Victoria Sponge

One of the centre pieces to the baby shower was the Victoria Sponge Cake.

Sadly, on this occasion, although lopsided, it looked better covered in icing-sugar than it tasted.  In my husband’s words, and he never insults my cooking, he said “urgh Claire! This cake is really dry. Possibly the worst you ever made!”  Ahh.  How lovely.  I wouldn’t say it was that bad.  I remember the rock cakes I made when I was eleven, now they were bad!

The reason for its apparent dry nature, was due to my own rushy nature.

It was late on friday night when I set to baking and although the butter had been out of the fridge all day, it still wasn’t soft enough and I failed, miserably, to whisk it into submission.

I did the cardinal sin of baking. I gave up!  Stupid considering I have an electric whisk.

So, tip number 1 when baking a sponge. It’s all about air! 

When they say whisk the butter and sugar until pale and creamy.  They really mean, whisk the butter until pale and creamy.  If your butter is still cold like mine, just keep going, eventually it will turn.  But whatever you do, don’t cheat and think it will be ok and then add the eggs before you have pale and creamy!  Or you’ll just get pale and lumpy.  Which in turn gives you dry, flat cakes!  Cannot stress this enough.  Unless you like your husband screwing up his nose and saying “urgh!”

So, I knew that I did that bit wrong, but I’ve realised whilst learning to cook that sometimes unless you really understand why recipe tells you to do something, you think it’s ok to cheat and then you end up with disappoint results and wonder how it happened (when really you should know!) 

Therefore, I’ve done a bit of digging into the technicalities of Sponge cake.  And also, I thought it might be interesting to find out Victoria Sponge is called after Her Majesty – Thank you Wikopedia and a few other websites I persused!

Making a sponge cake

Simple sponge is made by beating the eggs with sugar until they are light and creamy, then carefully sieving and folding in the flour.  Sieving from a high height over the bowl also adds more air.

Use a plastic spatlula to gently fold with smooth strokes through the centre of the bowl, around the sides and lifting through the centre again, repeating until mixture is smooth

Apparently some recipes will say to add baking powder if you’re using plain flower, others may rely just on the air your tired old arms incoprorate into the mixture and something to do with eggs and thermal expansion.   Either way,  your objective is to produce a really, really light cake so the air in the mixture is key. 

Another point of importance is using really fresh eggs, at room temperature.  Warmed eggs hold more air and create more volume when they’re whipped than cold eggs

Similarly, your cake can can lose it’s air if you remove it too soon from the oven, so check you oven times.

Sponge cake recipes are best made with an electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer, so your hands are free.  (I don’t have one, but I think it may be on a Christmas list!)

Always, always, always use scales for measuring ingrediants – my grandfather was a baker and I remember him saying how important this is – one ounce or gram too much and you whole cake can come crumbling down!

Your cake tins should be greased and lined with parchment, and your oven preheated – when your cake mixture is ready, it should go straight in the oven, don’t be thinking that cakes are like other foods, and can wait to go in or develop in flavour.

 
Why is such a simple cake named after royalty?  (From Wikipedia)

The Victoria sponge cake was named after Queen Victoria, who favoured a slice of the sponge cake with her afternoon tea.  It is often referred to simply as sponge cake, though it contains additional fat.  A typical Victoria sponge consists of raspberry jam and whipped double cream or vanilla cream.  The jam and cream are sandwiched between two sponge cakes; the top of the cake is not iced or decorated apart from a dusting of icing sugar. However the Women’s Institute do not class this as a Victoria sponge. Their version only has raspberry jam as the filling and is dusted with caster sugar, not icing sugar.

The Recipe

  • 200g unsalted butter , softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • Strawberry or Raspberry jam – personally believe there is only one make to use, and that’s Tiptree Jam.
  • Butter icing (if using jam)
  • 250ml double cream , whipped (with jam OR if it’s a beautiful summer’s day with FRESH STRAWBERRIES!!!! – most wonderful)
  • icing sugar , for dusting

How To

  1. Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5.
  2. Grease and flour 2 x 20cm sandwich tins.
  3. Place the butter, sugar and vanilla extract into a bowl and beat well until . . . .pale and creamy.
  4. Slowly beat in the eggs, one by one.
  5. Fold in the flour and mix well – don’t knock the air out of it.
  6. Divide the mix between the two tins.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 20 mins until risen and golden brown.  A test that they are ready is that they should spring back when gently pushed in the middle.
  8. Once out of the oven, allow to cool for 5 mins in the tin, before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling completely.
  9. Spread the jam on one side of the cake plus the cream of your choice.  Or if using fresh strawberries, lay these one top of the whipped cream before sandwiching the cakes together and dusting with icing sugar (nicer than caster sugar I think).

Tip – if your cakes rise too much in the middle, so it doesn’t look like two pyramids balancing on top of each other, just chop off the peak.  It gives you an excuse to make your own mini sandwhich in the meantime!  Cook’s perrogative.

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