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Sponge fingers for trifle, for tiramisu, for chocolate mousse. Yes, you can buy them in most supermarkets but homemade can’t be beaten. These are soft and fluffy, and the best thing is they are the way to use up leftover egg whites.
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 other countries too, sexy names or not, most famously for tiramisu where they are dissolved in coffee and smothered with mascarpone cream. Or in a charlotte which is a kind of ladyfinger palisade guarding creamy mousse and berries inside. That’s probably because the biscuits are quite plain on their own, with just a hint of vanilla.
But I don’t believe in drowning them in coffee or – worse – sinking in a trifle. I think they are the nicest playing second fiddle to a creamy dessert like a posset, custard or a mousse but not dunked and soggified. Set on a side plate in their own right, you can alternate a biscuity bite with a mouthful of semi-liquid pudding.
I wasn’t planning on making tiramisu which I don’t particularly like, nor trifle which I severely disrespect. I had tonnes and tonnes of leftover egg whites and wanted to devise a way to get shot of them other than making meringues. Classic sponge fingers should be made with whole eggs but as it turns out, egg whites serve just as well, making biscuits that are slightly more squidgy and chewy, neither of which is a bad thing. It is important to dust them with icing sugar right before and right after baking; this will prevent them from colouring too much.
I baked the lot; I envisaged a simple but impressive dessert of deep pink juice bleeding, macerated strawberries and billowy piles of rose scented, lightly sweetened whipped cream, with the pale sponge fingers standing guard. Somehow though, before I even got round to whipping the cream, the biscuits all vanished…
sponge fingersServings: 18 biscuitsTime: 30 minutes
- 2 large egg whites (110g)
- a pinch of salt
- 100g caster sugar
- 1 tsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 80g plain flour
- 15g cornflour
- 20g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1. Place the egg whites in a bowl of the standing mixer with the balloon whisk attached (or use handheld mixer with whisk beaters). Add the salt and beat at high speed until stiff peaks; about 5 minutes.
2. Continue beating at high speed and slowly add the sugar; continue until stiff and glossy. Beat in the vinegar and vanilla.
3. Sift the flours over the meringue and fold gently with a spatula until no flour is visible. Spoon a little mix into the butter, stir in and fold it all back into the main mix.
4. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/gas 3 with the rack in the lower half of the oven. Line two large baking trays with parchment.
5. Transfer the mix to a large freezer bag, cut off a bottom corner and twist the top. Pipe fingers about 10cm long, well-spaced apart. Unless you fit them all on one tray, keep the mix in the bag and prepare another tray to go in after the first one is out.
6. Dust the fingers with icing sugar. Transfer the tray to the oven and bake for 15 minutes until set but not coloured. Remove from the oven and dust the biscuits with icing sugar again. Cool completely on the tray. Store in an airtight box for about a week.