Perfect Victoria Sponge
How to make the perfect Victoria Sponge Cake
In theory, this is the simplest cake in the world – just equal quantities of 4 basic ingredients. And YET, that simplicity is deceptive….. there are no fancy flavours to hide behind, and so you have to get the technique absolutely spot on, or it’ll be a disappointment.
So, as we’re in lockdown and I’ve had to postpone all of the cake baking classes I was planning to deliver this month, I’m sharing my tips on how to make the perfect Victoria sponge.
CHECK OUT MY TOP ELEVEN VICTORIA SPONGE CAKE BAKING TIPS …………
- GET GOOD SCALES - I always remind people that while cooking is an art, baking is a science – and nowhere is this more true than in the case of the classic Victoria sponge! I use digital ‘add and weigh’ scales – because they are so precise. I’m always surprised by how many people are still using old fashioned scales (which are incredibly inaccurate!) and then wondering why their bakes don’t work! If you don’t have any – lockdown could be the time to splash out (only around £15!) on some decent scales!
- MAKE ENOUGH CAKE BATTER – People often say “I wish I could get my cakes as high as yours” …..and I usually have to tell them that the ‘secret’ is simply that I use twice as much cake batter as most recipes suggest!! The recipe below is enough for 2 layers in a standard 18-20cm diameter cake tin. (Oh, and use a spatula to get every last bit of cake mix out of your bowl!).
- WEIGH YOUR EGGS – This recipe relies on the same weight of the 4 main ingredients. Eggs are the ‘wild card’ as they tend to vary in weight, so I always start by breaking 6 eggs into a bowl and weighing them, then matching all the other ingredients to the weight of the eggs. (You’re aiming for about 300g of egg – so you might only need 5 large eggs, or 7 small eggs). Anywhere between 280-340 grams of egg (and everything else) will give you a good sized cake.
- USE MARGARINE – I’m not a fan of margarine as a general rule. I’d always pick butter from a taste and nutrition perspective. But after many years of experimenting I’ve realised that our mums and grannies might have had the right idea after all putting marge in their cakes! The most consistent way to get a light, fluffy, non-greasy sponge is to use margarine. My favourite is Flora Original, and I only use it for the cake mix, never in icing. By all means use butter if you prefer, but it needs to be very soft and at room temperature to work well.
- DON’T OVERWORK THE GLUTEN – Gluten in flour is developed by working/mixing it. For bread you want the gluten to be really strong and stretchy to give your loaf structure. But for cakes, if you over-mix, you’ll develop the gluten so that it becomes tight and stretchy and prevents your cake rising properly. You can beat the sugar, butter and egg as much as you like with an electric mixer, but once you add the flour, always incorporate it firmly but briefly by hand with a spoon. It’s actually better to have a few streaks of flour left in your batter, than to mix the flour too much.
- DON’T WASTE TIME SIFTING FLOUR. If you invest in decent quality flour (I always buy branded flour – it honestly does make a difference to the outcome!) and it’s within date and hasn’t been open more than 3 or 4 months, there’s no need to sift it. Despite what lots of recipes claim, you can’t ‘add air’ to a sponge by sifting in your flour.
- SKIP THE BAKING POWDER – Self raising flour already contains plenty of raising agent to create a good rise in a sponge cake like this. If you add more baking powder you risk the mixture over-rising in the oven and then collapsing again – giving you a flat sponge.
- DON’T MESS ABOUT WITH YOUR OVEN! Pre-heating the oven is crucial – I turn it on when I start making the cake (I also prepare my tins before I start so that the batter isn’t left sitting around before baking). Once the cake goes into the oven do not be tempted to open the door to check on it for the first 25 minutes. (or to ‘make use’ of the oven being on to cook something else at the same time!) Opening and closing the door drops the temperature and cold air will collapse your fragile cake.
- RESIST THE URGE TO POKE YOUR CAKE WITH A SKEWER TO TEST IT! After 25 minutes open the door a crack (or ideally just look through the glass door if you can). If the cake is still slightly depressed in the middle you can guarantee it isn’t cooked through, so give it another 5 minutes until the middle ‘pops up’ showing that its cooked through to the middle. Another test is to nudge the edge of the tin (without taking it out of the oven), and if the cake wobbles at all close the door quickly and leave it for at least 5 more minutes. I test cakes by gently pressing the top with my fingers (while it’s still in in the oven) and if it springs back it’s done, but if it starts to sink I shut the door and give it another few minutes. Only use a skewer as a final test once you’re sure it’s done.
- DON’T OVERCOOK IT – people are often surprised by how ‘anaemic’ my sponge cakes look when I take them out of the oven at baking classes. But if you want a moist cake you mustn’t overcook it. Victoria sponge should be a very pale golden brown. All ovens vary but in mine this cake needs no more than 35 minutes.
- LET THEM COOL – I always let sponge cakes ‘stabilise’ in the tin they were cooked in for 10 minutes before very carefully transferring them to a wire cooling rack. You DO need to let them cool on a wire rack to avoid them steaming and getting soggy in the tin, but moving them too soon will cause them to crumble and break. Make sure cakes are fully cold before filling with any cream of buttercream or the heat from the cake will melt it into a runny mess!
CLASSIC VICTORIA SPONGE CAKE RECIPE
This recipe makes a deep 2 layer 18-20cm sponge cake
300 grams room temperature (very soft) salted butter or margarine (eg Flora original)
300 grams caster sugar
6 medium eggs (see note on weighing eggs)
300 grams self raising flour
Your choice of Jam, fresh berries, buttercream icing or fresh cream to fill and decorate.
- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius (Fan) or equivalent.
- Prepare your 2 tins: Grease them well and line the bottoms with circles of non-stick baking paper (or use cake tin liners)
- Measure the butter and sugar into a large mixing bowl and beat it with a spoon or electric mixer until it is lighter in colour and a creamy consistency.
- Break the eggs into a separate bowl (in case any shell gets in!) and then beat the eggs into the sugar and butter one at a time. Don’t panic if it looks a bit curdled!
- Set the bowl back on the scales and measure in the flour. Stir it into the other ingredients until they are well combined. Once you’ve added the flour it’s important not to overmix!
- Divide the mixture equally between your tins (it will self-level in the oven so don’t worry about smoothing and spreading it out neatly) and pop in the oven straight away.
- Bake for 25-35 minutes until the cakes are risen and just cooked through – oven times will vary depending on your oven but see my notes above on testing them.
- When the cakes are completely cool, spread or pipe jam and buttercream (or whipped cream) inside, and dust the top with icing sugar or caster sugar.