A couple of weeks ago, I went to Axminster to check out the River Cottage Local Produce Store & Canteen, Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall’s latest project. My lunch order was Squash Soup and Welsh Rarebit, which took forever to arrive.
During the 45 minute wait, I perused the River Cottage cookbooks strategically scattered about the dining tables. It turned out they had ‘misplaced’ my order, but the staff graciously discounted the bill. The food was good and pretty reasonably priced. I don’t know when I’ll find myself in Axminster again, but I’d definitely go back to the Canteen.
While I waited, I copied down a recipe for Victoria Sponge, a classic British cake from The River Cottage Family Cookbook.
This cake was named after Queen Victoria, who favoured a slice with her afternoon tea.
“I rawther fancy a cuppa and a slice of Me sponge”
A traditional Victoria Sponge consists of jam and whipped cream sandwiched between two sponge cakes; the top of the cake is not iced or decorated.
- 4 eggs
- Unsalted butter at room temperature
- Caster (granulated) sugar
- Self-rising flour
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Double (whipping) cream
- Strawberry jam
- Icing (confectioner’s) sugar
Preheat the oven to 180° Celcius/350° Fahrenheit. Butter and line two 8″ (20 cm) round cake pans with parchment paper. Weigh the eggs in their shells. Then weigh equal amounts of the next 3 ingredients. In other words, if the eggs weigh 248 grams; weigh 248 grams worth of butter, 248 grams of sugar and 248 grams of flour.
Cream the butter and sugar together.
Tip: If you live in a chilly barn and room temperature butter is too hard to cream, cut it into chunks, put it into an ovenproof bowl (Gripstand is perfect for this) and into the heating-up oven for a few minutes until it softens.
Then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Sift the flour and fold in. Stir in the vanilla extract.
Just a quick word about vanilla extract. Vanilla extract is an alcoholic solution with the true flavour and aroma of vanilla pods. Those marked ‘pure vanilla extract’ are the best quality, if more expensive. Avoid using products marked ‘vanilla flavouring’, which lacks the true flavour and aroma of vanilla.
In all of my artmaking and creative endeavors, I use the best possible materials and take the utmost care and cooking is no different.
Divide the batter between the two pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
While the sponge is cooling, whip the cream with a spoonful of icing sugar and a splash of vanilla extract until soft peaks are formed.
Victoria Sponge doesn’t keep all that well, so rather than make a whole round cake, I often cut one layer in half and make a half Victoria sponge. I wrap the other layer in cling film (Saran Wrap) and aluminium foil and it keeps for a couple of days until I decide its fate.
Spread good strawberry jam over the bottom layer, smooth over with the whipped cream and top with the other layer. I like to use Bon Maman Strawberry Conserve from France, but any good quality strawberry jam will do.
Dust liberally with icing sugar.
“I would venture to warn against too great intimacy with artists as it is very seductive and a little dangerous.” – Queen Victoria