Tag Archives: victoria sponge

Orange and Yuzu Teacakes

Three years ago, I was at the Christmas market on Place Sainte-Catherine in Brussels. It was the sort of place where you easily go overboard on all that mulled wine and the naughty festive sweets and fried food. On top of all that, and giddy from the thrills of ice-skating under a giant disco ball, I was checking out the gift stands, and found one that was selling silicone baking moulds. Obviously it just seemed like the best thing in the world ever to buy a few, and I walked away with couple of them, including a mini-kugelhopf tray. I got it home, and pretty much forgot about making kugelhopfs. I’ve had vague plans to use this tray from time to time, but never quite got round to it. So today I decide to finally get my act together and do it!

I’ve long had a fantasy of making zesty little cakes flavoured with Japanese yuzu fruit. It is hard to find here, but has a lovely sharp flavour, somewhere between lemon and mandarin, which holds up well during cooking and baking. However, I had also resigned myself to not being able to actually make them as I’ve never found the fruit in London (apparently they don’t travel very well). Well, I was over the moon to find the juice on sale near my work, so I bought a little bottle and started to make plans for making these little cakes. Below is the result of my baking, but do not allow yourself to be misled – it was not as easy as I thought!

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Well, in spite of my best laid plans, it took more than one attempt to get everything to work. I’ll regale you with the tales of woe in order to save other poor souls from my trauma!

First off, I tried to make them using a financier recipe. In theory, this should have been fine – they are rich with browned butter, and this should have allowed them to slip right out of the moulds. So I prepared ground pistachios, stirred in orange zest and yuzu juice and lovingly folded egg whites into the batter to ensure light little cakes. I popped the lot into the oven, they rose, and then the moment came to remove them from the tray. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. Stuck! I was reduced to shaking the tray like an idiot only for each one to partially fall out, leaving a particularly ugly set of cakes with the tops ripped off. I diligently drizzled some icing on them, and they looked a bit sad – something made by a child who cared nothing for appearances and was focussed only on eating as many as they could as quickly as they could. They did taste fine, but this was not the wow-moment I was hoping for. Hey ho…

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The next day, I junked the financiers idea and tried to make little bundt cakes. This seemed like a good idea, as bundt cakes are supposed to be made in these sort of tube tins (albeit on a larger scale), and they are rather forgiving of quite a lot of liquid in the batter. So I followed a recipe to the letter, made the things, and…oh, they were horrid. The crumb was tough and they did not really rise. I’m at a bit of a loss to work out what the problem was, as I was using a recipe that called for lemon juice, so I don’t think the acidity of the yuzu juice was the problem. By this point, frustration was starting to build. I threw the offending “cakes” in the bin and started over.

This time, nothing was going to go wrong. I reached for that workhorse of the cake world, the Victoria sponge, and made it the traditional way that always works. Cream the butter, work in the sugar, add the eggs, a little at a time, then fold in orange zest. Finally, add the self-raising  flour with a dash of baking powder, then fold in a spoonful of yuzu juice. The batter was perfect – creamy and light. I piped it into the moulds (sounds fancy, but actually it is easier than trying to do that with teaspoons) and baked them. They looked great when I took the tray from the oven, allowed them to cool, the turned it over…and…out they popped! Perfect little cakes with neat little ridges. I spooned over some icing while they were still warm, and it drizzled down the ridges and set easily. Honestly, they could not have looked any more perfect!

I’ve done some thinking about why one recipe worked when others did not. Financiers are not usually made in these ring tins, so I’m assuming the batter was too fragile and should have been baked in round or rectangular trays. I also thought about the sticking. With the first attempt, the moulds were well-buttered, but the second and third attempt involved butter plus a dusting of flour. I had assumed this would mean that they would slip out, and while I am sure that did help with the successful final batch, it didn’t seem to help with the second attempt. Perhaps there was just too much liquid in there? They just seemed too fragile when they came out of the oven, and remained soft and stodgy as they cooled.

Anyway, whatever the reason, the Victoria sponge method is clearly the way to go. These little orange and yuzu teacakes are buttery, light and fresh, with little flecks of orange zest and a welcome tang from the yuzu glaze. While fairly simple, they look very attractive and would be a great addition to an afternoon tea. If you need something fancier, they could be topped with a little chopped candied orange peel, or even served with some whipped cream with a dash of orange liqueur.

