Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Victoria sponge cake

I used to really, really hate Victoria sponge cake when it was wheeled out at children's parties; not the sponge part, but the inevitably sickly filling (or so I saw it), which clagged up the plate and the mouth. Victoria sponge cakes couldn't be easier to make, but for some reason many people buy them, and they can taste horribly artificial; the real McCoy makes a huge difference with Victoria sponges, as with almost everything else. I have moved on from my childhood mistrust of all things sweet that weren't chocolate or ice cream and I now predictably enough really like a good sponge cake, in addition to the little buns and muffins that I have always liked. While I was making this cake, I had a sort of flash back to teenage me and thought about how shocked I would have been if someone had told me that years later I would be spending a Sunday afternoon making Victoria sponge cake. I suspect that teenage me wouldn't have liked the 31 year old me all that much, or at least all we would have had in common was books; we wouldn't have had much luck going out for dinner together (though a glass of wine would probably unite us). Whimsy aside, part of me still feels that Victoria sponge is a bit staid; when I first baked cakes they tended to be luscious, glossy chocolatey confections, courtesy of Nigella. I baked with the girl who had the room opposite mine in our university accommodation; we made each other and the rest of our house cakes for birthdays, special occasions and just for fun. Our favourite was the chocolate ganache birthday cake from Nigella's How To Eat, occasionally eclipsed by her chocolate hazelnut cake or her sour cream chocolate cake. There was a girl in the house who got on our nerves and who had the cheek to ask for a cake for her birthday, and because we were polite we made a cake, but because we were secretly mean, we made her a boring sponge with butter icing inside, and I used an evil looking green cake decorating pen to inscribe Happy Birthday on top. She was really, really touched; she didn't at all understand that we were trying to snub her, and she loved her cake, as did the other neighbours, even though it bore little resemblance to our more sophisticated cocoa-laden offerings. That taught us a lesson: not to look down our noses on the humble sponge.

I can't believe I've just admitted to doing things like that, but sadly I have a mean streak.

Anyway, back to Jamie's Victoria sponge, which I made on Sunday before returning to work on Monday. This was my last day of lazing around and - just as Freya used hers to make a superb Sachertorte, I used mine to make a sponge. I have made sponge before, obviously. I made little buns for our wedding cake(s) and decorated them with white icing and white sugar roses; I have made sponge for Eve's pudding, and so on. This is Jamie's recipe though, and for some reason on Sunday, contemplating the end of a lazy holiday, I needed something homely to make; this sprang to mind. The sponge part is standard: 225g butter/ flour/caster sugar, 4 large eggs, plus some lemon zest. I creamed the butter and sugar, beat in the eggs, and folded in the flour and lemon zest, before dividing into 2 sandwich tins and baking for 20 minutes or so until lightly browned and risen. I left the cakes briefly in their tins and then turned them onto a rack to cool. Meanwhile, I warmed raspberry jam in a saucepan and stirred in raspberries (Jamie suggested strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or a mixture; he said he loves strawberries, but out of season strawberries aren't that great in my opinion); I then spread it over the top of one of the two sponges. I whipped double cream with the seeds from a vanilla pod and some sugar, and smeared that over, before topping with the other sponge.

It looks pretty, as Victoria sponges do, and it tasted fresh and lovely - completely different from the cardboard sponge and sickly fake filling of the bought versions. We had a kind of afternoon tea; I made a pot of tea and brought the milk jug into the living room (I don't really do that for just us, usually) and we ate cake and drank tea and I felt very English, all of a sudden. It was surprisingly nice. There is something about sponge, with fruit and sweetened cream, plus jam, that would make anyone feel settled and contented, particularly with a huge pot of tea and a suitably engrossing novel. Teenage Kathryn would have despised this; I now enjoy this sort of thing as a privileged part of our culinary heritage and as a simple, tasty cake that really makes an afternoon special.


