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.