When I was maybe five or six, a hand placed a yellow plate in front of me with a piece of cake on it. I don’t remember who the hand belonged to (an unimportant detail for a hungry toddler), all I remember is the warm, buttery smell; the cloud-like sponge and the cream and the jam oozing from its centre. I took my first bite. Pretty good, I thought. Second bite. Mmmmm. Third. Fourth. Fifth. I kept eating until every last crumb was gone from that yellow plate and then licked each finger in turn to make sure I had not missed anything.
A few years later, I still remembered that piece of cake and decided that I would attempt to remake it. Ignoring the sentence at the top that instructed me to ask a responsible adult’s help, I dragged a chair to the cupboard and started gathering my ingredients. Fast forward a few hours, broken whisks and dogs covered in flour, and I was pulling my creations out of the oven. Immediately I noticed something was very wrong. Where the cake in my mind was well risen and bouncy, my feeble attempt had barely made it to 2 cm in height. The word pancake springs to mind.
Although of course my parents acted amazed and impressed by my “clever” creation, by nine I was just beginning to see past their smiles, confirmed by the remnants of the cakes that I later discovered in the bin. However, one failed attempt was not going to stop me. Over the next few years I tried many different recipes, scoured ingredients lists and tried my hardest to put “love” into the cakes as many of them suggested. But this was all to no avail. As it turns out, love cannot rise a Victoria Sponge Cake.
It wasn’t until aged fourteen, when I had all but given up, that the error in my ways came to light. I had bought a cookbook containing a recipe for a Victoria Sponge Cake, but this one, instead of simply saying “beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy” explained how the only way to make a cake rise is by creaming the butter and sugar with an electric whisk for at least five minutes, incorporating the maximum amount of air possible into the cake. So, I yet again found myself whisk in hand. To my amazement, when I finally opened the oven, I found two honey coloured cakes that sprung back when touched, and, to my absolute delight, were almost bursting out of the tops of the tins. I slathered them up with cream and raspberry jam, sprinkled the top with caster sugar and sat back to admire my handiwork. Cutting myself a slice and taking a bite confirmed it: I had found it, the original cake of my memory. I enjoyed every last bit of that slice, every last crumb on my plate, and licked every finger, finally satisfied that my pursuit was over.
So here it is, the recipe I use to make the perfect Victoria Sponge, I wish you well on your attempts!
2x 8inch sandwich tins
One large mixing bowl
An electric whisk, or a wooden spoon and a friend willing to do a 30min workout.
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
225g caster sugar (golden if possible)
4 large eggs at room temperature, beaten
225g self-raising flour
To fill and top
- Preheat the oven to 180℃. Grease and line the two cake tins with butter and baking parchment.
- The crucial bit: Cream together the butter and sugar with the electric whisk for around 8 minutes (or, if using wooden spoon and friend method, instruct friend to mix the butter and sugar hard for 30mins – put them through their paces!). Wipe down the sides of the bowl with a spatula every so often to make sure everything is incorporated.
- Add around 2tbsp of the flour to the mix at this point. This is to guard against curdling (when the mixture separates). If the mix does start to curdle, just add more flour. Lower the speed of the whisk (or tell the friend they can go easy) and add the egg little by little until it is all incorporated.
- Sift in the four and fold it into the mixture using a large metal spoon. You don’t have to be gentle here, just make sure you are folding rather than mixing.
- When the flour is almost all mixed in, add enough water just to loosen the batter to a dropping consistency and fold to incorporate. Divide equally between the two tins.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, until the cakes start to come away from the edges of the tins and the centres spring back when touched. During baking, try to open the oven as little as possible as this will affect the rise of the cakes.
- Take the cakes out of the oven and allow to cool in the tins for 5 minutes, then turn them out and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
- When the cakes are cool, slather with the jam and cream and sprinkle with caster sugar. It is by far the best eaten within hours of baking, so invite everyone round to eat it all up!