Latest Recipe Testing

thin sponge cake

Remember these posts? I launched a recipe testing series in 2018 and haven’t updated it with a new post in over a year! I had some MAJOR recipe testing fails last month, so this is the perfect opportunity for Latest Recipe Testing post #10. Aka all my recipe fails. Lololol

My latest recipe flops are all from one recipe: vertical cake. The pictured slice below was a recipe success and probably the 9th or 10th time I made it. Vertical cake is the August Sally’s Baking Challenge and it was certainly a CHALLENGE (understatement of the year) for me to get this recipe right.

I was inspired to try my own recipe for vertical cake after seeing this beauty by Dan Langan on the Food Network. It’s stunning! A work of art! I knew that I could recreate the same concept in my own kitchen, so I began recipe testing several weeks ago.

vertical cake slice on a pink plate

What Went Wrong?

Actually the better question would be what DIDN’T go wrong?

Vertical cake requires a certain cake texture in order to hold its shape. The cake must be flexible enough to roll up, but sturdy enough to slice like a layer cake. Turns out that this is a tall order requiring a very specific kind of sponge cake. You need a sturdy, yet light sponge.

My first sponge cake looked like this:

ruined sponge cake

A “scrambled egg” sheet cake. I prepared a sponge cake a lot like my strawberries ‘n’ cream cake roll, but used more egg yolks (and flour) so it would be sturdier. I accidentally deflated the sponge cake batter by over-stirring, so the resulting cake was thin, dense, and unsightly. It was too porous, tore easily, and tasted like egg yolks.

Moving along.

The following two attempts looked like this:

thin sponge cake

The cake crumb wasn’t as eggy, but the batter didn’t yield enough so the cake was extremely thin. I also mixed the batter with too much force (I’m guessing) so the batter deflated. I cooled the sponge cakes as cake rolls anyway, cut into 3 strips as the vertical cake requires, then laughed at how thin it was.

Onto the next.

The next cake got a little further along in the vertical cake process:

torn vertical cake on white plate

It was fluffier and lighter and I successfully filled it with whipped cream. However, the cake stuck to the parchment paper, so there were holes everywhere. That’s when I realized I forgot to dust the parchment paper with confectioners’ sugar before inverting the warm cake on top (to roll it up). Ugh.

The next cake made it as far as the decorating step:

squished vertical cake on blue cake stand

But, again, the sponge cake was too light and the entire thing squished when I cut into it. I felt defeated, obviously, but was determined this could eventually work. I took a break to work on a few other recipes then attempted it again a week later. I changed a few things in my base recipe to make it a little more sturdy. I used all-purpose flour and beat the eggs together without separating them first. I used baking powder for added lift and oil to give the cake some fat and extra structure. The recipe proved successful by my 6th attempt! I tested it a few more times, then needed it for photography and filming the video tutorial. (There have been a lot of vertical cake taste testers in and out of this house.)

I published the final vertical cake recipe last week. It’s a delicious vanilla sponge cake that’s light enough to bend and roll, but sturdy enough to hold the delicate shape. For best success, I encourage you to follow the recipe closely. Learn from all my mistakes and avoid making substitutions if you can. If you’re prepared before you begin, read the recipe in full, and carefully follow each instruction, you WILL succeed on your first try.

You can do this.

vertical cake on a teal cake stand

TWO QUESTIONS

  1. Do you want more yeast recipes like homemade breads, etc? FYI here is my Baking with Yeast Guide!
  2. I’m currently working on fall content. Any pumpkin recipe requests? 🙂

26 Comments

  1. I love this series and find the testing so fascinating. Thanks for sharing! Totally dig food science. 🙂

  2. Jennifer Chase says:

    You are the absolute best!! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Love your site!

