biscuit de savoie
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Biscuits or gateau de Savoie is the lightest, airiest, fluffiest sponge that ever existed. Popular in Victorian times as Savoy cake, it was baked in elaborate, ornamental moulds.
Biscuit is a very peculiar word. Most people know or can guess that its literal meaning is ‘twice cooked’. But apart from the Italian biscotti, which as I guess originated the baking vocabulary all over the place, none of the products thus denominated is cooked more than once.
Even the French, ever the purists, have adopted the word: biscuit de savoy is the rare French specimen to bear a foreign name; perhaps it’s due to the proximity of the Italians and the Swiss. It is not anywhere near to being cooked twice: it’s a delicate and airy, butterless sponge.
There are relations to biscuit de Savoie all over the place: genoise, viennoise; castella, the peculiar Portuguese-Japanese marriage; chiffon and angel food cakes in America and probably plenty more all over the world. The above remarkably aren’t named after twice-cookies but after the native regions (Genoa, Vienna, Castile) or the poetic substance they resemble (chiffon, angel food).
But the English language goes back to the Italian roots with biscuits: small, individual, dunkable cakey objects, albeit cooked once, usually. While the Savoyarde, Genovese et al ‘biscuit’ is called sponge. And it really is a pound cake, not biscuit. The latter, incidentally, in America is savoury, served with gravy as a side for meat mains. How did that ever come about? Their biscuits resemble what we call scones except we don’t pour gravy over ours.
The Germans complicate it further: their biscuit-the-cake is Keks. Keks, derived clearly from CAKES, taking the literal meaning away from another baking related word. And it also can be called Biskuitkuchen which just snowballs the linguistic confusion to the point where, frankly, I’d much rather bake the things rather than investigate them.
biscuit de savoieServings: 8-10Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
- a little butter for the tin
- 4 eggs, separated
- 150g caster sugar plus more for the tin
- zest grated from 1 lemon
- 50g plain flour
- 50g potato starch
- a pinch of salt
- icing sugar, for dusting
- custard, cream and/or jam, to serve
1. Preheat the oven to 170C (no fan)/340F/ gas 3 with a rack positioned in the middle. Thoroughly butter and sprinkle with sugar a 23cm in diameter, deep springform cake tin.
2. Place the egg yolks in one large bowl and the whites in another. Add the sugar to the egg yolks and whisk or beat with a mixer until thick and pale. Whisk in the lemon zest, sieve both flours into the bowl and stir it in until incorporated.
3. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt with a hand whisk or mixer until stiff peaks form.
4. Stir two heaped tablespoons of the whites into the cake batter to loosen it up, then very gently fold the rest of the egg whites in, taking care not to deflate the mix. Pour it into the prepared tin and bake for 40 minutes until the cake is risen, slightly wrinkled on the surface and the sponge crackles when lightly pressed.
5. Remove the tin from the oven and invert it onto a lightly greased cake rack. Leave it like this to cool at least for 30 minutes.
6. Turn the tin right side up again (the cake should grip to the sides thanks to the sugar), run a palette knife round the sides and unmould.
7. Dust the cake with icing sugar. Serve thickly sliced, with jam, custard, whipped cream, pouring cream or on its own.