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? 🙂

175 Comments

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

    1. I’m so happy you enjoy these posts! Thanks for reading 🙂

  2. Jennifer Chase says:

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

    1. Thank you so much Jennifer!

  3. 1. Yes!
    2. Pumpkin tres leches? Pumpkin babka? A cake with brown butter and sage?

    1. Yum yum yum!!!

  4. Paige Cassandra Flamm says:

    That vertical cake looks beautiful!

    Paige

    1. Thank you, Paige!

  5. I second those comments! Your testing seems thorough and you put such thought into each attempt. You are such an inspiration to bakers everywhere! I love all baked goods. I’ve done well with my bread baking, I love to make Challah braided for Shabbat. I’m Jewish, so I’m always looking for recipes for our holidays, such as dishes with apples or honey for the fall Jewish New Year. Or latkes made with other ingredients than just potatoes, a good honey cake recipe! And recipes without any leavening for Passover. I love your recipes. Anything with pumpkin sounds good. A great sweet potato pie would be great. Also, a round braided apple and honey Challah for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). Thank you and thanks for your inspiration!! Great website!

    1. Thank you so much for reading today’s post! And love your recipe suggestions- what delicious ideas 🙂

  6. 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!!

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Elle! I definitely have a lot on my editorial calendar that isn’t yeast, but a few sprinkled here and there that are— love homemade bread when I have time to make it! LOVE all of your recipe ideas 🙂

  7. 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.

    1. Thanks so much for reading! What great recipe suggestions 🙂

  8. 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!

    1. LOVE apple, too!! That Turkish Loaf sounds incredible 🙂 Thanks Erin!

  9. Hi Sally,
    Thank you for sharing your “failures”, love this series. This may be a dumb question, but why didn’t you start with your sponge batter as used in your strawberry sponge roll? Was it not sturdy enough?
    I think pumpkin is overrated, rather enjoy some other fall flavors, such as pear, plum, walnut, or cranberry.

    1. Hi Jenny! That was actually my starting point. 🙂 I wanted it to be a little firmer, though, so I added more yolks and flour. Proved to be a disaster!

      I definitely have some cranberry recipes in mind!

  10. How fun!! I’ve never seem this before!
    Also, yes to bread recipes! I bake breads every weekend (but am in no way an expert) and would LOVE solid go-to recipes from my favorite baker!! 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Jenny! Thrilled you love the idea of yeast and bread recipes!

  11. Can’t wait to try making this with all you’re helpful tips! I’d love to see a Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe sometime in the future- I’ve been wanting to attempt it and feel confident about trying new baking techniques when I’m following your instructions and recipes!

    1. What a great suggestion- thanks for reading, Nes!

  12. This is why I love your recipes and trust them. Because I know you’ve ironed all the kinks out first, and if there’s a trick to be had, you’ve found it and shared it!

    1. So sweet, thank you Natalie! Thank you!

  13. I’d love the challenge of more yeast breads. Every time you post a recipe for a yeast bread I get excited and know I’m going to make it because I need the experience. Yes to pumpkin recipes and anything apple!!j

    1. So happy you’re interested in more yeast breads- they ARE challenging but I always feel so accomplished when I see what I’ve made from scratch! 🙂

  14. 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

    1. Love your feedback, Janet! Thank you! Thrilled you and your family enjoy so many of my recipes- thank you for baking them!! 🙂

  15. 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!

    1. Love anything with apple! Great idea!

  16. Bring on pumpkin everything! The more the merrier. I am so ready. Just bought my fall scented hand soaps and candles yesterday in hopes of luring in the crisp weather. I’ve also loved your apple and pear fall recipes so those are always welcome too.

    1. LOVE it!! Thanks for reading, Allison!

  17. melissa hashemian says:

    Hi Sally,
    I ditto the sentiments above, appreciated all the hard work you do for us to make sure the recipes are perfect!! pumpkin and chocolate are fabulous together!!! Also pumpkin whoopee pies are fun for the fall too!!