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To make orange and yuzu teacakes (makes 6):

For the cake:

• 100g butter
• 100g caster sugar
• 2 eggs
• 100g self-raising flour
• 1/2 orange, zest only
• 1 tablespoon yuzu juice (optional)

For the glaze:

• 100g icing sugar
• 4 teaspoons yuzu juice

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Prepare the tins by rubbing with butter then dusting with flour.

2. Cream the butter until soft, then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Fold in the orange zest. Add the eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour, and mix until just combined. Add the yuzu juice and mix well.

3. Transfer the batter to a piping bag, then use to fill the six moulds. Bake for around 10-15 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. If the top is darkening too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil.

4. In the meantime, make the glaze – mix the icing sugar with enough juice (or water) to make a smooth icing – it should not be thing, but should flow slowly.

5. Remove the teacakes from the oven, and leave to stand for 5 minutes, before turning out onto a cooling rack. Drizzle the icing on the top, and let it trickle down the sides.

Worth making? These are delightful little bakes. They’re incredibly easy to make and the fancy tray does all the hard work for you. The flavour is also lovely, but quite delicate. These are the sort of thing to nibble on with a cup of green tea or Earl Grey, so that the citrus flavours really come out.

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Queen Victoria

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!

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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).

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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…

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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.

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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!

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Diamond Jubilee: Queen Cakes

Today’s regal bake-fest involves dainty little morsels called Queen Cakes. In spite of their very grand-sounding name, they are actually rather simple, and they are the perfect addition to an afternoon tea spread or to serve at a street party. However, I must confess that I don’t know the origin on the name – some suggest they were created for a queen consent, others suggest they were seen as the height of refinement (the “queen of cakes”) or that this was just a generic name for small, individual cakes before the rise of the cupcake.

These are simple small sponge fairy cakes that have been livened up with some sultanas or other dried vine fruit. No glaze, no icing, no mountains of fluffy pink buttercream. If you want to make them look fancy, just dust very lightly with icing sugar. I suppose you could think of them as the dignified understated and queenly addition to the tea-table in comparison to the cupcake’s gaudy courtesan or the scheming French court ambassadress as typified by the macaron.

I was pleased as I started to make these cakes that the eggs I had bought had decided add a crown stamp to the shells. A nice touch, yes?

The recipe here is very similar to Victoria sponge and would traditionally have required a large bowl, strong arms and a fearsome command of the hand whisk. Baking powder is a relatively recent invention, so the cook in olden days had to rely on getting lots and lots of air incorporated into the mixture. Fortunately, we can rely on creaming the butter and sugar, then adding the eggs and flour, but letting the baking powder in the self-raising flour take the strain. Whew!

These cakes would, in the past, have been baked in special pans, and if a heart shape was used, they were called heart cakes. Luckily, we live in a more modern world, and the convenience of the paper case makes these cakes a breeze, but I think they would still be rather nice if you can find some appropriately shaped silicone moulds.

As I mentioned, this is quite a straightforward recipe that does not need much adornment. However, if you want to make these cakes a little more fancy, I would suggest adding a dash of spice (nutmeg or mace would hint at the Regency kitchen), or soak the sultanas overnight in rum. Alternatively, you could prepare a simple water icing and brush over the warm cakes. Anything more might be a bit too flashy, and that would never do, would it?

As you can see, the finished results look rather nice when piled up high on the tea-table. These are what I’ll be contributing to a Jubilee weekend picnic, along with a couple of pitchers of Pimm’s punch. Cheers!

To make Queen Cakes (makes 16):

• 110g butter
• 110g caster sugar
• 2 eggs
• pinch of salt
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
• 110g self-raising flour
• 50g sultanas

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a muffin tray with small paper cases.

Put the butter and sugar into a bowl. Mix well (best to use an electric beater) until light and fluffy.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs, then add, a little at a time, to the butter mixture, beating well after each addition. Add the salt and vanilla. Fold in the flour, then stir in the sultanas.

Divide the batter between the cake cases and bake for around 15 minutes, until golden and risen, and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool, then finish with a dusting of icing sugar.

Worth making? These are lovely little cakes, and make a change from very fancy, rich cupcakes. Great with a cup of tea mid-afternoon.

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The rise and rise of the Victoria Sponge

I’ve very happy to see that this piece in The Guardian seems to share my views (my post here) about the wonders of the Victoria Sponge!

Get baking!

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How to make a Victoria Sponge

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.


For a Victoria Sponge cake:

• 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!

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