Best Victorian Sponge Cake
Updated: Aug 17, 2022
The Victorian Sponge Cake, or Victorian Sandwich as many call it, is quintessentially English and equally as delicious. Not only is it easy to make, but it's easy to decorate. Forget fiddling around with frosting a cake; you truly are making a sandwich out of cake! The recipe starts with a classic sponge cake followed by an easy-to-make strawberry jam and buttercream.
The easiest way to make this cake is through ratios. Cooking, in a general sense, is all about one ingredient's ratio to another. This recipe is no different; you can easily make this cake bigger or smaller with equal parts egg, flour, and sugar.
As far as the buttercream goes, it's a simple mixture of sugar and butter that can be adjusted for taste. The jam is where it gets fun, though. With strawberry season upon us, there is no better way to use them than in a good jam. You can adjust the jam as you choose, adding more cinnamon or spices, but the temperature is critical- it's based on the elevation from sea level. At 215 degrees, it is perfect for 1,000 feet above the ocean (roughly Minnesotas elevation). Cook it too little, and you'll have a watery mess; too much as it'll become stringy and almost glue-like.
You can even adjust the texture of the jam. Where jelly doesn't have fruit chunks, jam does. You can mash with a spoon or potato masher to obtain your desired consistency or use a stick blender as I did.
Baking is an art, but most importantly, it's a science. When making a cake, you want to have the highest rise possible. It's essential to follow a few key steps. Don't over-mix your flour, ensure your oven temperature is accurate, and most importantly, let your cake rest in the pan before removing it. Often, people want to remove it from the cake pan to stop it from cooking. At this phase, the cake is very delicate and soft; you don't want to knock out the air or compress the cake.
Letting the cake sit in the pan before removing it will help it become more sturdy and spongy- more forgiving when you need to move it. Run a knife carefully along the edge and invert the cake. This will help ensure your cake doesn't sink more than necessary during cooling.
During Queen Victoria's reign, In the 1800s, dinner was usually served around 9:00 pm. But this left many with a horrible problem- a sinking feeling in the afternoon. Anne Russell, the seventh duchess of Bedford, had a solution- afternoon tea. When she invited her friend over, Queen Victoria, it quickly got her approval and became a trend in the English household.
One of these days, the duchess served a victorian sponge cake very similar to the one served today. The cake quickly became one of the queen's favorite, which helped it gain popularity.
This cake was, however, much denser than today's version. The only rising agent was the eggs and some elbow grease whipping air into them. The very first sponge cakes were seen to have been made around the 1400s; these were closer to a biscuit than what we would consider a cake. Before this time, cakes were made with yeast!
In 1843, Alfred Bird made the first baking powder. The story is very sweet; his wife had several health problems, so to help her, he wanted to make bread without yeast- and thus came baking powder. At this point, the cake was named the Victorian Sponge Cake.
Though this cake is traditionally dusted with caster sugar (more on that below), we elected to use powdered sugar for a more delicate look.
So what is caster sugar, you ask? Caster sugar is the British term for ultra-fine baker's sugar. In the Edwardian era, special sugar casts would cast sugar upon deserts. Really a small pot with spouts at the top to pour sugar. Unfortunately, this ultra-fine baker's sugar is difficult to find in the United States. Luckily Amazon and Lunds & Byerlys sell it. I prefer the C&H brand.
I typically never use granulated sugar anymore for anything. Ultrafine bakers' sugar is more reliable, cooks faster and more even, and you run a lower risk of chewing on a granule when making whip cream. You can also make it yourself by running granulated sugar through a food processor for a few pulses.
I also want to note the use of self-rising flour. it's essentially regular flour with the addition of baking powder.