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. Anything you do will be great! I love your sharing of “fails” because it reminds all of us that anything can go wrong at any time for anyone! This is such an honest and open blog which I really appreciate!!! Thank you!!!

    1. I would love more yeast recipes! Trying to expand my horizons and I know your recipes are always so trust worthy!

      1. Love reading this Katelyn! Thank you 🙂

    2. I’m so happy you enjoyed this post, thanks Kay! 🙂

  2. And that’s why I send so many people to you for recipes. I know without a doubt that your recipes are tested and tested again and can be trusted. Thanks for your attention to detail! I’m a little nervous about this cake but I really want to try it out!

    1. So sweet, thank you Laura! You CAN do it! Let me know how it goes 🙂

  3. Pumpkin brownie swirl bars? Drizzled with caramel of course!
    And maybe pumpkin soup?

    1. Such delicious suggestions!

  4. 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?

    1. What a great idea Molly! Thanks for reading today 🙂

  5. Pumpkin bread or pumpkin coffee cake would be awesome!

    1. Such great fall staples! Thanks for the suggestions, Steph 🙂

  6. I love to bake all things yeast, So the more the merrier! As far as pumpkin, maybe a savory pumpkin dish? Off the top of my head I’m thinking a stuffed pumpkin or maybe a pumpkin lasagna, made with a béchamel or something like that. I love to bake with pumpkin but you already have a wide and varied choice of sweet pumpkin recipes. Your savory recipes always turn out great and are staples in our home.

    1. I’m so happy you enjoy my savory recipes, too! Thanks for your great recipe suggestions 🙂

  7. Yes please , would loveeeee the bread recipes all kinds though , fancy regulars wholemeal others . Please do put up bread recipes. The ones ive tried from ur blog are all very good

    1. Thank you!

  8. I would like to see a recipe for a fresh peach pie made without cooking the peaches- similar to a fresh strawberry pie. Have you ever made one like that?

    1. Oh yum! That sounds delicious 🙂

  9. No yeast breads for me since I eat a Keto diet which takes me to pumpkin ideas. I love a traditional recipe for pumpkin cream cheese muffins but have not yet succeeded in creating a grain-free, sugar-free adaptation. Realize this isn’t your usual style of baking but would love to see what would come from your incredible creativity and understanding of baking for the growing number of low-carb eaters with a sweet tooth!

    1. Thanks so much for your suggestion, Anita!

  10. Pumpkin spice babka! And yes to bread recipes.

  11. Kelly Kardos says:

    Hi Sally,
    I really like the flavor of this sponge-can you use it for other different types of desserts?

    1. Yes, absolutely! Like a jelly roll cake or something.

  12. Great stories, and I love your recipes! How about some recipes to use pumpkin for breakfast? Muffins, etc.?

    1. Thank you so much for reading! Love that idea 🙂

  13. Yes, more yeast recipes

    1. Yay! Thanks Alice!

  14. This cake looks stunning! For pumpkin recipes, how about a pumpkin chiffon pie?

    1. That sounds heavenly! 🙂

  15. Sherry Gammon says:

    Yes, more yeast bread recipes! Especially Whole wheat…maybe with seeds (pumpkin, sesame, flax, chia), etc!! Thank you!!

    1. Sounds so good! Thanks for the suggestion, Sherry 🙂

  16. elizabeth picone says:

    Sally
    I love the vertical cake! I would love to make a chocolate strawberry version. do you think it would work? How much of the flour should be replaced with cocoa powder?
    thanks for the great recipes

    Liz

    1. Hi Liz! The best bet would be to start with my chocolate cake roll as the base. You can use a strawberry sauce (or strawberry jam) in the whipped cream.

  17. More yeast. Challah bread all the way! Followed by a french toast recipe to use with the bread!

    1. What a great suggestion! Thanks Stacey 🙂

  18. Let’s make English Muffins!

    1. On my baking bucket list!!!

  19. My favorite bread is and always will be pumpernickel. But finding a fool-proof recipe is very difficult. Also, one that could be made in regular loaf pans. That’s my wish.

    1. Such a great idea, Jill!

  20. i would love some sort of take on a pumpkin pie, something with a flakey crust but a lil and more mobile like a turnover ☺️ i can’t wait to try this recipe challenge, i love every single recipe of yours i’ve tried.

    1. Love that idea! I hope you enjoy the vertical cake recipe 🙂

  21. I would LOVE to see a desert version of my fav fall coffee – Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte! I’m thinking cookies? Cupcakes? Cake? Oh my!

    1. So many choices! Thanks for the suggestion, Nicole 🙂

  22. 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!

    1. You are most certainly not alone!! I’ve had more baking fails than I can count- but I always learn something new 🙂 I appreciate your kind feedback!

  23. What are your thoughts on a pumpkin or fall flavored French macaron?

    1. That sounds incredible!

  24. Thank you for sharing your recipe testing adventures! I’d like to know more about the science behind baking, so I appreciate post like this where I might learn something! Are there any books that you can recommend about the science and methodology behind baking? Thank you!!

    1. Hi Megan! I swear by America’s Test Kitchen and King Arthur Flour– if you go to their sites, you will see many recipes with carefully explained and helpful information to teach you. I love the Baking Book by Cooks Illustrated, too.

  25. I would love to see you go out of the box and create a pumpkin spice latte!
    Yum!

    1. Totally out of the box! 🙂 Thanks for the idea, Sherri!

  26. Yes to more yeast bread recipes! I’m generally pretty “eh” about pumpkin recipes, but I’m sure I’ll read your pumpkin posts regardless 🙂

    1. So happy you want more yeast bread recipes!! Thanks for the feedback, Holly 🙂

  27. 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!

    1. I’m so happy you enjoy these types of posts, Vi! Thanks for your great recipe suggestions – they all sound delicious 🙂

  28. Yes, because who doesn’t need more homemade yeasty bread in their life. I have been trying to conquer brioche doughnuts with no luck so far this year. Maybe a pumpkin doughnut recipe for fall.

    1. Love it! Such great ideas Ronda!

  29. I agree with Holly and Erin – I would like to see more yeast bread recipes and possibly some apple or apple with caramel recipes. I’m not big on pumpkin and neither are my kids. They will eat pumpkin rolls but you’ve already done a recipe for that. My friend and I get together before Christmas every year and make approximately 12-20 pumpkin rolls for her to give as gifts. We usually use her sister’s recipe for this but I snuck yours in this year ☺. Thanks for everything you do and asking what your readers would like.

    1. Thank you so much for your suggestions, Tina! Love them!

  30. susan hammitt says:

    An old fashioned pumpkin custard, pumpkin flan for the pumpkin question. For the yeast recipe- classic croissants, kolacky, multigrain bread, English muffins, butterhorn rolls.

    1. Such great recipe suggestions, Susan! Thank you 🙂

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