In the first of a series of How To, Only Crumbs Remain takes you through step by step to making the perfect Victoria sandwich as well as giving you hints and tips to get great results every time.
A good victoria sandwich is a thing of beauty. Master the basics of making this cake and not only can you make this classic cake but you have the basis for so many more cakes.
A quick History of the Victoria Sandwich
The Victoria sandwich, or sponge as it is sometimes known, was named after Queen Victoria. It is fair to say she loved cake and so it is fitting that one, if not the best, of British teatime cakes, is named after her.
The sponge evolved from the classic pound cake made with equal quantities of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. The Victorian invention of baking powder enabled the sponge to rise higher resulting in this iconic British cake.
The Victoria sandwich is made using the creamed method which sets it apart from the whisked fat-free sponges and Genoese cakes invented in the 18th century. The cake should have a rich buttery flavour, some people add vanilla. Others say it should be dusted with caster sugar not icing sugar and filled only with jam, which is how Queen Victoria's would have been known it. The addition of whipped cream was a 20th-century addition.
The creaming method of making cakes
Creaming is the baking term used to describe beating the fat and sugar together until the mixture is light and creamy. Traditionally done with a wooden spoon, these days it is more often than not done with an electric hand-held or stand whisk.
Have you ever seen a wooden spoon with a single hole in the centre? They were designed to make the creaming of cake mixtures more efficient.
The action of beating together the fat and sugar creates tiny air bubbles enclosed in the fat which are invisible to the naked eye. Those tiny bubbles make the mixture appear pale and fluffy. When the eggs are beaten into the creamed fat and sugar mixture even more air is enclosed within the mixture.
This creaming is the main method of adding air to the cake mixture, so don’t skimp on this part of the method. Although it is possible to overbeat it’s not easy, and I would suggest you beat it until it looks finished and then a bit more.
If the eggs are added too fast, the mixture may begin to curdle. Beat the eggs together firs.t then add them gradually, beating well after each addition. If the mixture does begin to split, add a tablespoon of the measured flour with the final addition of eggs. If this doesn’t solve the problem, add the flour quickly (but gently you don’t want to knock out all that hard earned air) and get it in the oven as soon as possible as a curdled mixture will continue to separate if left to stand. Using eggs at room temperature will help avoid the mixture curdling.
For more details of how a curdled or split batter affects the cake see my Side by Side Baking – Split Batter post.
As I mentioned above, it was the use of baking powder that made the Victoria Sandwich different from earlier cakes. Here in the UK we often use Self-raising flour when making cakes, which is basically plain flour with the addition of baking powder already in the flour. If you do not have self-raising flour you can use plain flour (all purpose flour) and add 1 –1 ½ tsp of baking powder. Do not be tempted to add any more or you will end up with a nasty chemically taste to your cake.
NB: Baking powder is not the same as baking soda. Baking powder is a mixture of cream of tartar and bicarbonate of soda. Baking Soda is just bicarbonate of soda.
Should you use butter or margarine when making a Victoria sandwich?
I have always been an advocate of butter over margarine even when butter was out of fashion on health grounds. Apart from the fact that I think it gives a better flavour, I prefer the idea of using a natural product over an alternative made in a factory. So that is always my first choice.
That said I have made and eaten some extremely delicious Victoria sandwich cakes made using baking margarine. In fact, I was starting to come to the conclusion they had a better lighter texture than those made with butter, even though I felt the flavour was best with butter.
However, I realised that over time I had become a bit complacent (ok lazy) with the creaming of the butter and sugar not beating it long enough to get the best texture. Although I was still beating it enough that they were perfectly acceptable, they were just not as good and light as they could be.
While making a cake from a Nigel Slater book, I compared his suggestion to beat the mixture in a food mixer for a good 8-10 minutes with my own which had gone down to barely 1 minute and I realised this might be where I was going wrong.
Since then I am beating for much longer and getting a much better rise and texture on my cakes. This is not specific to Victoria sandwiches but applies to all cakes made with the creaming method. So if like me, you prefer to use butter I would recommend beating for at least 5 minutes and maybe a little more. The results are more than worth the extra effort.
With Margarine you will not be required to beat for so long to get the same result. Although I haven’t tested it, I am pretty sure if you beat that for 8-10 minutes or even 5 you would be likely to overbeat it.
I’ll leave the choice of butter or margarine to you, but if you choose margarine I would suggest adding a little vanilla for extra flavour even if it’s not strictly traditional.
Getting the correct proportions when making a Victoria sandwich
A Victoria sandwich uses fat, flour, eggs and sugar in equal weights. Many recipes give measured quantities of the weighed ingredients plus a number of eggs calculated on an average egg size so that the proportions are roughly correct. In the recipe below I have done exactly that, and it has served me well for many years.
However, for a fail-safe way to get the proportions correct, weigh the eggs first. I weigh mine in their shells as its easier although some people suggest weighing the shelled eggs. The shells weigh so little the difference is neither here nor there. Next, measure out the exact same quantity each of flour, fat and sugar.
