Alan Turing’s Sponge Cake

Cake from WHR(P).jpg


Alan Turing was a man of numerous talents.  He could break unbreakable codes, invent artificial intelligence, make huge contributions to morphogenesis, run marathons at an Olympic level, knit and bake.


Now Harvey Milk, Alan’s lover in FOR THE LOVE OF ALAN TURING was quite the gourmet chef and an excellent host to boot,  but he was not much of a baker. Apparently, on the day of his death he offered to make a carrot cake for a friend who had a birthday and the friend promptly declined.

Whereas cooking can be rewarding for those who like to make things up as they go along and like to interact with the dish while in progress, successful baking rewards patience, precision, and following step-by-step procedures to the T, none of which are particular strengths of the otherwise amazing Harvey.


Alan Turing, in contrast, has all these qualites. He liked to cook and was very proud of his baking ventures. This is no wonder since baking is really a form of applied Chemistry. The constant temperature water bath is just but one of many chemistry techniques you can apply to the kitchen. According to Andrew Hodges, Alan was especially pleased in learning how to make a sponge cake.

But which sponge cake?

There are two types of sponge cake in the UK. One is made by the foam method and one was made by the batter method. UK sponge cakes made by the batter method are what are called pound cakes in the US. UK sponge cakes made by the foam method are more like Angel Food cakes in the US. I am grateful for Wikipedia   (“Sponge Cake”) for this information.

It seems likely that Alan Turing made his cake using the foam method. This kind of cake requires very little in the way of oil or butter. Since the UK was still rationing butter until May of 1954, Alan could only have made the batter kind of cake during the last month of his life.

Yet there are some indications that he also really loved the Victorian Sponge Cake, which is layered with strawberries and cream. Alan was most keen about how artificial intelligence might enjoy strawberries and cream.

In light of this, I will supply recipes for both kinds of cake as well as a special sponge cake made during severe rationing — that yes, includes carrots. And so we have come full circle.

Baking in Britain is different from baking in the US in several respects. Many ovens (and stovetops) are gas and you set the oven not to a numerical temperature but to a gas mark, although that term was not used until 1958. Also, your ingredients are often measured by mass (grams) rather than by volume.


This recipe is courtesy of

10 egg whites

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

250 g (9 oz) caster sugar

125 g (4½ oz) plain white flour, sifted


Prep:1hr 55min  ›  Cook:45min  ›  Ready in: 2hr 40min

Heat the oven to 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4). Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until foamy. Sprinkle the cream of tartar and the vanilla and almond extracts over them and continue whisking until the mixture is stiff but not dry.

Add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking continuously: the mixture should be shiny and form soft peaks.

Fold the flour in with a metal spoon, blending it thoroughly without breaking down the egg whites.

Spoon the mixture into an ungreased 23 cm (9 in) ring-shaped cake tin; if you do not have one, use a round cake tin and put an empty can upside-down in the centre to make the hole. Bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and feels dry.

To cool the cake, leave it in the tin and turn it upside-down, supporting the centre column of the cake tin, or the empty can, on a jar so that the cake is not resting on anything and can ‘stretch’ downwards. Leave it to cool for at least 1 hour 30 minutes.

To take the cake out of the tin, run a knife around its outside and turn it upside-down onto a plate. Serve the cake with either of the preserves listed in the description, or with ginger-lemon sauce (see Honeydew Melon with Ginger-Lemon Sauce on this website)


This cake traditionally requires both carefully weighing the eggs and being very strict about temperature and cooking time. Recipe is courtesy of

225g unsalted butter

225g caster sugar

3 large eggs

225g self-raising flour

100ml single cream

135g strawberries, mashed

1 tsp vanilla extract

Double cream and strawberry jam (optional filling)

Preheat the oven to 180C/electric. Grease two 20 cm cake tins and line with parchment paper.

In a large bowl whisk the butter and sugar together until combined. Then, add the eggs one at a time and mix. Then, add all the single cream and mix once again.

With a wooden spoon fold in the flour a third at a time until the mixture is smooth.

In a separate bowl place the mashed strawberries and vanilla extract and mix gently with a small metal spoon. Add the strawberry mixture to the smooth cake mixture and combine.

Pour the mixture into the cake tins and bake on a middle shelf for 20 minutes.

Take out of the oven and leave to cool in the tins for 30 minutes before removing. After cooled, spread as much jam as desired on one of the two sponges. Then whip some double cream and place on top of the jam. Take the other sponge and sandwich both sponges together. Serve!


This recipe is courtesy of

1 large raw potato, grated

2 medium raw carrots

1 cup breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon self-raising flour

2 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla or lemon essence

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 tablespoons jam

“Mix together the grated potato and carrots, breadcrumbs, flour, sugar and flavouring. Thoroughly stir in the baking powder. Put the jam in a heated basin and spread it around to cover the inside of the basin. Cool. Put in the pudding mixture, tie on a cover of margarine paper, and steam for 2 hours.”

There you have it. Three different ways to make a UK sponge cake! Why not have a special sponge cake party of your own and compare them?  Alan will surely be smiling down on you from heaven with his cat Timothy, his teddy bear Porgy and of course, his own true love, Harvey.

Photograph by Phil Parker from UK


Mathematical Knitting with Alan

How Did Alan Turing Break the Enigma?

In the Navy


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