Saturday, May 21, 2011

Victoria sponge

Geraldene Holt's CAKES, from Tom Jaine's Prospect Books, is a lovely book, its loveliness uncompromised by a lack of pictures. Many glossily produced works will fall into disuse while this handsome, authoritative, wide-ranging paperback endures as a kitchen bible.

Here is Holt's recipe for Victoria sponge.

175g butter, at room temperature
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
1/4tsp vanilla essence
175g self-raising flour

Cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is soft and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating them in well. Mix in the vanilla essence. Gradually fold in the flour, sifted. Divide the mixture between two 20cm cake tins, and smooth level.

Put the tins on to a baking sheet, and bake in a pre-heated oven at gas mark 4/180C for 30 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown and just starting to shrink from the tins. Cool in the tins for 2 minutes; turn out to cool on a wire rack. Spread the filling of your choice on to one of the cakes, and make a sandwich.

Holt advises that you use the base of the tins to draw circles on greaseproof paper. You cut out the discs, butter the bases of the tins, and put the paper on top. You grease the sides of the tins with clarified butter - the solids in unclarified butter, she says, can cause cakes to stick. Not being bothered to prepare clarified butter, I used sunflower oil, spreading it on the tins with a paper towel.

I had one springform tin, and one receptacle made of some rubbery substance, and borrowed from a neighbour. The rubbery version worked fine.

I had no vanilla essence, being able to find only inferior vanilla flavouring (one bottle was sneakily labelled "vanilla flavouring essence") in the shops. I flavoured my sponge with the zest of a whole lemon.

I do not have an electric hand beater, which is supposed to ease the creaming process. I started off by crushing the ingredients with a spoon, and then had a go at them with an electric stick blender. It immediately got clogged, of course. But I think that it did help me to produce a lighter mixture.

Is it necessary to add the eggs gradually to the creamed butter and sugar? You're trying to prevent curdelling. But the flour will do that. I simply chucked in the eggs and the flour all at once. I got a sticky batter. Nigella Lawson (whose version in HOW TO EAT has 225g of butter, sugar and flour (of each of them, that is), with four eggs) says that you want a pouring consistency, and suggests that you add a little milk. But my cakes were spongy enough, I thought.

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