The Victoria sponge cake is the best part of any good afternoon tea, apart from the cup of brown joy of course! Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, a close friend of Queen Victoria is said to have invented the afternoon tea, a selection of finger sandwiches and cakes served with a few cups of tea. This iconic sponge cake in named for her and is exquisite in its simplicity. Home-baked is always best, but baking is more science than cooking. You can use the right ingredients but if the technique is wrong, you will be looking at some flat sadness discs instead of a fluffy, light cake. Follow these top tips to get the perfect sponge cake every time.
Make sure you weigh everything just right
If you are cooking, often you can play it fast and loose with the ingredients and create all kinds of fun new recipes, but if you want to be good at baking, its best to measure everything carefully and use the exact ingredients in the recipe. Everything else must be by the book as well – the cooking times, temperatures and method need to be correct or you can end up with an epic cake fail.
Fats are important
You need a source of fat when baking to make your ingredients bind together, help your cake to rise, and add that delicious flavour and mouthfeel that you want from your sweet treats. You need to have your chosen fat at room temperature, so it can absorb the air that makes your cake fluffy and light. If you are using butter, make sure you leave it out for an hour or so before you start baking. Margarine is a popular baking ingredient as it is lighter and cheaper than butter and has a much softer consistency.
Take those cold ingredients up to room temperature
Make sure your chilled ingredients are at room temperature when you start baking. Around 18 – 22c is just right to ensure that you get maximum aeration in your mix, and the fats will cream better at this temperature. Baking recipes are written with the ingredients being at room temperature in mind, so if your mix goes into the oven cold, it will affect the cooking time.
Stick to the script
Traditionally, one uses caster sugar to sweeten the cake and give it a light golden colour. Some people wish to use brown sugar as they might think it is sweeter or healthier, but brown sugar may adversely affect your sponge cake. Brown sugar contains molasses which can affect the flavour of the sponge and can stop the cake from rising.
Use a light touch
Handle your batter with care. When you are mixing, pouring it into a tin, or transferring it to the oven, treat it gently, otherwise you may knock the air out of the mix! Just pour the mix into the baking tin carefully – you don’t need to tap it or smooth it down as it will even out while cooking.
The right place at the right time
When baking your cake, place the tin in the middle of the oven. This will ensure it cooks evenly on all sides as the middle will have the most consistent temperature. Fan ovens are best for baking, as the fans help to circulate the heat evenly so there are no hot or cold spots.
When you are baking cakes and other baked goods that rise, you use self-raising flour. This kind of flour comes with a little bit of baking powder and cream of tartar which act as a raising agent, making thousands of tiny air pockets in the batter. This makes for a light, fluffy, airy cake which is perfect for Victoria sponge. Don’t be tempted to swap out another flour if you have run out of the self-raising flour – it will end in disaster!
Don’t let it fall
Have you ever heard of a cake falling? This is what happens when the walls of the bubbles within the mix aren’t strong enough to contain the expanding air pockets, making them pop and causing the cake to collapse. If this sounds bad, its because it is! The walls of the bubbles are made from egg proteins and gluten from the flour but are weakened by the presence of fat and sugar. Like a kind of cake kryptonite, if you will. The avoid the dreaded fall, just make sure your ingredients are measured precisely, the oven is preheated to the right temperature, and that the cake isn’t under or overcooked. To test when your cake is done, remove from the oven and press it gently with your finger in the middle of the cake. If it springs back, this is a good sign! To ensure the cake is cooked all the way through, insert a metal skewer or knife. If it comes out with cake batter on it, put the cake back in for a little while longer. If it comes out clean, its ready!
Fill your Victoria sponge with fresh whipped cream, jam or fresh fruit, and a simple dusting of icing sugar on top. Serve your cake with tiny sandwiches, biscuits and other sweet treats, and of course a pot full of tea!
Victoria Sponge Cake
100g caster sugar
100g self-raising flour
- Preheat your oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4
- Cream (mix together) margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Beat in eggs one at a time, adding a little flour with each.
- Gently fold in remaining flour.
- Place mix into 2 x 18cm shallow cake tins or one 18cm taller cake tin.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes for 2 tins or 40-45 minutes for one tin.
- Allow to cool completely and fill with jam and cream.