The Victoria sponge is a quintessentially English cake, it has remained popular because it is so easily adaptable to many styles and tastes. It was named after Queen Victoria, who was said to enjoy a slice of sponge cake with afternoon tea, as a pick me up after the death of her beloved Prince Albert in 1861. No doubt the Queens ladies in waiting or below stairs staff had their own take on the recipe, however the first official recipe appears to be in Mrs Beeton’s cookbook, printed in 1874. Mrs Beeton called the delicacy a Victoria Sandwich, but despite the name change her basic batter mix has changed little since. This is because any variation on the amount of butter and sugar used, causes a collapse in the egg and flour lightness. The result would be far more like a traditional Christmas Cake.
The Women’s Institute takes the appearance and naming of cakes very seriously. If you enter one of their competitions and show a Victoria Sponge, it must contain raspberry jam and a dusting of icing sugar on top, any deviation will not be judged as a Victoria Sponge.However, I prefer no such rules when I’m making this at home, usually with my children. Cake making should be a time for experimenting and fun, everyone can join in and that is the beauty of baking. Putting a basic sponge mix in the oven will ensure the entire house is filled with the warm vanilla fragrance, a great promise of the treat to follow.
Decorating a cake is an opportunity for you to use your imagination, explore ideas you may have seen in shop windows, or those you remember from home baking in years gone by. For some of us, one of the happiest childhood memories is of time spent in the kitchen with your mum or gran, chatting and sharing stories while you made the cake look as good as it was going to taste.
Children, or the young at heart, may prefer the colourful cake decorations that are available in the supermarket, as well as specialist sugarcraft outlets. These are often the most effective way for someone with less experience to decorate a stunning cake, providing colour and sparkle. One of the greatest joys of baking is sharing your creations with others, time spent baking is never wasted. Practice cakes made for and with your family, on a quiet Sunday afternoon, prepare you to create a dazzling cake for a future special occasion.In this recipe, there is a nod to tradition and the Women’s Institute, with the use of raspberries, keeping the embellishments natural and minimal. The pink glossy buttercream icing will please the younger cake lover, while adults may appreciate the succulent enticing flesh of the raspberries.
Modern bakers will often choose to use an electric whisk or food processor, to get the sponge just right. This method works because sponge cake batter needs to be blended together quickly in order to keep the mixture light. Prolonged beating, either by hand or your electric blender, will result in a cake that has a denser consistency and is far less light and spongy. Another factor of great importance, is the correct oven temperature and preheating.
To make this extra special, use fresh fruit or your favourite homemade jam, with fresh whipped cream. If you do, remember the cake will need refrigerating and is best eaten within one or two days.
The basic sponge.
225g self raising flour
225g caster sugar
1tsp baking powder
1tsp natural vanilla extract
225g unsalted butter, brought to room temperature
3 large eggs
4 tbs milk
100g unsalted butter, brought to room temperature
510g icing sugar
3 tbs milk
1tsp Vanilla essence
Tiniest drop of pink food colouring
Use the same buttercream recipe as for the topping but leave out the food colouring.
Or fresh whipped cream.
Fruit filling.Raspberry jam, strawberry if you prefer.Or fresh strawberries or raspberries thinly sliced and carefully arranged on the cream.
To begin, preheat your oven to Gas Mark 4 or 180 degrees. Then line two 20cm round cake tins with baking paper. Alternatively, grease with butter and dust with a light sprinkling of flour, which should ensure your cake slides out effortlessly. Put all of the ingredients for the basic sponge mixture into your food processor and mix until blended. Take care not to over beat the ingredients. As I have mentioned, this causes all the air trapped in the mixture by sugar crystals, to be forced out. Like cooking any other dish, it’s fine to taste your batter before baking. In this way you will begin to recognise how the raw properties of each cake you bake, affect the end result.
Divide the batter between the two tins, spreading evenly to the sides. Bake for 25 minutes or until a knife or skewer comes out clean from the centre of the cakes. Turn out and allow to cool completely or you risk melting the buttercream icing.
To make the buttercream icing, beat the butter with the icing sugar and vanilla essence. Then add enough milk to make the consistency smooth and creamy. For the topping, add the food colouring carefully, to produce a light pink colour and blend well.
Then spread the jam or fruit onto the top of one cake and the cream to the bottom of the other. Sandwich the two together, some of the sweet creamy mixture will be soaked into the sponge, so you can be quite generous with your fillings.
For the topping use a palette knife to smooth on the glossy pink buttercream, some will ooze over the edges, don’t worry, this can be tidied later. Once the whole cake is covered, smooth around the sides, right down to when the cake meets the plate. Do this in one movement if you can, turning the cake if you need to. What ever works best for you is fine. Then you can use sweeping ‘s’ shaped movements to ensure the marshmallowy mixture evenly covers the top of your cake.
Garnish with fresh raspberries and sprinkle with some icing sugar, you can use a small sieve to do this, achieving a more evenly spread dusting. However, the cake is sweet enough, so you only need a small amount as a garnish. The whiteness acts to contrast with the deep pink of the raspberries and the baby pink of the icing, bringing the whole piece together.
I would suggest serving with a couple of raspberries or strawberries if you have used those.