Monday, May 20, 2013

Victoria Sponge with Strawberries & Whipped Cream

Named after Queen Victoria herself, there are few cakes that can beat this British classic. The Victoria Sponge was reputably her favourite cake, however it was Anna Duchess of Bedford, one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, who has been credited for introducing the English to 'Afternoon Tea' and the custom of serving sponge cakes as part of the tea. At the time, the noble classes ate large breakfasts, small lunches and late suppers. Every afternoon, the Duchess reportedly experienced a 'sinking feeling,' and so requested tea and petite-sized cakes to be served. Many followed the Duchess’ lead, and the splendid ritual of afternoon tea was born.

A traditional High Tea with small sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, jam and petit fours

Adopting the European tea service format, the Duchess invited friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal at five o'clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle. The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and of course, tea. This summer practice proved so popular, the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for tea and walking the fields. 

Anna Duchess of Bedford whose credited for investing 'High Tea'

Queen Victoria adopted the new craze for tea parties, and by 1855, the Queen and her ladies were in formal dress for the afternoon teas. This simple cake was one of the queen's favorites. After her husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861, the Queen Victoria spend time in retreat at the Queen's residence in the Isle of Wight. According to historians, it was here that the cakes were named in her honour.

Queen Victoria, after whom the Victoria Sponge Cake was named

Queen Elizabeth II is also partial to a slice of the cake and the Victoria Sponge was the favourite dessert to be served at celebrations for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee last year. Traditionally, a Victoria Sponge has a filling of strawberry jam and cream topped with a dusting of icing sugar, however on this Victoria Day long weekend which heralds the beginning of summer, it seems that a regal crown of whipped cream and fresh strawberries takes the classic Victoria Sponge Cake to new heights.

Victoria Sponge Cake
Serves 8
Photo © RFB Photography

6 oz butter, soft
6 oz white sugar
3 large eggs
6 oz self-raising flour
1 lemon, zested
1 cup whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste, or vanilla extract
1 tbsp icing sugar and extra for sifting
3/4 lb strawberries
4 tbsp good quality strawberry or raspberry jam

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. Butter and line two 8 or 9-inch cake tins with parchment paper. Using a standing mixer, beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest until it becomes pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well. Then fold in the flour, one spoonful at a time, and blend until well combined.

Divide the mixture evenly between the 2 cake tins and level off with a knife. Bake for 20 minutes until the sponge cakes are well risen, golden brown and firm to the touch. Run a rounded butter knife around the inside edge of the cake tin and carefully turn the cake out onto a cooling rack. Meanwhile, hull the strawberries and slice them in half. Whip the cream, icing sugar and vanilla until it becomes quite stiff. 

When the cakes are cool, spread the jam on one of the sponge cakes and spread half of the whipped cream on top. Place half of the strawberries on top of the cream. Place the other sponge cake on top and spread with the remaining whipped cream. Arrange the remaining strawberries in a spiral round the top of the cake. Serve with a lovely cup of tea.