A very English cake: Victoria sponge

I work very hard at being Canadian. To most of you that probably sounds a little odd. Why would you need to work at something that you just are? Well, I’ve been living on this tiny island called Great Britain for almost six years now, and I can tell you from first hand experience that it’s very easy to become a product of your day to day surroundings. The patterns of speech, the vocabulary, the cultural reference points – they just creep in, and one day you find yourself puzzling over what the Canadian equivalent of “We’re sitting on the top table” would be (it’s “We’re sitting at the head table”). A few months back my dad mentioned to me that my blog posts were sounding increasingly British. I inwardly freaked. I love England, I am an Anglophile through and through, but I am always Canadian first. Time to ramp up the Canuck quotient, I told myself.

Edward would probably say that my Canuck quotient is extremely high. After all, I read The Globe and Mail every single morning, the first thing I do when I log onto the computer. I read lots of Canadian blogs and magazines. I have many Canadian friends here. And I try my very hardest to keep my ‘twang’ – I will not succumb to the mid-Atlantic accent! It seems to be working because Ed is constantly telling me that I sound like ‘the loud American’ when we’re out in public, an observation which is usually accompanied by a hilarious – and completely inaccurate – impression of my accent.

You can find more recipes at barbara-luijckx.com

I also make a lot of what I would call North American-style baked goods. By that I mean butter tarts and bars and coffee cakes and Depression-era recipes. I suppose it’s what I identify with, those treats feel like they’re ‘me’. But sometimes a girl needs to connect with her Four Weddings And A Funeral-watching, fascinator-wearing, Maldon sea salt-eating inner Anglophile. So the other day I made a proper English cake. The cake that, in the words of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, “launched a thousand afternoon teas and church fetes”.

The Victoria Sponge, also called the Victoria Sandwich because the two cakes are sandwiched together with cream and jam, was named after Queen Victoria. She was said to enjoy a slice of this cake with her afternoon tea, especially once she retreated to her residence on the Isle of Wight after the death of Prince Albert. Apparently it was here where the cake was named after her, and ever since it’s been a traditional British teatime treat.

This light, delicious cake certainly does scream Rule Britannia. I suspect that one day when I’m living in Canada again I’ll be reading The Guardian every morning and making Victoria sponges galore, trying to ramp up the Blighty quotient.

Victoria Sponge Cake
From a recipe on the Guardian website by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

This recipe can only be made by weight, so you will need a kitchen scale.

4 eggs
unsalted butter, softened
caster or granulated sugar
self raising flour, whisked with a pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract or 1/4 tsp almond extract
a bit of milk, if necessary
raspberry jam, or to taste (pressed through a sieve if you prefer it seedless)
whipping cream
icing sugar for dusting

Heat the oven to 180 C / 350 F. Grease two 20cm / 8in cake tins with butter and line the bases of each with parchment paper.

Weigh the eggs in their shells and weigh out the same amount of butter, sugar and flour. In a large bowl with a wooden spoon, beat the butter until creamy, then beat in the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla or almond extract, then gently but thoroughly fold in the flour. Now check the consistency of the batter. Scoop up a tablespoon of the mixture and hold it over the bowl. If it drops down fairly easily, it’s just right. If it sticks on the spoon, fold a tablespoon or two of milk into the batter.

Divide the batter equally between the two tins and smooth the tops. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool the cakes in their tins for 10 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, whip the cream to soft peaks (between 125 ml and 250 ml, depending on how thick a layer you want on the cake) . Don’t overwhip to stiff peaks or the cream may weep and separate.

Turn one of the cakes upside down on a plate, so the flat surface is uppermost. Spread generously with raspberry jam. Spread the whipped cream on the flat surface of the second cake and sandwich the two together. Dust the surface with icing sugar.