Tried And Tested: Victoria Sandwich

You might think I’m extracting buckets of urine here by daring to post a recipe for such a well known British classic, but as any discerning cook knows, there is no one great single authentic recipe for any dish, regardless of what the WI might say.

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The Victoria sandwich has been an integral part of British culture since the 19th century (when baking powder was invented) and indeed every known food writer has offered up their take on this simple yet universally-popular cake. I’ve not met one person who doesn’t like it. There is really no way you can eff it up. Though I’ve never understood why people like to put fresh cream in these as it means you have to keep it in the fridge which dries out the sponge, which is the main event here.  But that’s just me.

The Vicky Sponge is notoriously sensitive to cooking time and oven temperature. So much so that it’s used by oven manufacturers to test their products’ effectiveness. Oven too hot? Cake will either burn, rise dramatically and then sink. Oven too cool? Won’t cook properly and you risk overdoing the outside and leaving the centre raw. An oven thermometer is ideal and you only need to know this:

Fan oven: 160C

Electric oven: 180C

Gas oven: Gas Mark 4

And you bake for 25 minutes max.

There’s so many different ways to get the ideal lightness – some writers replace a small amount of the flour with cornflour; others use plain flour and add extra baking powder; others only use the traditional creaming method…the list goes on and I won’t bore you with all of this now.

The best advice I’ve ever read and it’s the one I’m passing on to anyone who’ll listen; and it comes direct from the WI who are fiendishly draconian on their Victorias….weigh your eggs in their shells; make a note of the weight – this is how much fat, sugar and self-raising flour you’ll need. 7 inch sandwich tins use 3 eggs, 8 inch (like mine), use 4. Any size eggs you like.

Anyway, enough waffle. I’ve made countless Victorias over the years…and I’ve broken the rules numerous times….I’ve gone with gourmet butter, regular butter, margarine, Bertolli spread, Flora…if it says ‘suitable for baking’ on the tub then it’s gone into a Vicky sponge.

My preferred filling is raspberry jam (home made) as the WI insist (the seeds help keep the cakes sandwiched apparently), but I find it lacks something on its own, so I always sandwich it along with buttercream to round it off.  The cake in the photos I admit was sandwiched with bought jam…sorry!

Normally my standard formula is salted butter and caster sugar, but I’ve had to change things a bit, especially lately in more budget conscious times – this is the point of this post – and, don’t tell your local WI – but granulated sugar still makes a cracking light sponge! Only the pickiest, most petty judge would be able to tell the difference. Butter is superior in flavour (I don’t put vanilla in my sponge) but as I mentioned in the chocolate cake post, Waitrose’s essential sunflower spread, reasonably priced at £1 a tub, works just as well (it’s also cheaper than, and tastes better than Stork) – though any spread that’s marked as suitable for baking will do. It makes an inferior buttercream but as you only need a small amount for sandwiching, don’t bother getting extra butter just for that.

I also recommend for quickness, the all-in-one method also favoured by Mary Berry. A whisk and a bowl is fine.

Budget Victoria Sandwich

 

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Cake:

4 eggs, weighed in their shells.

Same weight of:
Spread/margarine – must have ‘suitable for baking’ on the tub.
Granulated sugar
Self-raising flour

2 LEVEL tsp baking powder

2-4 tbsp water

Filling:

Raspberry jam (shop bought or homemade)

Buttercream (You can go by eye, but I’d say 1 part marg to 3 parts icing sugar)

Jam (if using homemade):

200g frozen raspberries
250g jam sugar/granulated sugar with the juice of 1/2 a lemon added for the pectin

 

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/160C fan and grease two 8in/20cm sandwich tins with the bases lined with parchment.
  2. In a bowl combine all the ingredients and beat with a whisk (you don’t need electricity here) until combined and smooth – dropping consistency is what you want (hence the water). Don’t overdo it. If you want, you can do this in a food processor.
  3. Working quickly (the raising agents will start to act as soon as the batter is mixed) divide between the tins, spreading out evenly.
  4. Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes (check at 20 just in case) until golden. When ready, the cakes should be coming away from the sides of the tins; the centre should spring back when pushed lightly, and a tester inserted should come out clean.
  5. If you’re making your own jam (and awesome if you are), now’s the time to do it. In a heavy based saucepan, tip in the raspberries and place over a medium heat to begin thawing out. As soon as they are thawed, add the sugar (and lemon juice if using normal granulated), stir to begin dissolving and turn up the heat, bringing to the boil. Once boiling, leave at a rollicking boil for 4 minutes exactly before tipping into a shallow dish (any ovenproof ‘lasagne dish’ is perfect here) to cool and set.
  6. Place the cakes, still in their tins on a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes exactly.
  7. After this 5 minutes, slide a regular knife around the edges to loosen and remove the cakes from the tins onto the wire rack and leave to cool completely.
    TIP: If you are entering the village show, unmould the cakes carefully onto a clean tea towel before placing on the rack the ‘right’ side up to avoid those GHASTLY rack marks!
  8. Make the buttercream. When not using real butter, I just go by eye and beat a small amount of margarine with icing sugar until I get a spreadable consistency – taste for sweetness. if you have any vanilla knocking about, add a dash.
  9. When the cakes are cooled, pick the less good-looking one of the two and place it face-down on a plate or stand (doily optional) before spreading the flat side now facing up with jam. How much you spread is up to you but remember it’ll squidge out the sides if you’re too heavy handed once you sandwich.
  10. On the other cake, spread the underside with the buttercream. I wouldn’t be too heavy with this as you want it to complement the jam without it being too sickly. Place carefully on top of the jam-spread cake to sandwich.
  11. For a finishing touch, sprinkle with granulated sugar (not icing, sorry. I go with the WI again here and I think it looks better), stick the kettle on and dive in. Keep covered in cling to prevent it going stale.
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Pleasure On A Budget: Dark And Sumptuous Chocolate Cake (sadly not vegan)

