Sunday, 1 April 2012

Foolproof Classic Victoria Sponge Cake

With a few easy tricks [revealed in this recipe] you can bake a wonderful sponge cake certain it will turn out light as a feather each and every time.

At the end of the recipe I give you lots of tips on what else you can make with this basic recipe.


220g of very soft butter
220g caster sugar
4 medium eggs, lightly beaten
220g self-raising flour - to make this recipe gluten-free I used Doves Self-Raising Flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
Up to half a cup of milk
1 tsp vanilla essence

Preheat your oven to 180°C, gas mark 4 (the temperature at which most cakes are baked). Line the bottom with greaseproof paper and grease the sides of two 20cm-diameter sponge tins.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and set to one side.

A sponge is made by the creaming method; that is, the fat and sugar are creamed or beaten together until light and fluffy before other ingredients are added. It's important to beat the butter and sugar well, as this incorporates lots of air which makes the cake light. Begin with very soft butter [I soften mine in the microwave on "warm" until it's almost melting] add the sugar and beat with an electric whisk for up to 5 minutes, until fluffy and pale. This is the secret to a very light sponge.

Add the vanilla to the beaten egg.

Now add the beaten eggs and flour in the following way:

Add a quarter of the egg and either fold in by hand with a large stainless steel spoon or mix on the lowest speed of your electric mixer until completely incorporated. At the very first sign of curdling or separating, add a tablespoon of the sieved flour.  Adding the remaining egg in three more batches,  along with a tablespoon of flour if and when necessary.

Add the remaining flour and fold in with a large metal spoon. The cake batter should be wet enough so that a scoop of the mixture will slowly fall off a spoon when held sideways, rather than running off easily, or sticking completely.   If this doesn't happen to your mixture, very slowly incorporate tablespoons of milk - by hand -  until it does so.  I've been known to add up to 6 tablespoons in mine.
This is the secret to a very moist sponge.

Do remember:  not all flours are the same and not all creamed ingredients are the same each time.  For instance, gluten free flour can require more milk to get the right consistency.  This is why baking isn't an exact science and getting to know what works for your ingredients and oven can take a few tries.

Divide the mixture between the two greased cake tins, smoothing the tops. Put in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. The cakes should look well-risen and golden brown, and should have pulled away slightly from the sides of their tins. To make sure the cakes are done, push a metal or wooden skewer into the middle of one. It should come out clean the cake is done. If there's sticky-looking cake mix on it, bake for 5 minutes more, then repeat the test.

After 10 minutes cooling in the tin, turn the cakes out on to a wire rack (if you turn them out when hot, they may break up). Put the smoothest-looking cake right side up (this will be the top of the finished cake) and the other upside down, so its domed top flattens slightly. Leave to cool completely.

Buttercream Icing:

50g unsalted butter - make sure it's very soft
100g icing sugar
Contents of one vanilla pod - slit and scraped with a knife
or 1 tsp of vanilla essence

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and put to one side. This ensures the icing is very light and doesn't clump together.

- Add the butter to a 2nd mixing bowl
- Add about a quarter of the sugar
- Mix on a slow speed to start off with and increase the speed gradually
- Add the balance of the butter in batches
- Add the vanilla

Beat on a high speed for at least five minutes - this will make it light and creamy

To assemble the cake:

- spread the bottom layer of cake with the butter cream mixture
- spread the underside of the top layer of cake with either raspberry or strawberry jam
- carefully sandwich the to layers together
- using a sieve, sprinkle icing sugar over the top

This my "go to" cake recipe.  It's also endlessly adaptable - both the cake and icing.

Cake variations:

Lemon cake:  add the zest of one large or two small lemons to the cake batter
Orange cake:  add the zest of one orange to the cake batter
Chocolate cake:  mix 2 heaped tablespoons of good quality cocoa powder with 4 tablespoons of warm water and add to the cake batter after the last addition of egg mixture
Coffee cake:  mix 2 teaspoons of instant coffee granules with 2 tablespoons of warm water and add to the cake batter after the last addition of egg mixture

Butter cream variations:

Even for these variations I still keep the vanilla in the icing, as I think it adds a lovely dimension to any additional flavouring.  All the flavourings are added halfway through the mixing process.

Lemon icing:  add the zest of half a lemon to the butter cream halfway through mixing / or add two heaped tablespoons of lemon curd to the butter cream mixture and mix well
Orange icing:  add the zest of half an orange to the butter cream
Chocolate icing:  add two heaped teaspoons of good quality cocoa powder, that has been mixed with three teaspoons of water to make a runny paste
Coffee icing:  add one heaped teaspoon of good quality instant coffee granules that has been mixed with two teaspoons of water to make a runny paste 

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