Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Margo Oliver’s Hot Water Sponge Cake

Dear Nicole: I have a copy of Margo Oliver's 1975 Menu Cookbook. It contains the recipe to which you referred in your blog of Friday, Oct. 19th  - Barb Lefevre, West Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.

Dear Barb: Wa-hoo! I first made this cake in the mid-1950s, when I was in my early teens. I said in my blog that I’d move heaven and earth to find this lost recipe, but would you settle for a coffee? This is, indeed, the very Hot Water Sponge Cake I remember! As a writer, I felt compelled to add a few little words to the method, but it’s otherwise unchanged!    xox   Nicole 

Barbara Lefevre: Let them eat cake! 
I can assure readers - especially those who are very young or very old - that this densely packed cake is plain and simple to make. Dress it up with frosting (see the Index for several choices) or dress it down with a dusting of sieved icing sugar over the top.  

This is the perfect recipe for any parent, grandparent, uncle, or auntie to make with youngsters eager to learn about cooking! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Barbara! 

Hot Water Sponge Cake:

¾ c. sifted cake flour (see Note)
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
3 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
¼ cup boiling water
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. lemon extract

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.  Grease and flour an 8-in. square pan. Have all ingredients at room temperature.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside. Place egg yolks in small mixer bowl, beating at high speed until thick and lemon colored, about 5 minutes. Add sugar gradually, beating until no “grainy” feeling remains as you rub a little batter between your thumb and index finger. 

Reducing mixer speed to low, blend in water and flavorings. Using an “under-over” motion, quickly but gently fold in dry ingredients. Pour into prepared pan, baking about 25 minutes, or until top springs back when lightly touched at the cakes center, or when a toothpick inserted at the center comes out dry. Cool in pan about 10 minutes, then transfer to rack to finish cooling. Ensure cake is completely cool before frosting.

Note: Over the decades, I’ve gradually stopped using cake flour. For the quantity of flour the recipe stipulates, I prefer to use ¾ c. all-purpose flour plus a scant teaspoon of cornstarch. I almost never sift flour, but do thoroughly combine it and other dry ingredients before adding them to the wet ingredients in any recipe.

When Barb Lefevre found this recipe, I was inspired to pass along two other delicious cake recipes over the next couple of days. I made each for an outdoor Autumn picnic this past weekend. More about that, tomorrow!


  1. What a coincidence! I was just roaming through my old cookbooks for an interesting dessert, including this very book...Margo Oliver's menu cookbook! I was sure I used to make her chocolate eclairs with custard filling but discovered that hers used whipped cream fling. This book brought back so many fond memories of my early years of marriage and experimenting with "fancy" New recipes for company. I'm glad I kept it, worn and stained, though unused these many years. What fun!

    1. Thank you for this lovely comment! Margo was a gem! See the Index under Desserts: Cream Puffs. Form them into éclairs, Dollink. Cool them, fill them with a custard sauce, and top them with Chocolate Glaze ... I have several kinds indexed.



  2. Hello, I have the original Wooodwards store recipe for this sponge cake and others by Margo Oliver. At one time they printed out and you could pick up the recipes at the store when you shopped for groceries in New Westminster Canada. I decided to look up her name and see what I found so this was very interesting.

  3. Thanks, Hanne! Are you sure you don't mean Mona Brun? Mona was famous for her wonderful recipes at Woodward's. Mona was also known for her optimism. A longtime widow, she married family friend Claude Freeman when she was 70 and he was 95. They were married for 10 happy years until Claude's death at 105. When Claude was 100, he and Mona were still sharing romantic dinners and dancing the night away. I was once invited to a New Year's Eve party Mona and Claude gave. They stayed up until midnight, while I snoozed in a corner of the room. I'll look up Margo Oliver to see what you found. Thanks for the note, Hanne - Nicole

  4. I had a plum custard pie that was published in the Weekend magazine some time in the mid sixties. It's lost and I would dearly love to have a copy of the recipe. Appreciate any help.

    1. How about this, Janice?


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