It’s Election Day! The rosettes are out, the babies have been kissed, and now just sit back and wait for the result. I was asked to take something along to an election day event, and what could be more fitting than a Victoria Sponge, probably the classic British cake?
Simple sponge, filled with jam and cream, and topped off with a dusting of icing sugar. Nothing fussy, no unnecessarily dramatic flourishes, just good, honest cake and a nice filling. It was named, not unsurprisingly, after Queen Victoria in view of her apparent fondness for this cake. If you want to open a decent tea shop, you need this one, and it needs to be done well.
A bonus is that this is also a very easy cake to make (which seems practical – if you were a Victorian cook preparing the monarch’s favourite afternoon snack, you would want a method that was easy to ensure consistent results, rather than something that is liable to go awry and thus fail to amuse). The quantities are simple, based on the imperial measuring system (i.e. using ounces) of 2-2-1-2, being the ratio of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. You can easily scale this up depending on your needs. I’ve included my recipe below in grams, but based on the 8-8-4-8 amount. A useful recipe if you are cornered and asked to produce cake at short notice, such as when you’re in a remote Norfolk farmhouse with a pretty bare larder. I’m just saying…
Once baked, fill the cooled cake with good jam. Raspberry or strawberry are the classics, but there is nothing to stop you going freestyle and using something different – damson, plum, gooseberry – or even a decent, sharp lemon curd. You can also add some whipped cream. Not everyone does this, but I usually do. I’ve seen this cake done with buttercream icing, and while it looks the same as cream, I think buttercream is too sweet. Stick with the cream. Britain usually equals tradition, and this is one tradition that I agree with. If you use the cream, it is also worth letting it sit in the fridge for a little while once filled, so the cream firms up a little and does not squirt out of the sides when you cut it.
Finally, dredge the top with icing sugar. Some cooks use caster sugar, but I prefer the white powdery look. Just, whatever you do, avoid smearing the top with buttercream icing. This is a simple classic, so don’t mess with it and try to make it look like a giant cupcake. I don’t like to preach about food, but this is one point I’m pretty firm on. Just think – what would Victoria have said?
I’ve written before about people turning to British classics. Old favourites have been knocking about on the pudding menus of London’s top restaurants for a while now, and indeed it might be time to look at more exotic fare (Japanese, anyone?). But I think our cake heritage is coming into its own. Fits the “Keep Clam and Carry On” ethos of now. The Victoria Sponge obviously taps into this tradition of British teatime cakes, but another reason that I like it is that it makes a change from cupcakes. Good cupcakes are nice, but the naff things seem to be everywhere at the moment, and all too often badly made with sickening icing, odd novelty toppings and suspiciously fake looking colours. A decent Victoria Sponge will knock them all for six and makes a superior accompaniment to a cup of tea in the sunshine in the park.
• 220g butter, at room temperature
• 220g caster sugar
• 4 eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 220g self-raising flour
• 3-4 tablespoons milk
Preheat the oven to 180°C, and line two 20cm cake trays with greaseproof paper (bottom and sides).
Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, including two spoonfuls of flour with each, and beating well after each addition (this keeps the mixture smooth and light). Add the vanilla and beat well. Sift the remainder of the flour into the mixture, and mix well.
At this stage, we want the mixture to fall very slowly off the back of a spoon. It should not be anything near runny. Add milk, a spoonful at a time, until the consistency is right.
Spoon the mix into the two trays and smooth the tops. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and risen. Test the cakes by pressing very gently – they should spring back – and inserting a skewer – it should come out clean. If not ready, bake for a few more minutes and test again.
Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool 5 minutes in the pan, and then place on a cooking rack and allow to cool completely.
To complete the cake, even off the base cake (i.e. cut it flat) and spread its top with good-quality jam (6 tablespoons), and then cover with 300ml of whipped double cream. Add the second layer of the cake, and dredge the top with icing sugar using a sieve.
Worth making? This is a really easy recipe and is delicious. It’s a great part of a summer tea or picnic, and is super easy to make. No separating eggs, not preparing meringue, no piping. If you are really in a hurry, make life easy and just throw everything in a bowl and combine well (a mixer is useful here). Definitely worth having this one up your sleeve. This also serves as a good recipe for fairy cakes (not giant cupcakes!) – just take them out of their cases, split and fill with jam and cream for mini-Victorias!