I had a fanciful idea of calling this an Albert Sponge Cake, but apparently Albert had nothing to do with it, except for the fact that he was married to Victoria. In fact the famously unamused monarch didn’t really have anything to do with it either, other than it was something she enjoyed eating because of her sweet tooth. Of course, being the Queen, everyone copied what she did; it thus became the fashion to have a cup of tea and a slice of cake around ‘teatime’, that is, around four in the afternoon.
So who did invent the Victoria sponge cake? In fact it was Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, who was one of Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting for about 10 years. The Duchess found that in the late afternoon she would often experience a “sinking feeling” – in other words, she got hungry.
The Duchess invented tea-time initially as just a time of the day when her servants could sneak her a few edible treats, to last her until the evening meal. Around 4 p.m. they would provide her with a pot of tea and some bread snacks. In due course the Duchess expanded her tea parties, and her guests enjoyed petite cakes and sandwiches.
By 1885 such parties had become all the rage, as Queen Victoria herself was holding them. Guests were expected to wear formal dress. The Queen’s sweet tooth soon guaranteed that the small cakes became her and thus everyone’s favourites.
These small cakes became called Victoria Sponge Cakes, and are to this day. This two-layer sponge-like cake is filled with a layer of jam and whipped cream or buttercream. It is cut into small slices or sandwiches.
Robin,one of my baking chums and work colleagues, is a fantastic cake baker. When he brought his cakes in we ladies would all swoon and he would have a bevy of beauties standing around admiring them. So boys – take note: one way to a woman’s heart is also through the stomach! Robin’s top tip is to weigh the eggs first; then everything else like the butter, the caster sugar and the flour has to weigh the same. Top tip Robin!
- For the sponge:
- 4 eggs
- Unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Caster sugar
- Self-raising flour
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- A little milk, if necessary
- Either whip 2 tablespoons whipping cream together or make buttercream with:
- 75g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 150g icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- To assemble the cake:
- Raspberry jam
- Icing sugar or caster sugar, for dusting
- Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (350F/180C)
- Line the base of two 20cm sandwich cake tins with baking paper (you can also line the side too).
- Weigh the eggs in their shells – this will tell you the weight for the butter, sugar and flour. Mine weighed 250 grams.
- Whatever the weight of your eggs (in their shells) weigh out the same amount of butter, sugar and flour.
- Beat the butter until it is light and whippy, then beat in the sugar until light and fluffy. Don’t skimp on this stage as it’s the key way of getting air into your sponge.
- Beat in the eggs one at a time; if you whipped the butter and sugar enough there shouldn’t be any curdling, but if there is add some of the flour to correct it.
- Beat in the vanilla extract.
- Fold in the flour.
- If the batter is thick and won’t easily drop from the mixing spoon, fold in a tablespoon of milk. It may need a further tablespoon. Add enough milk to reach "dropping consistency".
- Spoon the batter into the prepared sandwich tins and gently smooth the tops with a knife.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the sponge comes out clean.
- Leave to cool in the tin for a couple of minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Either whip the cream until light and fluffy or make the buttercream by beating the butter until it is light and whippy. It will start to look almost like whipped cream.
- Add the icing sugar and beat until soft, light and airy looking.
- Add the vanilla and beat again.
- To assemble the cake turn one of the sponges upside down on the serving plate, so the flat surface is uppermost.
- Spread the buttercream or whipped cream over the sponge.
- Take the other layer of sponge and generously spread the flat side with jam.
- Place the jammy sponge, flat side down on top of the buttercream or whipped cream and press gently to ensure the layers have stuck.
- Dust the surface with icing sugar or caster sugar before serving.