The Victoria sponge is a staple in British baking and everyone who has had a dab at it will probably have made one.
The best thing about making one is that it’s relatively easy, requires few ingredients and it tastes good.
Go to any summer fete and you’re bound to see cake tables laden with these classics but here I’ve tried a slightly different recipe from Lily Vanilli’s book Sweet Tooth (if you’ve not been to her bakery off Columbia Road I urge you to drop everything and go there now).
I’ve baked this many times but the pictured version below was for a cake sale my friends and I organised to raise money for the refugee crisis in Calais last summer. It went quickly as it looks like quite a show stopper yet is pretty easy and cheap to make.
The method is slightly different to the one I usually choose but it make the whole thing a lot denser and more stable yet delicately soft and – like the title suggests – pillowy.
The key here is the way you make it. Traditionally I would blend the butter and sugar first and then add the remaining ingredients but here she mixes the butter with the dry ingredients at an earlier stage, binding them together to create that fluffy finished texture.
As this recipe gives the cake a denser texture, it’s the perfect base to put fresh fruit, cream and (in one of Lily’s recipes) a sweet red coulis without collapsing.
After making it a few times I’ve changed the recipe slightly and this is the one I now use when I want to make this kind of cake (if you want to make the original from Lily head to her site or better yet buy her book) . If you’re after a lighter sponge, stick to the traditional method.
330g plain flour
320 caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
175g unsalted butter at room temperature
150ml milk (ideally whole but semi skimmed will do)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon mayonaise
A pinch of salt
100g unsalted butter, very soft
500g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Fresh red berries, enough to pile on top and in the middle
Around 50g or half a pot of rasperry jam
100g flaked almonds
How to make…
Preheat the oven to 190C/180 fan/Gas 4 and line two 23 cm/9inch cake tins with a removable base (not necessary but will help when you’re getting them out) with baking paper and a little butter. Make sure you line the sides and the bottom.
Sieve the dry ingredients into a bowl. Then blend (either by hand or with an electric mixer) in the butter until evenly coated and looking bit like breadcrumbs. This should take around three minutes if using an electric mixer, double if not.
Mix in the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated, then slowly add the milk and vanilla essence a little at a time, mixing in between to make sure everything is fully blended. If you’re using an electric mixer regularly scrape the sides down to make sure all the ingredients are evenly blended.
Add in the mayonnaise (if this weirds you out feel free to omit, it’s a technique I’ve used for years and while you can’t taste it in the finish product, it helps the cake last a little longer).
Beat the whole thing for three minutes on a medium speed or five minutes by hand and then plop half the mixture in one tin and the remainder in the other. Try and do this evenly (you can weigh the tins if you want to be 100% accurate but this is only for the time-rich or overly pedantic).
Bang both tins sharply on your kitchen surface a few times to get rid of the air bubbles and then put into the middle of the oven for around 30 minutes. The cakes are ready when they’ve browned slightly, spring back to your touch and a sharp knife comes out clean.
Leave them to cool completely before starting the icing – you can wait overnight for this but it’s best to eat on the day.
While the cakes are cooling making your icing. I’ve used a traditional buttercream here but you could use whipped cream instead which is a lot easier but has a shorter shelf life.
For the buttercream beat the butter and icing sugar together for around five minutes with an electric mixer. Feel free to add a very small amount of hot water to speed up the process. The longer you beat the butter and sugar the lighter your icing will be. It will slowly change into a consistency more like whipped cream which is a lot easier to use and has a nicer finish.
If you are doing this by hand and you don’t have the muscles of Popeye it doesn’t make a huge difference if you don’t beat it as long. Stir in a teaspoon of vanilla essence and then set aside.
Cover the first cake half with your raspberry jam liberally, then smother it with half of the icing and then cover with half of the fruit, take care to keep the fruit to the middle of the cake to stop it overflowing once sandwiched together.
The jam, fruit and icing will merge together slightly but don’t panic, embrace the chaos and use your spatula to swirl them slightly.
Carefully put the second cake half on top – if you want to give your cake extra height and ensure the top is flat then flip the cake over so the bottom is now the top and you have a flat surface. This isn’t essential as you’re not icing the sides of the cake but it does create a nice height – especially if your cake hasn’t risen as well as you wanted.
Cover the top of the cake with the buttercream – a spatula will be your best friend at this point – and then pile the fruit on top.
Dry fry the flaked almonds in a frying pan for around three minutes, when they start to brown they are done but watch them like hawk as they can easily burn, and sprinkle them on top of the cake.
A word of warning on the fruit – as it’s fresh it will bleed into the buttercream so the sooner you serve it the better. Don’t leave it until the next day as you’ll end up with a soggy mess (delicious to eat but not so great to present to others).