Top tip: most cakes are made using the 6,6,6,3 rule; I achieve an impressive looking cake by upping this to 8,8,8,4.
When you’re an avid baker, one of the most important things to have in your repertoire is the quintessentially English Victoria sponge sandwich. But because this cake is simple in appearance and taste, there’s no room for error. When you’re slathering something in chocolate buttercream, or disguising it with all manner of fancy toppings, you can get away with quite a lot; but when it comes to the traditional Victoria sponge, it’s all about quality. And the best way to achieve that? With quality ingredients of course.
I’m all for saving the pennies where you can, but this is not the place to scrimp. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean turning to your supermarket’s finest range for everything on your ingredients list, but it’s a good idea to avoid ‘value’ products when baking a simple sponge. I always opt for brands that I can trust — like Tate & Lyle for sugar and Homepride for flour. It also makes a big difference if you use vanilla extract rather than vanilla essence, real butter (such as Lurpack) instead of margarine for the buttercream, and of course, free range eggs (because we all love chickens).
As for the jam, well, Hartley’s never lets me down, but when I visited Harrods a few months ago, I discovered a product that made me squeal with excitement: Harrods Glitterati Rose Petal Luxury Jelly with EDIBLE GLITTER. As anyone who knows me can attest, I have an obsession with glitter that verges on unhealthy, and I’ll use edible glitter in my cooking wherever I can. Add to that the fact that rose is without doubt my favourite ever flavour and you’ll understand the relish with which that jar of jam was snapped up.
Once you’ve got the best possible ingredients in your larder, the next stage to achieving a quality sponge is technique. We all know that we’re supposed to whip our marge and sugar until they’re light and fluffy, but I firmly endorse whipping that mixture until your arm can’t take it anymore; then adding your eggs, and pushing your poor arm even further along the path of baking-induced destruction. When it comes to adding the flour, it’s important to sift it in so that you wheedle out any lumps, and gently fold. Hopefully, you’re so tired by the time you get to this stage that you can’t possibly beat anymore — and that’s a good thing. Beating the mixture with too much relish will knock out all of that lovely air; then you will have destroyed your arm for nothing.
So, when you’re ready…
For the sponge
- 8oz Tate & Lyle caster sugar
- 8oz Homepride self-raising flour
- 8oz Stork margarine (perfect for baking)
- 4 free range, organic eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the buttercream and decoration
- 6oz Tate & Lyle icing sugar (plus a little extra for dusting)
- 4 tbsp Good quality jam (you can buy the Harrods Glitterati Rose Petal Luxury Jelly here)
Make the magic happen
- Preheat oven to 180C and grease and line two wobbly bottomed cake tins
- Cream together your butter and sugar using an electric hand whisk until light and fluffy (see above)
- Beat four eggs and add them to the mixture one at a time, along with the vanilla extract, whisking as you go
- Sift in your flour and gently fold; if the mixture is stiff, you may need to add a few drops of water
- Once the mixture is combined, spoon equal amounts into your two cake tins and bake for around 30 minutes: never open the oven door before the 20 minute mark, as this make cause your cake to drop and you’ll lose that lovely rise
- Whilst that’s baking away, soften your butter in another large bowl, then sift in your icing sugar and beat with an electric hand whisk. Add in a few drops of vanilla extract to taste
- After around 30 minutes, you can check that the sponge is cooked through by inserting a skewer in the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, you’re ready to go
- Leave to cool before filling the sponge sandwich with the buttercream and jam, and dusting with a light sprinkling of icing sugar (and edible glitter if you’re so inclined)
Enjoy with a cup of Laura Ashley English rose tea.
Love Emma xx