Brain food: How to get a sponge cake to rise

You can't be rough with a sponge cake mixture, nor should you slam the oven door.
You can't be rough with a sponge cake mixture, nor should you slam the oven door. Photo: Christopher Pearce

I can't seem to get my sponge cakes to rise any more. I haven't changed kitchen equipment, method or ingredients. K. Sims

Don't be embarrassed. We all suffer from failure in the kitchen from time to time. I don't want to be rude or pry, but perhaps it is you who is the problem. Anxiety can cause poor sponge performance. Perhaps you are rushing things along too fast, or using eggs that are way too fresh.

Sponges hold tiny air bubbles in a foam, bound together by the surface tension of the egg whites. Fold the flour into the foamed eggs too roughly and you can cause the bubbles to burst. So take your time and try slow strokes, using a broad metal spoon to bring them together.

Pour the mixture gently into a well greased or lined tin and close the oven door. Slam the door and the force could again cause a flop. Avoid the temptation of opening the oven during baking – the rapid loss of heat could again cause a limp sponge.

If all is lost and the sponge fails to rise, don't panic, line a bowl with it, souse it in sweet sherry and make the base to a trifle. Have a sherry, relax and try again.

I am making fish pie for Easter for the family but I have a problem with fish juices oozing into my white sauce.  P. Devlin

I don't want to be rude or pry, but perhaps it is you who is the problem.

Not something you want to mention in public. When you cook flesh, the strands of protein tighten and squeeze the moisture out of the muscles. If you treat the fish and seafood gently, you can make a great fish pie that will be full-flavoured without any unnecessary moist patches.

Place the morsels of fish and seafood in cold milk with fresh bay and peppercorns and slowly bring up the heat over a low flame or element. Do not boil or simmer the milk.

When the seafood has set, remove the pot from the heat and drain the milk off. Return the bay and pepper on low heat for a further 10 minutes. Thicken the milk with roux to make a quite thick white sauce. Cook out the flour and add the cooked seafood.

Place in a pie dish and cover with cook potato or puff pastry, brush with butter and bake until the crust is light golden.

No matter how much I turn my chicken parma when I shallow fry it, it won't go brown. W. Beale

Golden. The word for fried crumbed food in the food industry is "golden". Put the tongs down and step away from the frying pan. You're not letting the crumbs get hot enough to golden up. Every time you turn them, they lose heat to the atmosphere and don't reach the critical temperature at which they change colour.

Letters, corrections and apologies

Mr Singh Garkel responded to a query about olive oil in dressing that solidifies in the fridge. He writes, "My solution to prevent olive oil dressing from solidifying is to add dry mustard to the dressing." Thank you.

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