    1. Thank you so much, Melissa! Appreciate your suggestions 🙂

  18. I maintain a sourdough starter and am always looking for sourdough starter discard ideas. I generally adapt recipes myself (think focaccia & pizza dough), and I’ve written about sourdough bagels, pretzels, dinner rolls, and spice cake (yes, something sweet!). This Friday I’ll publish a post about Sourdough English Muffins. I’d love more ideas for using discard, yeasted or not. If it’s Fall-themed (apples, cranberries, or pumpkin) all the better. Thanks, Sally!

    1. Great suggestions, Tammy! Thanks for reading today’s post 🙂

  19. Hi Sally. I plan to make your Chocolate Cake Swiss Roll for my daughter’s birthday as a vertical cake. After reading your blog, should I make changes to the recipe?

  20. These testing notes are great — thank you for posting them. And yes, please, to more yeasted bread recipes!

    1. Thanks so much for your feedback, Denise!

  21. Do a cherpumple cake, three pies in a cake. Cherry pumpkin and apple. Perfect for holiday season

    1. Sounds so decadent!! I’m always intrigued by those!

  22. Thank you so much for this! After enjoying the baking challenge posts from others who mentioned how easy it was for them, I felt kind of silly for thinking it was a challenge. I used the chocolate roll cake that I hadn’t made before so I was nervous to begin with. lol
    But, that feeling after persisting is incredible! I think what made mine a little more difficult was the parchment paper I used. Maybe I didn’t dust it enough? My cake had some holes, but I was rolling it anyway! The determination was real.
    I usually use a thin towel – will definitely do that next time!! 🙂

    Thank you so much for putting this time in so we can work on our personal baking skills while trusting a recipe that you’ve perfected! ❤️

  23. Pumpkin soup!

    1. Oh yum!! That sounds so good 🙂

  24. Love yeast challenges a great Cinnamon/ Raisin or Brioche? Also Ive only been using Italian or Swiss Frostings. I’d love your perfect recipes & combination of flavors to add that’s my rough spot adding the perfect amount of different flavorings.

    1. Such great suggestions, thank you!

  25. This post was Amazing! Thank you for sharing all the ends and outs. Always makes me feel more capable when I hear the struggles but also makes me want to try more recipes. Its nice knowing everything I make of yours has been tested and will turn out. Not true with lots of cookbooks and bloggers. Mine never turns out like yours but still happy with it. Anything pumpkin is Awesome and bread too!

    Thank you!

    1. What kind words, thank you Cheryl!

  26. 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!

    1. I’m so happy you love these posts! I’m getting excited for fall, too!!

  27. Thank you for explaining what you did, what didn’t work, etc. So helpful! Yes, to yeast breads, and as far as pumpkin goes, it’s okay but not my favorite. I’d rather see more apple recipes.

    1. LOVE anything apple!! So happy you enjoyed this post, Megan!

  28. Thanks for sharing this! It’s so nice to hear others struggle with recipe development to know I’m not alone. Yeast recipes aren’t my favorite (unless it’s brioche) So I would vote no. I LOVE pumpkin but wouldn’t mind some apple recipes as well. I think you should do a piecaken (which is a pie baked in a cake). You could do apple or pumpkin pie in a spice cake…delicious!

    1. What a delicious idea, Marcy! Thanks for reading today 🙂

  29. Nikki Chirico says:

    Thank you for sharing!! I love the science behind baking and enjoy seeing the progress of difficult recipes. And yes to more yeast recipes! Those are some of my favorites to make!

    1. I’m so happy you enjoyed this post, Nikki! Thanks for your great feedback 🙂

  30. 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.

    1. Absolutely loved reading this, Angela! I have had more baking fails than I can count- but every time I learn something new 🙂 And what great recipe suggestions, thank you!

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