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

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

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

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

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? 🙂

175 Comments

  1. It’s almmmooost that time of the year again – PUMPKIN!!! I could cry from joy!!!!!!!! Pumpkin breakfast ideas, pumpkin savory dishes, pumpkin macaroons, pumpkin anything I will enjoy!!! I’m so excited to see your new recipes!!! :)))

  2. 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!

    1. Me too! 🙂 I hope you find time to try the vertical cake- it’s really fun to make and cut into!! Thanks for your pumpkin recipe suggestions!

  3. What a beautiful creation!!
    And I really admire your determination to keep trying, even though you had so many failures! You finally succeeded!!
    Thank you for generously sharing with others your talents and your superb recipes.
    I for one thank you sincerely,

    Raquel M.

    1. Thank you so much for reading, Raquel! So many recipe testing fails for this cake but so much learning in the process 🙂

  4. Please can you do another granola recipe. My family all live your hit the trail granola and it would be nice to have a new one. Thanks x

  5. You are an inspiration, Sally! Thank you for putting in the many hours of trial and error to guide your readers to success. You truly make baking a joy for us.

  6. 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!

    1. What an incredibly kind comment, Vickie! Thank you so much for your sweet words- I’m thrilled you love and trust my website 🙂 I truly appreciate your readership!

  7. Thank you for providing us with the best recipes! I’m excited to try the vertical cake. I would love to see a maple/pumpkin cookie or caramel/pumpkin pie? Anything you come up with will be delicious.

  8. How about a pumpkin based ice cream cake of some sort… perhaps involving candied pecans and salted caramel? I have a vision in my head but need your mastery to make it come to life. Maybe I will try a little psychic transfer,ha!

  9. Thank you for sharing these recipe fails, Sally – it makes me feel less defeated when I have my own massive fails. I need to take a page out of your book and see them for the steps along the journey that they are! Your vertical cake turned out beautifully!

  10. 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!

  11. 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!

  12. 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!!)

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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 🙂

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. 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!

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