of course be made with whole eggs but as it turns out you can skip the yolks, making biscuits that are slightly more squidgy and chewy, neither of which is a bad thing.
How to make the egg white sponge batter?
Just like for meringue, you start with beating egg whites. Then add sugar by a spoonful until it’s all billowy, stiff and glossy.
The mix of plain and cornflour (to make the crumb softer) should be sifted over and gently folded in.
Plus melted, cooled butter, added by stirring some meringue into it first, then returning the butter mix to the main bowl and gently stirring until amalgamated.
Piping – is it really necessary?
I know – I hate piping as much as the next person and meringue is particularly awkward to pack into a piping bag. But if you want shapely, even biscuits, there’s no way round it. After all, they are called fingers, not blobs.
A large plastic food bag serves better than all the purpose-made utensils. Scrape the mix into it with a spatula, cut off a corner, twist the top of the bag and pray your hands are steady.
Once piped into finger-shaped portions, it is important to dust them with icing sugar right before as well as right after baking. Icing sugar will prevent them from colouring too much.
This time before I baked the lot, I envisaged a simple but impressive dessert of deep pink juice bleeding strawberries and billowy piles of rose scented whipped cream, with the pale sponge fingers standing guard.
So into a big jar they went, in anticipation of the weekend dessert treat. Somehow though, before Friday even came round the biscuits all vanished…
More egg white recipes
Everyone loves meringues. You can make a batch of nests (no piping necessary) to produce dainty mini pavlovas whenever you fancy.
This is the best recipe to use an absolute shedload of egg whites, should you find yourself in that situation. Angel food cake is gorgeous too, it’s like eating cloud.
Making macarons is quite an enterprise, but macarons Basques are less effort, and almost as delightful.
More sponge recipes
Proper continental sponge, French or Italian, is light and airy. Try making genoise gateau with blueberry mascarpone filling for the next special occasion.
But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the English classic, strawberry and cream Victoria sponge.
Or an even easier recipe for a cake dressed with blueberries and cream.