Ultimate Victoria sponge AKA why the WI is wrong

Victoria sponge with fresh strawberries

I’m the kind of person who easily gets a bee in her bonnet about seemingly small things. People walking slightly too slowly in front of me, misplaced apostrophes, sales assistants who place my change directly on top of the receipt before handing it to me instead of giving me the change and receipt separately… they all annoy me. However, I’m sure we can all agree that cake is NOT a small thing. Especially the matter of how to make a Victoria sponge ‘properly’.

I’ve always made it in what I firmly believe to be the only way you should – two airy sponges sandwiched with something creamy and something fruity (ideally buttercream and strawberry jam respectively, but anything else that’s creamy and fruity is fine). So I was aghast when I learned that the Women’s Institute, that veritable paragon of ‘proper’ baking, tells impressionable bakers who may not know any better to forgo the ‘something creamy’.

I hasten to add that they do this as standard in their recipe, but then add a note saying to use cream on a “special luxurious occasion”. My response to this is…. NO. A Victoria sponge without a lovely layer of creaminess isn’t worth having, special occasion or not. What on earth is meant to offset the airy sponge and sweet fruit if not something creamy? Where’s the FUN?

Victoria sponge with fresh strawberries

Butter. Cream.

I’m not the only one who feels this way – I was heartened to read that Felicity Cloake of the Guardian also agrees with me (and in fact she pretty much sticks her tongue out at the WI by adding double cream to her buttercream), as does Great British Bake Off series 2 winner Edd Kimber. Unfortunately, the unofficial patron saint of British bakers Mary Berry confuses things by posting a cream-free recipe on her website along with a photo of a cake bursting quite rudely with cream.

If anyone has an argument for doing it the WI way, other than the frankly rubbish argument that you consume fewer calories, I’m all ears. But I’ll still do it the right way.

Victoria sponge with fresh strawberries

JUST LOOK AT THE CREAMY JOY

Now that I have my rant out of the way, here’s a Victoria sponge I made recently. I gave it a little twist by adding sliced fresh strawberries to the filling of buttercream and not as much strawberry jam as usual, and it was bloody lovely, even if I do say so myself. It’s just the perfect summer cake and one that’s quite timely if you’re planning to bake it in the next few days, as it just so happens to be National Afternoon Tea Week. That obviously doesn’t matter if you don’t need an excuse to take afternoon tea, like the Queen, who has it daily. And why the hell not?

The recipe

Adapted from this BBC Good Food recipe.

Makes 1 cake that can be cut into 8 or 10 pieces

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 200g butter, softened
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp milk

For the buttercream filling (or use whipped double cream):

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 110g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1-2 drops vanilla extract

For the fruit:

  • handful of sliced strawberries (or any other summer berries)
  • 1 tbsp strawberry jam (or any other berry jam)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to gas 5/190C/fan 170C. Grease and line the bases of two 20cm round cake tins.
  2. Put all of the cake ingredients into a big bowl and beat until smooth. That’s it!
  3. Divide the mixture between the two tins and level the tops.
  4. Bake the cakes on the same shelf of the oven, if possible, for 20 minutes or until golden and springy to the touch. Cool the cakes on a wire rack.
  5. Make the buttercream (if using) by beating the icing sugar into the butter a bit at a time, before stirring in the vanilla extract.
  6. Spread half of the buttercream on one side of one of the cooled sponges and press the sliced strawberries into the buttercream.
  7. Spread one side of the other sponge with the jam and top with the remaining buttercream.
  8. Sandwich the two cakes together so that the filling is all in the middle. Sift icing sugar over the top to decorate.
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