Papaya Sponge Cake

by Dr. Hennie Fisher

Although recipes for easy to make classic sponge cakes abound, the end results are often disappointing, being dry and lacking taste. This could explain why many modern consumers opt for pre-mixes to avoid a disappointing end result. A good sponge cake should be light, elegant and have a fine crumb – the term that is used to describe the desired light and most interior of the cake.

This Papaya Sponge Cake uses a relatively modern cake-making technique, referred to as the reverse creaming method. In traditional recipes, the butter is creamed with sugar and/or eggs, and the flour is only added later. The aim is to lessen the flour’s contact with any moisture that will activate the gluten in the flour, resulting in a tough cake. Instead of butter, this recipe uses oil, and the contact time between the flour and the moisture is limited, resulting in a super fine and elegant cake. As the cake is somewhat fragile and contains the fruit purée, it is important to bake it long enough and cool it thoroughly before turning it out. It can be successfully baked as either two traditional cake layers, or in a tube cake tin (as one would use for Angel Food cake).

This recipe calls for a relatively large proportion of papaya purée, which contributes to its moist crumb. For this reason it hardly needs any icing; in fact, a nice big dollop of whipped cream or even thick yoghurt should suffice. If one should wish to decorate the cake with icing, a simple butter icing would work well. The cake is also made with everyday ingredients, which makes it a super standby recipe if one should need to bake a cake in a hurry. The papaya purée gives the loveliest colour to the cake, varying from light salmon to sunrise orange depending on the colour of the fruit you use, and contributes a superb light fruitiness on the palate. For a simple but satisfying dessert, one could also serve the cake with ice cream and more fresh papaya.

Ingredients for one large Sponge Cake that can easily be cut into 12 – 16 portions:

  • 340 g cake flour
  • 240 g + 80 g white sugar
  • 15 ml (1 tablespoon) baking powder
  • 5 ml (1 teaspoon) salt
  • 140 ml sunflower or other flavourless oil
  • 250 g ripe papaya
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 15 ml (1 tablespoon) vanilla essence or extract

For the icing (optional):

  • 250 g butter
  • 375 g icing sugar
  • 10 ml fresh lemon juice

Selection of small orange coloured edible flowers and petals
Cut out papaya designs


Preheat the oven to 180 °C, and place the oven rack in the middle of the oven. Prepare either a large tube cake tin (such as one would use for Angel Food) or two normal 20 cm cake tins by greasing or spraying them thoroughly, then papering them with pieces of parchment paper precisely cut to fit the bottom and the sides of the tin, and greasing again. Papering a tube pan may be slightly complex, but the cake has such delightful height and drama that it would be well worth the effort.

Mix together the flour (no need to sieve), the 240 g of sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Blend the papaya with the oil, vanilla essence, lemon zest and egg yolks to a smooth purée in a liquidizer or using a stick blender in a tall upright jar. Set aside for a moment.

Make a stiff meringue by beating the egg whites and then adding the remaining 80 g of sugar once the egg whites are somewhat frothy. Beat until shiny and glossy but not dry and crumbly.

Use a large spatula and fold the papaya purée into the dry ingredients. Ensure that no pockets of flour are left, but guard against over folding/beating at this point to prevent toughening the mixture. Now mix in one third of the meringue to loosen the papaya/flour mixture, and do not worry too much about losing volume. Thereafter, firmly fold (do not beat) the remaining meringue mixture carefully into the papaya/flour mixture to retain as much air as possible.

Pour the mixture into your chosen tin, and give the tin a fairly firm bang on the work surface to dispel any large air pockets. Place the tin onto a baking sheet and into the oven. The large cake should bake for no less than 60 minutes, while the two separate layers may be done in 50 minutes – check accordingly. Bring them out of the oven and let them cool in the tins; do not be tempted to turn them out too early. The structure of the cake needs to firm up before the cake is inverted. Decorate and enjoy.