Is there anything more quintessentially British than a Victoria Sandwich? It’s a much-loved sponge which was popularised by Queen Victoria back in the day and often features in afternoon tea spreads and birthday cakes (I like mine oozing with strawberry jam and generous amount of buttercream). It’s one of the first recipes in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible and as I flicked through the pages of the ‘Classic Cake’ section the other day, I thought this would be a good one to start with. There aren’t many things that beat a light, melt-in-your-mouth, fluffy sponge cake – it’s a real comfort bake which couldn’t be more needed whilst we remain in the midst of a pandemic with no clear path out of it just yet.
It’s a straight-forward bake in principal – the sponge contains just five ingredients: softened butter, caster sugar, eggs, self-raising flour and baking powder. The recipe promises to be hassle-free as there’s no need to cream the ingredients and so it supposedly, ensures success every-time. So, after this gentle reassurance from Mary Berry (who I trust implicitly as the country’s baking queen), I was hoping to kick off this challenge with a roaring success of a first bake.
What I was aspiring for was an airy, light, well-risen sponge. A sort-of dome like entity to emerge in all its glory from the oven. I would like to say that this is exactly what mine looked like but the reality is that one half of my cake resembled something close to a pancake. It was completely flat, as though someone has popped it through a press and although evenly cooked, it definitely didn’t emulate the glorious spongey consistency of the one featured in this cook-book. Richie suggested we could play a game of Frisbee with it, for which he received a rather murderous look from me. I did miraculously however, have moderately more success with the second-half of the cake which did rise very slightly.
After a bit of googling, I think one of the main issues was that my baking tin was too large, meaning that the mixture was spread too thinly and didn’t achieve the rise I was looking for. I also didn’t have two identical baking tins so had to stagger the baking of my sponges (I’m making a mental note to order two identical cake tins as soon as I’ve finished writing this post). I’ve also never used the ‘all-in-one’ method and I’m not entirely convinced it’s for me, although I’ll definitely give it a few more shots before I rule this out as it’s very possible that it’s simply my technique.
Thankfully (or perhaps not – we’ll find out in time), there are two more variations of the Victoria Sandwich in this first section of the book – a Coffee Victoria Sandwich and a Chocolate Victoria Sandwich so I’m hoping to redeem myself then. I do have a bit of a history with disastrously flat Victoria sponges but fingers crossed a few more practices will help me achieve that perfect (or at the very least, well-risen) cake. Sponge issues aside, the All-in-one Victoria Sandwich was perfectly edible – cooked all the way through with plenty of strawberry jam and cream sandwiching the two sponges together. Yes, it could have been lighter but at least it’s not a completely unmitigated disaster as I feared when I took the first sponge out of the oven in horror.
To avoid any emotional cake wobbles I’m not going to tackle the next variation of Victoria Sponge yet – instead, I’m thinking of opting for something savory. I might be brave and attempt something from the bread section – there’s a lovely looking soda-bread (which I’ve heard are a tad easier to make than sourdough, thank goodness), as well as a focaccia bread with onion and balsamic topping (which sounds utterly heavenly). After feeling like I’ve been in the ‘bottom-two’, I’m hoping to pick myself up with a gem of a second bake, that’s Paul Hollywood handshake-worthy. That or I’ll sit down and rye (sorry).