  3. Super fun!! I am glad that you do all of the testing so I don’t have to. I would never have that much patience! Can’t wait to try out the vertical cake recipe challenge! Personally, I would NOT like anymore yeast recipes. They take up way too much time during the holidays. Even though I know most of it is inactive while the dough rises, it is just another thing that clutters my kitchen and brain. I would MUCH rather have easier recipes, especially ones to make with kids. But I would love new pumpkin recipes!! A really cool new spin on a pumpkin cookie (maybe a fall breakfast cookie?), pie (pumpkin and chai!), cupcake (I made your spiced cupcakes with your marshmallow and brown sugar frostings swirled and it was so good!), or a layered cake (ultimate fall cake- maybe with caramel drip frosting?) would be so refreshing. Just please nothing that is nutritious, cheesecake, requires more specialized equipment, or so time consuming that I can’t even make it during the entire week of Halloween. All cozy things!!

  4. Oooh Sally I wanna see a pumpkin sheet cake or cranberry sauce muffin/cranberry sauce recipe. Gingerbread pear muffins or sweet potato muffins. A vanilla brioche for the yeast bread. I know a lot of recipe suggestions but I can’t help it you inspire me.

  5. I’m not a big fan of pumpkin, but apple is my absolute FAVORITE fall flavor! I’d love to see some apple/cinnamon or apple/caramel recipes amongst all the pumpkin stuff this fall… 🙂 And as for more yeast bread recipes, go for it! I love all the interesting science behind that kind of things. I’d looooove a recipe for homemade Turkish Loaf. It’s similar to a foccacia, and tastes fabulous. I buy them at our local bread bakery, but I imagine they would be 1000x better when homemade!

  6. Yes! I would love more yeast recipes and maybe more things in the semi-sweet range. I love to bake, but a big frosted cake rarely gets eaten up by my husband and I. Great successes to date – bagels, soda bread, hot cross buns, baked donuts and I made your Best ever banana bread Gluten free for my son in law. Best he’s ever tasted! Sally, your site is my go to for any recipe – my grand daughter loved your blueberry yogurt popsicles. Keep up the good work! Thank you

  7. Charlotte Moore says:

    Apple recipes would be great. I too am not as fond of pumpkin. Apple season is Sept. and Oct. here in North GA. We have apple houses/apple festival and it is a big thing.

    It is peach season here now. Yum, yum! My favorite fruit!

  8. Britt Berlin says:

    Okay I actually LOVE that you share these posts because a) I go through so many rounds myself, and sometimes feel so defeated and b) it’s a GREAT way to also not feel like you’re wasting it- you still made beautiful content that helped people!! So thank you for all that you do!! You rock, Sally!!

    Also SO PUMPED FOR PUMPKIN RECIPES!

  9. Sally- I love you lol. Thanks for making sure we all know that you’re human and not a total baking freak of nature!! It’s so refreshing to read this- and it makes me appreciate you even more! I love your passion and that you share it with all of us. Now to answer your questions- YES to more yeast! I was scared of it until you set me straight, now I finally have it in my head that it’s just another ingredient you’re adding to a recipe. =) And for pumpkin- I’d love to see a pumpkin crème brulee! Or or or- you can make yeast rolls and shape them into pumpkins using kitchen string and a nut as the stem. I’ve seen them on Pinterest but haven’t tackled them yet. Two birds, one stone. Boom.

  10. For fall, I would love to see a healthy-ish recipe for a pumpkin oat savory scone. Trying to find a savory oat scone that isn’t heavy and dense (or pretty much a biscuit) has been a challenge. Of course there are cheese scones, which are good but not what I am looking for. I have tried variations on oat cakes, scones with eggs and without, and with various flour combinations. A pumpkin sage oat scone? Which could also (with the addition of some sugar and/or maple) also be a sweet scone?

  11. Let’s make English Muffins!

  12. I hope you realize how encouraging it is to all us “non-professional-but-still-obsessed-with-results” bakers to see that we’re NOT the only ones who have epic fails. After way too many fails that happen right before a work or family event, I have learned to experiment with a new recipe outside of a “sure, I’ll bring something” commitment. Your commentary is funny, helpful and reinvigorates my own baking journey. Thank you!

  13. Thanks for sharing this “Keeping it Real” Recipe testing and tweaking – it is so helpful and motivating especially for me when I feel demotivated by a baking fail. I appreciate you having the courage and understanding how helpful it is to post it online instead of simply as a temporary IG story where one can forget it ;).

