The other day, I was thinking fondly of England, and of temperate English summers. Of cool breezes and green grass and a dry forehead: things which are now the stuff of memory. Of cake and tea and all those lovely things which almost cancel out bloody Boris and Brexit.
I decided to make a sponge. There’s nothing that quite takes me home like a good buttery sponge. Unless it’s bread sauce. But even I couldn’t face bread sauce in 40 degree heat.
So Victoria sponge it was: a staple of the summer English table, and a tribute to all things British and buttery.
I went through a phase a few summers ago of making a Victoria sponge a day. I was determined to master the perfect recipe. Like so many truly good and simple things, the devil lies in the detail.
After my extensive experimentation, I came to the conclusion that whilst the old-equal-quantities-of -everything is still the best recipe ratio, there is one little trick which makes all the difference. This is to substitute a tiny amount of the butter with some sunflower oil, which makes the sponge softer, and allows it to stay moist for longer. Much like a carrot cake, which owes its indecently moist texture to the use of oil over butter. Here you have the best of both worlds (you can have your cake AND eat it): all the buttery flavour, but also the keeping power and moistness that Victoria sponge frequently lacks.
The quest for long-lasting moistness is surely every baker’s chief prerogative.
Named after the Victorian invention of baking powder, which allowed the British population to produce light, airy sponges, the true beauty of this cake is its fluffy crumb and buttery flavour. Another element which cannot be overlooked is the jam filling.
A Victoria sponge also acts as a vehicle for delicious jam, so use your best. I had some mulberry I’d made last summer, with mulberries picked in Devon (sigh). I mixed mascarpone with double cream for the creamy element, but really when it comes to the cream, the most important thing is generosity.
Sometimes - perhaps most times - less is not more.
The standard method is to weigh the eggs in their shells and then to use equal quantities of all the other ingredients. I advise you to follow this method, though I have given the exact quantities I used.
5 eggs, weighed in their shells
290g unsalted butter
2 tsp sunflower oil
300g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
300g self-raising flour (or plain flour and 1.5 tsp of baking powder)
For the filling:
200ml double cream
1 pot of jam (mulberry, raspberry)
Icing sugar to dust the top.
Make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature. The butter needs to be really nice and soft.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line with baking parchment two sandwich cake tins.
Using an electric beater, cream the butter and oil with the salt and the sugar until very light and pale and fluffy.
Break the eggs into a bowl and add them little by little, mixing all the time, until they are fully incorporated.
Gently stir in the flour and baking powder until you have a lovely, smooth, pale batter.
Spread equal quantities of the batter into the prepared tins and smooth the top with a palette knife.
Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until risen and golden.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in their tins for ten minutes.
Meanwhile whip your cream to soft peaks. Beat the mascarpone until a little softened and then fold it into the cream.
Remove the cakes from the tins and allow to cool completely.
Spread the cream over the base of one of the cakes and then spoon over the jam. Place the other on top and sprinkle the finished cake with icing sugar.
Voila! Victory in a sponge. If only the rest of life were so straightforward.