Saturday, June 25, 2011

A non-Victorian sponge

Most Victoria sponge recipes (this one, for example) instruct you to cream butter and sugar, mix in the eggs, and fold in the flour. An alternative way of making sponge cake is to blend the butter, sugar, and flour first, before almagamating the eggs. You give the flour more of a going over, developing more gluten, which helps to give the cake a coherent texture as it rises. In theory, a Victoria sponge will be lighter, because the flour is merely folded in to the other ingredients. But this version was not stodgy at all. I'm afraid that my effort collapsed slightly in the middle, in spite of the bizarre attempt I made to stabilise it (see below), probably because I took it out of the oven too soon.

These proportions are slightly different from those in the Victoria sponge recipe. But I did not use all the egg. If I had been making a sponge sandwich, I would have doubled the ingredients, dividing the batter between two tins.

100g self-raising flour (or plain flour, plus 1tsp baking powder)
100g caster sugar
100g softened butter
1tsp vanilla essence (optional)
2 eggs, beaten

Pre-heat your oven to gas mark 4/180C. Put in a baking sheet.

Place a 20cm springform cake tin on a piece of greaseproof paper, draw round it, and cut along the pencil mark. Smear a very small piece of butter on the base of the tin, stick the round piece of paper on top, and smear a little oil on the surface of the paper and round the sides of the tin.

In a food processor, blend the flour, sugar, and butter, in short pulses, until you have a stodgy mass. Tip the mixture into a bowl, and stir in the vanilla (if using) and a portion of the egg. Keep adding egg until you have a gloopy batter; it should drop off a spoon, but reluctantly. If you've used up all the egg before you get to this stage, add a little milk too.

Tip the batter into the cake tin, spread it out and level the surface, and put the tin on top of the baking sheet in the oven. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until an inserted skewer emerges clean.

Now the bizarre trick, recommended by Peter Barham in The Science of Cooking: drop the cake tin from a height of about 30cms on to a hard surface (I hope the spring is secure). The theory is this: as a cake cools, the air bubbles in it deflate, like collapsing balloons. Dropping the cake allows some of the bubbles to break, letting in air, which sustains the structure. It didn't work for me - but I'm pretty sure my mistake was complacently to neglect the skewer check.

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