Sunday, September 11, 2005
Victoria Sponge Cake
To start my baking journey I decided to kick-off with a classic cake. The Victoria sponge cake is eaten throughout the UK, and owes its name to a past monarch. After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria spent time at her house on the Isle of Wight, withdrawing herself from society. In order to inspire the monarch to get back into the swing of civic duties, Queen Victoria was encouraged to host tea parties, at which the soon-to-be-known-as Victoria sponge cake was served. Victoria sponges became fashionable throughout Victorian England, and also became the measure of the home-baker.
To be able to produce a well-risen home-made sponge cake is still a domestic skill keenly prized. Think of the competitive bakers of the Women's Institute, as portrayed in the UK film "Calendar Girls', where the prize-winning sponge is shockingly revealed to have come from Marks and Spencer rather than being home-made. I admit that I had never made a Victoria sponge cake, which seemed a good enough reason to try my hand at one, and test my baking abilities.
I looked at various recipes, and decided to try Nigella Lawson's recipe from the 'Domestic Goddess' book. Her recipe includes corn flour alongside the self-raising, which she claims makes for a lighter cake. Having only ever used corn flour in sauces and soups, I was intrigued. The only variation I made to her recipe was to use two table spoons of rose water, in place of two of the four table spoons of milk. I planned to fill the cake with raspberry jam, and thought the hint of rose flavouring would be a nice complement.
Nigella's method is to stick all the ingredients into the food processor. Works for me! Creaming butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy is too much hard work by hand.
So, what of the cake. Would I get the first prize at the W.I.?
Well, I was a bit disappointed by the level of rise, but at least the sponges didn't sink once they came out of the oven. However, filled with jam and fresh raspberries (another Nigella suggestion), they stacked up nicely to produce a good proportioned cake.
I decided against putting cream as well as jam in the cake. Much as I like cream, I find it a bit much in an already (butter) rich cake. The fresh fruit gives a refreshing 'bite'.
The cake was beautifully light (down to the corn flour?), which made it easy to eat an enormous slice. I hope that Queen Victoria was as pleased with her cake!