Man, there is a lot of history behind the simple sponge cake! A simple recipe whose most important ingredient is air, sponge cakes are considered one of the first cakes to not use yeast in their preparation. Instead, the eggs and sugar are beaten together to incorporate the most amount of air into the batter as possible, making the finished product light and springy, like a sponge. This makes it easy to use as a base cake for lots of other desserts, like the rolled-up Swiss roll or the French Buche de Noel. Because it uses air as the leavening component and not yeast, sponge cake is also considered kosher for Passover, and is one of the most popular desserts for seders. The earliest recorded recipe comes from 17th century England, and variations of the cake recipe are found in numerous cuisines around the world, including American, French, and Spanish cultures. A sponge cake with raspberry jam and whipped cream was Queen Victoria’s favorite dish to accompany her afternoon tea; it became so popular in 19th century England that the exact recipe for this dessert is noted as the “Victoria sponge.”
And yet, with all of that Western-based pedigree–England, France, Spain, with Jewish and American influences–who would ever believe that the most popular sponge cake in New York City comes from a Chinese bakery?? But indeed, the softest, sweetest, spongiest sponge cake in the city, hands-down, comes from the New Kam Hing Coffee Shop in Chinatown. This old-style, traditional coffee shop may look worn down and unsuspecting from the outside, but inside awaits you a trove of Chinese pastries and goodies, including the understated but never underestimated sponge cake. This cake doesn’t have any frills: no raspberry jam or whipped cream, no gluten-free or vegan doo-dads to bring in the hipster crowd. No fads at all. Just plain ol’ sweetened sponge cake, so pure and simple in its ingredients that you can almost taste every one, from the sifted flour to the soft, creamy eggs. Even if you have reservations about New Kam Hing–like, you got here via Canal Street and the smell of the fish markets around the corner is still in your nostrils–it’s definitely worth it to buy one or two and try it out. At less than a dollar per little cake, it’s the best “try it” deal in town–quite literally. There’s nothing stopping you from checking in, ordering one, and seeing for yourself if it lives up to the hype…and then scarfing down a dozen more when you realize it really, really does.
New Kam Hing Coffee Shop
119 Baxter St, Ste B (between Canal St & Hester St)
“At Kam Hing Coffee Shop, the house-baked Sponge Cake is not just good, but legendary. Visitors from around the country carry home boxes of these, eggy soft cakes as gifts. Enter through the narrow bakery on Baxter, right above Canal Street. There are a few pastries on display, but the coveted sponge cakes are hidden in a tower of plastic boxes behind the counter.”–Serious Eats
“The version at Kam Hing Coffee Shop is a smidgeon sweeter than other sponge cakes you might find in Chinatown. This is a good thing because otherwise you would be distracted by the egginess of the cake, instead of the cakyness. Yup. Two real words in one sentence. I can quit now.”–Food In Mouth
“On Baxter Street, by Rose’s Gallery, sits New Kam Hing, a coffee shop with a 30-year history in Chinatown. What’s its secret? The best sponge cake in the neighborhood according to locals. Made fresh daily, moist and fragrant, see if you can eat just one. Let’s just say we understand why “crack cake” was scribbled on the storefront.”–Explore Chinatown
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“This place makes the best sponge cake in the world! Maybe it’s because its so light and fluffy. Maybe because it’s made into this cute little boat shape. Or maybe it’s because I grew up eating them and reminds me of my childhood. Either way, it’s worth making a trip down to Canal St. Each one will cost you around $0.70. Add a coffee or tea with milk, and you got breakfast that’ll run you less than two bucks. You really can’t go wrong.”–Wendy Y.
“The cakes are super moist and fluffy….so moist in fact that you don’t even need a libation to lubricate the throat in between each cake. Translation: less down time, more cake eating time!!! Usually we like them with cream but these don’t need any. They’re perfection in a sandwich bag. Feel free to buy a crate full of these babies cuz even with refrigeration they’re still awesome for days after. Simply nuke them for about 10-15 seconds and they taste like they came fresh out of the oven.”–Wahed K.
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