Before starting work at the Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School in New York City, I would never have thought about making a genoise. To be truthful, I had never heard of this French dessert.

Later, I learned that it is an elegant version of what we Southerners would call a sponge cake. Similar but a little more involved to make, although not difficult.

The first time I tackled genoise (pronounced “zhane-whaz”) was in a pastry and baking class taught by Nicholas Malgieri, who was director of the pastry and baking division at the school. He had previously served as the executive pastry chef at Windows on the World in Manhattan.

Classes with Chef Malgieri were informative and exciting. I was thrilled be able to sit in on any of his classes. When he came to Alabama to participate in a cooking show in Birmingham, I was pleased and honored when he asked if I would assist him.

The genoise, like the sponge cake, is leavened by air beaten into eggs. No leavening such as baking soda or baking powder is needed. The French version is usually a single layer that is split into three thin layers. After getting a “sponge bath” of liqueur-flavored syrup, it is dressed with a coat of buttercream icing. This is not the icing made with confectioners’ sugar that I have always known as buttercream.

When you serve this dessert, don’t tell your guests that you are having sponge cake; impress them by saying that they will be enjoying genoise. Sounds elegant and tastes great.

MALGIERI’S GENOISE ORDINAIRE

  • 4 large eggs
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt (about ⅛ teaspoon)
  • ¾ cup cake flour

Beat the eggs with a hand whip in bowl of electric mixer. Beat in the sugar in a stream and then the salt. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and beat with a hand whip (whisk) until mixture is lukewarm. Place bowl on mixer with the whip attachment and beat on high speed until egg mixture is cold and increased in volume. Remove bowl from mixer and sift the cake flour over the egg mixture, in three or four additions, folding it in with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter into a buttered and parchment paper-lined 9- or 10-inch round pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and loosen the genoise by running a knife between the genoise and the pan. Invert and remove the pan. Turn genoise over to cool on a rack. Slice into three thin layers.

BASIC SYRUP MIXTURE

  • ¾ cup water
  • ¼ cup sugar

Bring sugar and water to a boil. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cool. Sprinkle over genoise. Any liqueur of your choice can be added for flavor, if desired.

BASIC BUTTERCREAM

  • 4 egg whites
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 12 ounces (3 sticks) soft butter

Pour egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat in the sugar. Place bowl over a pan of simmering water and beat with a hand whip (whisk) until egg white mixture is hot and all the sugar is dissolved. Place the bowl on the mixer and beat with the whip attachment on medium speed until the egg white mixture is cold and increased in volume. Beat in the butter in 6 additions and continue beating until smooth. Frost genoise.

Award-winning chef Prudence Hilburn’s cooking column appears every other week. Contact her at prudencehilburn@aol.com.