A three egg mixture makes an 18cm (7in) cake which is a nice sized family cake that's not too large. If you do not have medium eggs and use small or large instead I recommend you weigh them as described above. You can also increase the number of eggs and the other ingredients proportionately but I do not recommend making a cake that is larger than 20cm (8in) as they tend to dry out around the edges before the centre is cooked.
Step by Step to Making the Perfect Victoria Sandwich
Grease the sandwich tins well with butter or margarine.
If you want you can then lightly dust the tins with a little flour and or line the base as an extra precaution to stop the cakes sticking.
Beat the fat and sugar together until light and fluffy, Scrape the bowl down a couple of times to ensure it is all fully creamed.
Note how the colour of the mixture changes to become pale and fluffy. I prefer to use golden (unrefined) caster sugar in my baking if you use regular caster sugar it will become even paler.
Add the eggs a little at a time to the mixture beating well after each addition. The slower you add the egg the less likely the mixture will curdle.
Add 1 tbsp of the measured flour with the final addition of egg or a little sooner if it is already starting to split.
Next, sift the flour into the bowl.
Gently fold in the flour with a metal spoon or spatula, using a cutting and lift figure of eight movement. This will combine the flour into the mixture with out knocking out the air. Do not beat or you will undo all of your hard work.
Divide the mixture equally between two tins and spread level.
Ideally, you want the bottom sponge to be flat once baked and the top slightly domed, so I then make a small dip in the centre of one of the tins which helps it to bake level for the bottom tear. Don't worry if this doesn't work you can always slice a thin slither off the bottom sponge if it is too domed.
Bake in the centre of the oven until golden and springy to the touch. Don't be tempted to open the door too early or the sponges may sink. To test for doneness simple press gently in the centre of the oven with your fingertip. If it springs back the cake is cooked. If it leaves a dent it needs a little longer.
When cooked allow to stand in the tins for a few minutes before turning out to cool on a wire rack. Make sure you turn at least one of the sponges the right way up so that you don't spoil the tops with indentations from the wire rack.
Sandwich the cakes together with jam and cream or buttercream if desired.
Transfer to a serving plate and sprinkle with a little caster or icing sugar.
What Went Wrong
Of course, if you follow all these steps you should end up with the perfect Victoria sandwich but things can go wrong for even the best of us. And when they do, understanding why they went wrong is the first step to preventing it from happening again.
Cracked or Peaked Top
- Most common cause is the oven being too hot so that the crust cooks too quickly. As the centre cooks it rises and forces the crust to peak and crack.
- Too much raising agent.
- Too much mixture in the tin.
- Cake cooked too near the top of the oven (less common now with modern cookers).
- Mixture too wet or too dry.
- Cake cooked too long or too near the top of the oven.
- Oven too hot.
- Tin too large for the quantity of mixture.
Too Pale when cooked
- Oven not hot enough.
- Too much sugar or insufficient creaming.
- Granulated sugar used in place of caster sugar.
Sunken in Middle
- Oven door opened too early.
- Mixture too wet.
- Over creaming of the fat and sugar.
- Too much raising agent.
Cake sticking to the tin
- Poor quality tin or badly scratched tin.
- Tin insufficiently greased, but over greasing will cause a crusty ring to form around the edge of the cake.
- Too much sugar which caramelises and sticks to the tin.
The Perfect Victoria Sandwich
fat and sugar together and beating in eggs.
- 175 g butter or baking margarine (6oz) softened, plus extra to grease
- 175 g caster sugar (6oz)
- 3 medium eggs beaten
- 175 g self-raising flour plus extra to dust (6oz)
- 6 tbsp jam
- 150 ml double cream (¼pt heavy cream)
- caster or icing sugar to dust
- Preheat the oven to 190℃ (170℃ fan)/375°F/gas mark 5. Lightly grease and flour the sandwich tins.
- Beat together the butter or margarine and sugar until the mixture is very pale and creamy.
- Gradually add the egg beating well after each addition. If the mixture begins to curdle beat in a little flour with the egg.
- Sift in the flour and carefully fold in.
- Divide the mixture equally between the prepared tins and spread level.
- Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until pale golden and springy to the touch.
- Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely cool on a wire rack.
- Sandwich together with jam and cream. Dust the top with caster or icing sugar.
- Electric hand or stand mixer
- 2 x 18cm (7in)sandwich tins
To StoreStore in an airtight container in a cool place for up to a week.
Freeze for up to 2 months.
To completeTo fill with buttercream beat 50g (2oz) butter with 100g (4oz) icing sugar until light and fluffy then beat in ½ tsp vanilla extract and 2 tbsp milk.
- Chocolate Sandwich – Substitute 25g (1oz) of the flour with same amount of cocoa powder. Fill with cream or chocolate buttercream. Top with melted chocolate or a chocolate glace icing.
- Lemon Sandwich – Add the finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 2tbsp of lemon juice to the batter before folding in the flour. Fill with lemon curd.
- Orange Sandwich – Add the finely grated zest of 1 small orange and 2 tbsp of orange juice before folding in the flour. Sandwich with a marmalade and whipped cream
- Coffee Sandwich – Add a shot of cold espresso coffee or dissolve 1 tbsp coffee powder in 2 tbsp hot water and allow to cool. Add before folding in the flour. Fill with coffee flavoured buttercream.
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