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Sponge job

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I am recycling today.
The picture is from many moons ago when I wrote about the Victoria Sponge for the cookery column in the newspaper I work for (the theme was retro food), but I think this is such a great-tasting cake for something so uncomplicated and with an almost fool-proof recipe that it deserves to be repeated.
Sponge cakes were one of the first baked goods to be made in the 17th century without yeast as the raising agent. Helen Simpson writes in The Ritz London Book of Afternoon Tea that the eggs had to be beaten for three hours with a fork or a bunch of birch twigs to whip in enough air to leaven the cake, a task obviously assigned to some poor kitchen wench. Their counterparts two hundred years later must have heaved a sigh of relief when Alfred Bird invented baking powder in 1843.
Created in honour of Queen Victoria who was apparently fond of cakes, and with the craze for tea parties in 18th century England, the Victoria Sponge – not really a traditional sponge since it contains butter – was a hit for its rich taste and tender crumb.
Today, while the cake may be considered the plainer sister of a more elaborate torte, it is no less delicious. Certainly, it is much easier to make.
I made the layers in two 18cm round tins. However, as the picture shows, the two layers are not the same height. The layer on the top was made in a shallow tin and the cake rose higher than the one made in the tin with the higher sides. I thought it would be the other way round.

Classic Victoria Sponge
Serves 6

100g butter, softened
100g castor sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
100g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp milk

75g butter, softened
100g icing sugar, sifted
4 heaped tbsp good-quality strawberry jam
Icing sugar, to decorate

Lightly grease and line two 18cm sandwich tins. Preheat oven at 180°C. Beat all the cake ingredients together in a large bowl until you have a smooth, soft batter (an electric mixer does the job in 5 minutes, but a wooden spoon and some muscle are fine too). Divide mixture between tins; smooth the tops. Bake 20 minutes until golden and cakes spring back when pressed. Cool in the tins a few minutes, then turn onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
To make the filling, beat butter until smooth and creamy; gradually beat in icing sugar. Spread the buttercream over the bottom of one of the sponges, top it with jam and sandwich the second sponge on top.
Dust with icing sugar before serving. Best eaten the same day.

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