Tuesday 17 February 2015

Victoria Sponge

It's official now - I'm British! And for you BNP candidates out there, don't worry, I'm of UK ancestry so you needn't shout "go back where you come from!" because, well, I have.

It seemed only proper to mark the occasion with suitable cuisine. On the day of my citizenship ceremony (the mention of which draws curious looks from Brits and solemn nods of understanding from all my North American friends) I was served tea and biscuits by my fellow countrymen. We feasted on steak and ale pie that evening, and then I decided to bake a couple things for work: a lemon drizzle cake and a Victoria Sponge.

I'd never actually made a simple Victoria Sponge before - I'd done variations of the recipe by adding lemon zest to the batter and using a buttercream icing, but I figured it was time to do the real thing, the traditional simple sponge with nothing but jam and cream to fill it. The one thing I did do, under Nigella's urging, was add vanilla to the batter. I mean, what cake doesn't taste nicer with a bit of vanilla added?

I did the usual creaming method of my house: batter fridge cold butter with a wooden spoon until it's pretty much creamed.

Who are these people with room temperature butter anyway? Yes, I always end up with a lump or two in my creamed butter, but that's a small price to pay for not having to play the lottery game of softening butter in the microwave.

Meh, good enough.

In went the eggs once by one with a spoonful of the flour mix. The super secret is to make sure the recipe has a bit of cornflour in with the regular flour - this keeps the cake moist. You know how people mix box cake mixes with instant pudding mix? Same idea - instant pudding is basically cornflour and sugar.

The spoonful of flour is meant to stop the mixture from curdling. It works half the time with me - I think possibly because my butter is too cold still.

It didn't work this time.

It's ok, it'll still rise and be just fine. We've moved on to my favourite spatula here as the batter is getting nice and, well, batter-y. Not battery - that's a serious matter.

In went the rest of the flour mix.

Plus a splash of milk to help make it runny enough to spread easily in the pan.

Mmmm...cake batter. Now to restrain myself so that I don't eat the whole bowlful.

Instead it went into these matching, lined cake tins.

Well, most of it anyway. I am human.

When they came out, they looked like this (minus the mark where I put in the knife to see if it was done).

It helps when baking them not to accidentally tilt one on top of the other one so that a layer bakes as thin as a cookie on one side and thick as a Gideon's bible on the other.

Not that I've done that.


As soon as they were out I ran a knife around the side and turned it out to peel off the paper...

Then put it in some foil.

This foil parcel was then put straight into the freezer. This keeps all the moisture in, (dry cake = bad cake) and keeps the sponge from falling apart during the decorating later. It only takes a couple hours for the cake to thaw out, so you don't need to take it out that much more before serving. Or, if you are doing a buttercream icing, you can seal in all the moisture by icing it while the cake is still frozen, ensuring a moist cake.

So, the day of the delivery I just unwrapped it...

Then flipped it so that the flat side was on top for easy spreading of filling.

On one cake went a layer of seedless raspberry jam. I leave a gap around the side as inevitably the two layers get smooshed later when folk are slicing the cake and I don't want too much filling to spurt out the sides.

On the other side went some freshly whipped cream.

Then the two sides met. It looks a bit sad here, but that way people know it's homemade.

A sprinkling of icing sugar was put on top to complete it all, and into the office it went. I did this at around 8 am, and I confess the cake was still a bit cold (though not frozen) when my enthusiastic colleague cut into it at 10:30am. The staff room was quite cool, and my commute was icy, so it had been somewhat slowed in its thawing. By the time the rest of the staff tucked in after lunch, it had all reached room temperature and much swooning was done. They were even kind enough to give me my own Union Jack flag for my desk along with a photo of her majesty Queen Elizabeth II, God save her.

Victoria Sponge (from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess)

225g unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
200g self-raising flour
25g cornflour (note you can use 225g self-raising flour instead - Nigella believes the addition of corn-flour makes for a "lighter, more tender sponge".3-4 tablespoons milk

a few Tablespoons seedless raspberry jam
as much double cream as you fancy, softly whipped
A few Tablespoons icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180C and line two 8" round cake tins

1) Cream butter and sugar
2) Add eggs and vanilla one by one, each with a spoonful of the flour
3) stir in rest of flour
4) add as much milk as needed to get a smooth, easily spreadable batter
5) Evenly divide batter between two tins, and bake until lightly brown and a knife comes out cleanish (anywhere from 18-35 minutes, depending on your oven)
6) Run a knife around the edge of the tins to release cakes then flip out to remove paper
7) Wrap layers individually in foil and freeze until day required
8) Unwrap layers with flat side up, then spread one side with jam and the other with cream then smoosh them together. Sift icing sugar over the top and let sit out until thawed (a couple hours at room temperature).

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