Writing At The Kitchen Table said...

Kathryn! We must have the swap right now starting with your Victoria Sponge! I used to dislike them too until about a year or so ago and then it was like, "why did I hate this?" I guess our food tastes just alter with (old) age!
Do you like Andre Gide and Jean Paul Sartre? I don't read in French but love the translations, particularly Miracle of the Rose...
As for the swap, perhaps we could try swapping a cake or biscuits, seeing as we're in the same country we have access to pretty much the same produce so something homemade might be fun. I did a cake swap once when I used to post on the Nigella board and it worked out really well.
Freya x

charlotte said...

I'm coming to appreciate the Kathryn genre, and I have to say this is a classic post. I love the story of how you tried to snub someone with sponge!

I've also come round to the sponge and make a lemon drizzle cake (US recipe not British) of which I am inordinately proud, and which my family gobbles up in one sitting.

If there's a cake swap, please I can play too?

Kathryn said...

Cake swap! What a wonderful idea. Litlove needs to be in there too, because she's hiding her culinary light under a literary bushel - she bakes wonderfully and her son does the best cupcake/cake decoration. Shame she has to follow the special diet now... How does posting cakes work??

I am ashamed of our sponge-snubbing, but the funniest thing is that she never noticed...

I like lemon drizzle cake Charlotte - I think it's a more sophisticated sponge, just a bit more grown up (but equally with the propensity to be a bit middle-aged). I like Jamie's zingy lemon one; homemade ones are lovely.

Back to literary subjects, I prefer Beauvoir to Sartre, possibly because I'm intrinsically a woman person - I love L'Invitee (She Came to Stay) and I find her diaries and letters to Sartre compelling. Their relationship in itself, with the young girls they sexually 'shared', or at least, that Beauvoir initiated and then passed on to Sartre like love gifts, is fascinating. Gide - the first French book I ever read was his La Symphonie pastorale. I still love that book intensely despite its moralizing, although I find the moralizing way more irritating in La Porte etroite (the narrow gate?)...

Better stop now - I can rant about personal preferences in literature forever, but at this time in the morning I lack eloquence and insight. I need muesli!

Helen said...

I wouldn't mind being snubbed with a sponge! I loved that story too. I could just picture the violent green lettering.

I made this Victoria sponge cake for Kiko's birthday cake back in November. I made a double lot because I was baking a birthday cake for his friend too. I was very impressed with the way the cakes turned out. I do tend to have my disasters in the kitchen but this recipe was Helen-proof and delicious.

I didn't sandwich it together in the way he suggested. Instead I just used (decent) strawberry jam, fresh whipped cream and thin slices of strawberry. Then I iced the cakes using the fresh fruit icing he uses for his fairy cakes in the recipe on the following page. I was a bit suspicious of how this would turn out but it amazed me - it worked! I'd definitely make this sponge again. Plain and simple is sometimes the best route to go with a cake.

Lisa said...

Hi Kathryn...funny thing is I had exactly the same feelings on sunday afternoon when I had the urge to bake a cake (and ended up making Nigella's Remembrance Cake from Feast!) Never thought I would get such a kick out of baking cakes....bit like gardening though - once the bug bites eh?
Lots of Love SIL

Ilana said...

Looks beautiful, Kathryn! I don't think anything can be classified as mean when a cake is involved. :) Was she nicer to you girls after that?

You've inspired me to make a victoria sponge too, with the tea setting and everything. :)


Kathryn said...

Helen, this would be a lovely children's birthday cake- really nice. And yes plainish cakes definitely have their place, too.

Lisa - I've never made that cake; it sounds lovely. How was it? Oh and I've never been bitten by a gardening bug. I don't think it'll ever happen...

Ilana, to be fair to that poor girl, she never knew she annoyed us. She was always skint and used to lurk in the kitchen and ask people to feed her. The food she gave you if you ever got asked back was not for human consumption, not really...

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