Oh we Brits love a bit of royal history. Henry VIII and his six wives, the rivalry between the stoical English Elizabeth I and her rather more flirty Scottish cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, the scandalous relationship between King Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson (where rumour has it that her unsuitability was as much about being an American divorcée as being an American divorcée), the Madness of King George III, the tragedies of Princess Charlotte (the queen who never was) and Margaret, Maid of Norway (Queen of Scots for only four years and who died young before she could set foot in her kingdom), the Union of the Crowns, the English Civil War, the restoration of Charles II…it goes on! Even today, stick a picture of certain royals on the front of a magazine and you’re pretty much guaranteed an uptick in sales. And in about five weeks, I’m pretty confident that this country’s media will be going into overdrive…I’m sure you can guess why!
What is also clear is that the world of British food also has many links to royal history, with a range of dishes associated with various monarchs. It is probably a bit of a stretch to suggest that any of these were actually made by any of them, but such recipes would tend to be made either to commemorate a special occasion (such as the famous checked Battenberg cake created for a royal wedding) or, as is the case with the subject of today’s post, the Victoria Sponge, were a favourite of a king of queen. Here it is in all its jammy glory!
This cake is part of a classic afternoon tea – it’s a fairly simple sponge cake, flavoured with vanilla if you like, then filled with jam and finished with a dusting of caster sugar. You could dust with icing sugar, but the caster sugar adds some sparkle and a little crunch on top.
Where there is some debate is what exactly the filling should be. I like raspberry jam and nothing else. However, it’s not uncommon to see whipped cream or even buttercream in the middle of this cake. I think that makes it all a bit too rich, but to each his own. If you were to add the cream, then I would just caution you and suggest it should be added at the last minute, so that the cream does not make the cake go soggy (or cheat – coat the top of the base and the bottom of the top cake with jam, which should stop the cream getting to the cake).
There is also a bit of mythology about this cake. It was said to get its name as it was a favourite of Queen Victoria. It is also rumoured that the Victoria Sponge, while straightforward to make, is fickle to bake, and thus making it the perfect cake with which to test in new ovens. There must be an appliance manufacturer out there making a lot of cakes…
The method I’ve used here is essentially the all-in-one technique. You can do it the hard way (cream butter, beat in the sugar, mix in the eggs, fold in the flour…), but I’ve tried both approaches, and the all-in-one produces great results with minimal fuss. The secret to getting this cake as light as possible is to use self-raising flour, and then to boost it with some baking powder. I’m willing to guarantee that if you follow the recipe, perfect results can be yours!
If you’re not sold on the idea of keeping things simple, you can try different types of jam, or even use lemon or orange curd. Citrus zest or a handful or currants can be added to the batter too, but as for the topping – go with the simple sprinkling of sugar. Do that, and I’m sure Queen Victoria would approve.
To make a Victoria sandwich:
• 225g white caster sugar
• 225g unsalted butter, softened
• 4 large eggs
• 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 225g self-raising flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• raspberry jam (around half a jar)
• caster sugar, to finish
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Butter two 20cm (8 inch) sandwich tins, coat with flour and line the base with greaseproof paper.
2. Cream the butter in a mixing bowl until soft and fluffy. Add the caster sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour and baking powder, and mix well until just combined (don’t over-beat). Divide the mixture between the two sandwich tins. Smooth the tops with a fork.
3. Bake the cakes for 25 minutes until risen and golden, and an inserted skewer comes out clear. Allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then remove form the tins, place on a wire tray and allow to cool completely.
4. To assemble the cake, remove the greaseproof paper from the bottom cake. Trim any peak if necessary, then spread generously with jam. Remove the paper from the bottom of the second cake, and place on top. Sprinkle lightly with caster sugar. Voila!
Worth making? This is a simple, but always-popular cake, which is easy to make. Highly recommended with a cuppa!