One of the things I LOVE to do while walking through the town centres anywhere in Great Britain is to go into bakeries. Who wouldn’t? The assortment of freshly baked and iced goodies turns me into a willpowerless, carb-craving child each and every time. And every time, I come away with ‘one of those, please‘ and ‘yes, one of these‘ and could I have ‘two of those over there‘?
We don’t have many bakeries in the U.S. anymore, not the in-town-centre, walk-past, window-displayed, shelf-laden purveyors of calorific goodness. So, of course, I succumb to the temptation each and every time. Wouldn’t you?
One of the staples sold in these bakeries, whether they are Mom and Pop shops, tearooms, or full chain restaurants, is the Victoria Sandwich aka Victoria Sponge. This traditional sponge cake was the favorite of Queen Victoria and, as a result, was named after her (as were most things in Britain). So what defines a cake as a Sandwich? In the 19th century, a cake was a single layer, very dense (baking powder had just been invented and wasn’t widely used), with some sort of sweetener either on top or mixed into the batter. This cake was very innovative because it had TWO layers which were “sandwiched” together with a thick layer of the Queen’s favorite Scottish raspberry jam. Charles Francatelli, the Queen’s personal chef, was quite explicit in his recipe: ‘Victoria Sandwich’ with Scottish raspberry jam = 1:1:1:1 equal parts eggs – flour – butter – sugar.
Clarissa Dickson Wright, British food historian and co-star of the popular British food show, “Two Fat Ladies”, explained that the Victoria Sponge actually originated as a cake served to children for nursery tea. She noted that tea cakes in early Victorian days would have consisted of a fruit cake or a seed cake, neither of which would have been served to children for safety reasons. As a result, this light sponge cake was created for their teatime treat. It actually wasn’t until this cake started to appear on adult tea tables that it became popular, and subsequently Queen Victoria’s favorite.
Although the original recipe is still used and respected, bakers have ‘enhanced’ the recipe just a bit to add more flavor. Today, you’ll see the layers sandwiched with buttercream or sweetened whipped cream in addition to the jam. A splash of vanilla extract or almond extract is often added to the batter. In Queen Victoria’s time, fine caster sugar was sprinkled on the top layer for added sweetness. You’ll often see confectioner’s sugar sifted over the top layer now. Do I object to any of these ‘enhancements’? Certainly not! But for the sake of keeping true to the original recipe, that’s the one I am using here. Let’s give it a try ……
VICTORIA SPONGE or SANDWICH
4 large eggs at room temperature (weigh on scale)
1-1/4 cups sugar (should be same weight as the eggs)
1-1/2 cups self-rising flour (1-1/2 cups cake flour + 2 tsp baking powder (which should also be the same weight as the eggs)
2 sticks softened butter (should be same weight as the eggs)
1 jar of good quality strawberry jam
The original recipe calls for all ingredients to be the same weight. I assembled the four ingredients and weighed them for accuracy at 240 grams. (Just slightly off on the butter, but I’m fine with that.)
Lightly grease 2 8″ or 9″ cake tins. Bake time for 8″ is 30 minutes – 9″ for 25 minutes. Line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper.
Make sure the butter is soft and the eggs are at room temperature or you will not get a fluffy batter. Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, and very pale in color.
Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time. If the batter looks a bit curled, don’t worry, it will come together. In a separate bowl sift the flour and baking powder (or use self-rising flour). Slowly fold in the dry ingredients a little at a time. The batter should be a soft and light.
Divide the cake batter evenly between two cake tins. Lightly smooth the surface and then pop them onto the middle shelf of a preheated oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes (don’t peek beforehand) and then check for doneness. The layers should be well risen and golden brown on the surface. If the cakes are browning too quickly, lower the temperature just slightly but do not be tempted to open the door. If the cakes are not done, add 5 minutes.
Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool. After 5 or 10 minutes the cakes should have shrunk away from the sides of the tins. Remove the cakes from the tins and let cool completely. Once cooled, place one layer top side down onto a plate. Cover with a thick layer of strawberry jam and then place the second layer on top, creating your ‘sandwich’. Sift superfine sugar over the top. Serve with your favorite Earl Grey tea!!
My review: very rich, satisfying and delicious. A dollop of sweetened whipped cream and a few fresh berries would make this a perfect tea-time treat!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
References: The National Federation of Women’s Institute of Great Britain, Wikipedia.Org, BBC Foods.