    To answer your questions – yes please to yeast recipes!! A homemade sliced wholemeal bread were we can add in grains and/or a white bread with a bit of a crust (I don’t often eat white bread but homemade freshly bread I make an exception. I also would love to learn some “fancy showstopper” breads – along the lines of your Babka – maybe something holiday related like others said Challah bread or any sweet or savory filled breads in a ring shape for Dec holiday time or Thanksgiving?
    Learning Danish pinwheel Pastries and tartlets interest me too…Portuguese egg tarts maybe? Kouign-amann too!

    For autumn/fall – Sure always welcome a new pumpkin recipe,
    Also would love more chai spices recipes, anything with fresh cranberries or with apples are also a fave. Love your Apple Cranberry Upside down cake!
    Thank you Sally!

  14. I’m glad your persistence paid off! Now I only have to make it one time…hopefully! LOL It’s beautiful. I’m looking for a good pumpkin bread pudding recipe. I’m not sure that would even go good together but I love bread pudding and pumpkin!

  15. Sally, I am almost 63 years young and learn from younger cooks and bakers all the time. I so enjoy your recipes and am thankful you march thru the flops to give us stellar recipes to make. Bless your heart. Keep up the good work. There are and will be, many who learn from what you teach. You are “The Cookbook” of the current generation like Betty Crocker was to mine. Thank you for all you do. Yes, fall will be here in just days-even quicker if you fall asleep. Looking forward to what you have to teach us!

  16. Katherine Salinas says:

    Sally, I so appreciate that you share your successes and failures too! The internet is so fun of perfectly polished photos that it is refreshing to see the PROCESS. Encouragement for the rest of us to PRESS ON! Well done!

  17. I LOVE LOVE LOVE how all your recipes are so well tried and tested Sally!! You truly are so generous to take the time to know you’re giving us something great, thank you! I also love how all the tips and tricks and info are slowly adding up in my head to make me feel so much better equipped and more confident in tackling new things 🙂
    Questions! 1. YES please to more yeast bread recipes (and pastries)!! Love making bread and learning new ones!
    2. Not very into pumpkin sorry but would love more fall apple (or maple!) recipes!

  18. IHow about pumpkin crème brulee?? So far, the best crème brulee I’ve ever had
    was at LaSalle grille in south bend Indiana. It was made with Gran Marnie (can.t spell it, but boy did I taste it!!)

  19. First of all, thank you for a really fun post. It’s an inspiration to see how you persevere when you decide to create something new or improve something that you believe can be better. Now, a big YES to yeast breads, especially if we can begin the dough in our breadmachines. Then YES again to pumpkin in any breads, cakes, cookies or savory dishes. Thank you, Sally. I am a fan!

  20. Sheri Johnson says:

    Thank you so very much for making this blog for us; it is so refreshing to have someone tell us why ‘not,’ instead of only ‘why!’ You can learn as much from the failures as you can the successes because that technique/information can be translated to other recipes. I appreciate that you didn’t give up and that you shared this with all of us!

  21. I want to learn more about baking with yeast!
    And I am more of an apple girl when it comes to fall desserts. I get too pumpkin’ed by all the pumpkin things. HOWEVER, your pumpkin snickerdoodles will forever be one of my favorite fall treats.

  22. I love reading these types of posts! Thanks for bringing us along in your recipe testing process. I find it so inspiring.
    Yes to yeast breads, and yes, bring on the pumpkin recipes!!! I’m pretty sure I will try anything you come up with. I love baking with pumpkin, even year-round 🙂

  23. Pumpkin scones please!

    P.S. your blog is the only food blog I always read all the way through and never skip to the recipe. THANK YOU…it’s my favourite.

  24. I recently got brave enough to experiment with yeast, and tried your pretzel bread and pizza dough. I would LO VE to have more yeast recipes to experiment with and try!

  25. This cake looks amazing! Yeat bread recipes would be awesome :D! Also, in terms of pumpkin ideas, I think a pumpkin crepe cake with a maple frosting would be amazing :D! Keep up the fantastic work!

  26. Literally anything pumpkin would be fantastic! Maybe a pumpkin spice granola??

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