Old-Fashioned Velvet Sponge Cupcakes with Lemon Mascarpone Frosting

This is not exactly the post I had in mind for Valentine’s Day – honestly, I’m pretty much a chocolate-caramel-peanut butter-deep dark flavor kind of girl anytime, and especially on Box-of-Chocolates Day (As I believe it should be named). No, I had big dreams for something with dark baking chocolate, maybe some red wine, or some molasses and spice, something dark and rich and red like cherries or pomegranates . . . but after several tests, several sink-fulls of dishes, and several test versions of a baking disaster now referred to as “Stupid Cake”  . . .  I just thank my lucky stars that this recipe fell into my lap at the last moment. Just in time for Valentine's day.

See, I love old recipes and cookbooks.  The older the better; I love when they’re in delicate old-fashioned handwriting, with weird ingredients and measurements I have to look up (soft flour? Strong flour?) They measured in teacups!?), and even the cake batter spots and marginalia commentary in old cookbooks is so  fun to find. Like a scavenger hunt. And I’ve always been enough of a history geek to be interested in how people baked before all our modern conveniences came into being. It’s hard enough to make bread in an oven with a thermometer; imagine a woodstove! Suffice it to say, I stumbled on a treasure trove of old recipes.

This is the image from the original cookbook, of the recipe I’m baking today:

This recipe, while it has some good bones, leaves just a bit to be desired … a cooking time, for one. How much it makes, for another. (And thank goodness for the internet, which can tell me what ‘moderate oven’ means. It means 350°, or anywhere from 325-375°.) And isn’t it strange that there’s no other flavoring in it? No vanilla, nothing. I had to make this, just to see what it would taste like!

I cut the recipe down by 1/3 so that it makes 12 cupcakes, and I’m testing out an opportunity to make it a bit healthier by using Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour.  (I don’t feel as guilty indulging in a cupcake when it’s made with some whole wheat.) Also, I also thought it was very important to use high quality ingredients, since this cupcake has so few ingredients—every flavor is very important. I wanted to use very good flour, and good (organic, cage-free, etc) eggs. 

While this pastry flour is whole wheat, and has a little more fiber than white flour, it’s made from a “soft” wheat that has a lower gluten content. This helps keep pastry and baked goods lighter and a bit more delicate and crumbly. Regular whole wheat flour from “hard” or “strong” wheat has more gluten, which is better for breads. (If you’re interested in different kinds of flour, I liked this article a lot.)

Let’s get started!  First comes separating eggs. I do this by carefully cracking the egg into two halves, and letting the whites slip out, then putting the yolk in its own bowl. There are also tools you can buy, but I’ve always done it this way. (And just for fun, in honor of this recipe’s age, I’m doing things the old-fashioned way — by hand, with a whisk. You can use an electric mixer if you want, though.)

You only need a small bowl for the whites this time. Put the yolks in a large bowl, since you’re going to add all the ingredients to them. Beat up the yolks, and gradually add sugar until it’s thick and light. I mean really, really light in color. It’s amazing to me. Where does the yellow go?

Next add in the egg whites, and mix together; and then the boiling water and mix again.

Last of all, gently fold in the pastry flour. Don’t mix too much; just stir until you can’t see any dry bits left.

Make sure you spray your cupcake tins with nonstick oil, because these like to stick. I like the look of the crumb on the outside of these, so I didn’t want to use baking papers. Feel free to experiment.  Fill the tins right up almost to the top. These will rise, and they keep their shape pretty well.

Ta-da! Ice them, decorate them, and eat them with a loved one. (Or keep them all to yourself.)

Note here that the cupcake on the left is made with Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour, and the one on the right is with Hodgson Mill Naturally White Flour. The white flour had great SPRING in the oven, and tastes more like a traditional cupcake, but the whole wheat pastry flour is very tender and really moist, a little more like a muffin/cupcake hybrid. They are both delicious, and dense, and crumbly. The taste for both is very delicate, from all the egg in the recipe. Try it with both flours, if you have the time, and see which one you like better, or mix it up and do half-and-half. I would love it if you told me your favorite in the comments.

The mascarpone used in the icing is an Italian cream cheese; it’s super-rich, but really delicate. I love the creaminess, with a little bit of lemon tang, up next to the firmness of this cake’s dense eggy crumb. And the fruit and chocolate on top really make this heaven.

Velvet Sponge Cupcakes with Lemon-Mascarpone Frosting



Grease 12 cupcake pans well. Preheat oven to 350° F. Separate the eggs, and in a large bowl beat the yolks. Add sugar gradually and beat till very light and thick.  Add the egg whites, and mix; then add the hot water and mix. In a separate bowl mix together the baking powder and flour, and then very gently stir this dry mix into egg/sugar mixture.  Do not over mix; stir just until everything is combined.

Pour into prepared pans, and bake 17-20 minutes. They will brown lightly on top; check with a toothpick in center of cupcake—when it comes out clean, it is done. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Release from pan with a knife and let cool completely on a rack. If desired, ice with Lemon Mascarpone frosting (below) and top with berries and/or chocolate.

Lemon Mascarpone Frosting

  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon zest (more or less, to taste)

Whip all ingredients in a large bowl with an electric mixer for 2-3 minutes, scraping sides often, until fluffy. Keep chilled until time to frost cupcakes. Refrigerated frosted cupcakes.


 Frost with lemon icing, and refrigerate after frosting. These can dry out quickly, so keep in sealed container. This cake recipe, when made with white flour, would also be wonderful in a trifle, because it’s very firm and dense.


 Makes 12 cupcakes.