In my opinion, Victoria Sponge is the most classic of British cakes.
I mean, we love a good sponge cake, don’t we? Preferably two layers sandwiched together with something yummy. Yup, it’s a pretty British style of baking. And I love it.The strange thing is, it would seem the quintessential Victoria Sponge is less iconic abroad. My French and Belgian housemates didn’t know what it was, neither did any of my German friends back in Bavaria. Madness! What do they think we eat all day? Fish and chips?! So I’m taking it upon myself to educate the rest of Europe and share the wonders of British baking. Scones are going to have to occur soon I think. This week there are four birthdays in my (relatively small) office and another next week – weird, huh? And what type of intern would I be if I didn’t bring birthday cake for my boss? A rubbish one, that’s what.
I figured Victoria Sponge would be the perfect choice because:
a) it’s simple and quick
b) it would give my British colleagues in the BBC office a taste of home
c) it would allow my Belgian colleagues to try a British classic
d) it’s blimmin’ delicious and one of my faves.
D’you know what else? I realised I don’t actually have a recipe for a simple, standard Vic Sponge on my blog. All sorts of variants, sure, but no original. How very remiss of me. Bad Rachel. But better late then never, eh? The Victoria Sponge cake is a classic for a reason: light, fluffy, springy vanilla sponge, sandwiched together with vanilla buttercream and fruity strawberry jam or pineapple, topped off with a dusting of icing sugar. Parfait.
Some people like fresh cream and real strawberries in the middle, but this is my fave filling. A slice of Victoria Sponge and a cuppa is just so comforting. It’s like a hug in the form of afternoon tea. It sure went down a treat at work too, disappearing in no time. Always lovely to hear comments like, “It’s lovely, Rach”, and, “So moist. No one likes a dry sponge.” Duncan, I’d have to agree. A dry sponge is one of the most disappointing things in the world, am I right? My Italian-but-practically-British colleague, Sofia, said it was the best Victoria Sponge she’d ever had!
Ideally you’d make this cake in two 20cm round cake tins, but I didn’t have any. Instead, I used one larger tin and sliced it in half, thus giving me slightly thinner than ideal and somewhat uneven layers. But hey, that is A-OK – you still get all the deliciousness in every mouthful. I also don’t have an electric whisk in my Belgian kitchen – so tragic – but I managed to do the whole thing with pure elbow grease. It was a good arm workout, although I did get a blister as a result of all the beating. Oh, how we suffer for good cake! #bakingproblems. However I don’t think you can taste the difference as a result of my old-school baking. The texture was still beautifully spongey. (If you have a handheld electric mixer though, use it. Save yourself the blister.) That’s the great thing about a Victoria Sponge – you don’t need anything fancy, ingredients or equipment-wise. It’s practically impossible to go wrong!
200g unsalted butter, softened (make sure you take it out of the fridge hours in advance)
200g caster sugar
4 eggs, beaten
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
A splash of milk
50g unsalted butter, softened
75g icing sugar
A splash of milk
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line two 20cm sandwich tins (or one bigger one.)
2. Beat the butter and the sugar together until light, smooth and creamy, ideally with a handheld electric whisk.
3. Add the beaten eggs and the flour to the mix alternately a quarter at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the baking powder and vanilla essence. Add a splash or two of milk until you get the right consistency – it shouldn’t be runny but rather dollopable (yes I made that word up.)
4. Dollop the cake batter into your cake tin(s) and smooth the top(s) as best you can. Bake in the oven for about 20 mins if in two tins, and 35-40 mins if one big one. If you notice the top starts to get too dark brown quickly cover the cake with foil.
5. When it’s done the cake should be well-risen, springy to the touch and a skewer inserted into the middle should come out just about clean. Remove from the oven and transfer the tin(s) to a wire rack. Go round the sides with a knife and after ten minutes or so carefully remove from the cake(s) to cool fully on the wire racks.
6. To make the icing, beat the butter in a large bowl until creamy and fluffy. Add the sugar half at a time and beat well. Mix in the vanilla. Beat, beat and beat some more – the longer you go, the more air you whip in, and the lighter and fluffier (ergo better) your buttercream will be. If your icing seems a bit stiff, add a splash of milk but not too much as you don’t want it to be runny – pop in the fridge for a few minutes if you need to firm it up again.
7. When the cake is fully cooled, it’s time to ice and sandwich! If you’ve made one big cake you need to carefully slice it in half: I find the best way to do this is with my left hand on top of the cake and a large serrated knife in my right, I insert the knife into the middle of the cake and slowly turn it, carefully sawing as I go. You should then have two beautiful spongey cake layers.
8. On the bottom layer, dollop on the icing and spread to the edges in an even layer, ideally with a palette knife (don’t worry if it mixes with cake crumbs, that’s inevitable.)