First of all, let me address the glamorous goddess in the room. This is obviously not my recipe and nor will I pretend it is. I’m publishing this to make a point (and shut up haters). To borrow from Dwayne The Rock Johnson…it doesn’t matter how cheap your ingredients are!

As Jack Monroe has always stated, the ingredients to any recipe are mere building blocks. It’s what you do with them that counts. So whether you got them from Waitrose 1, Tesco Value, or your local corner shop, you can be confident that you’ll still arrive at the same result if the recipe is good.

And this enchanting, confounding, deeply pleasurable cake from Queen Nigella can be made either with top-tier organic range….or entirely of value ingredients. I’ve tried it many ways and I can assure you it is ALWAYS nothing less than sumptuously good and worthy of its title – far greater than the sum of its parts.

I was keen to see just how much I could ‘cheapen’ this cake to fit my sadly stricter budget these days and not feel like it was compromised. It hasn’t at all. Because I’ve made a few changes I wondered if it was worth posting…I feel it is, though of course I have linked the original recipe to show that I never intended to plagiarise.

The icing I wondered if it would turn out sickly because of the lower percentage of cocoa solids in the chocolate but I find that budget-brand plain chocolate is a dark horse in cooking. It’s produced in France (Tesco) and Germany (Sainsbury’s) and the continentals know a thing or two about making good chocolate. Cocoa solids are a mere 45% (compared the 70% usually recommended in cakes like this) and it does contain whey, but for the tiny price tag it snaps nicely and has a good sheen, and I’ve always found it easy to cook with and never tastes nasty, synthetic or cheap. So it may be 45p a bar but all you’ve paid for is the chocolate and who cares about the ugly wrapper? It may be sweeter than 70% solids but that’s countered by the welcome bitter edge brought by the instant coffee and the cocoa powder and the margarine contains salt anyway so really…it’s just a slightly different formula that results in an identical taste.

I find that the icing made with these particular ingredients goes very thick but that’s not a hardship – for my clumsy self it made it far easier to spread and it sets beautifully. I’m not bothered about mirror glaze finishes. I bake cakes for taste.

I do recommend sticking with Nigella’s stated dark brown soft sugar as I find it’s not a bank breaker but I’m sure if you’ve only got the granulated white stuff to hand, there’s more than enough flavour given by the cocoa and coffee in the cake itself too. And as for the vinegar needed to help the cake rise – it’s such a tiny amount that you can use regular malt, distilled even. That’s the beauty of this recipe. So I’m not trying to pass off this as my own. I’m just saying what I did and proving that Nigella’s haters have yet another of their pathetic arguments nulled and voided – this is not an expensive cake and Aldi and Lidl will stock everything you need.

As for the topping – she says use whatever your heart desires. I topped mine with freeze-dried raspberries and freeze-dried tangerine powder as I happened to have those int he cupboard from more prosperous times. Use what’s to hand and within your budget. Or leave it plain.

Dark And Sumptuous Chocolate Cake On A Budget

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Cake:

  • 225g plain flour
  • 1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 1½ tsp instant coffee granules
  • 75g cocoa powder
  • 300g soft dark brown sugar (I tend to have this in but I’m sure granulated would be fine here)
  • 375ml hot water – from a recently boiled kettle
  • 6 tbsp (90ml) vegetable oil
  • 1½ tsp vinegar (even clear distilled is fine)

Icing:

  • 60 ml/4 tbsp cold water
  • 75g margarine (I used essential Waitrose sunflower spread which also makes a fabulously light Victoria sandwich and only £1 a tub)
  • 50g dark brown sugar
  • 1½ tsp instant coffee granules
  • 1½ tbsp cocoa
  • 150g plain chocolate, broken into pieces

You will  also need a 20cm/8in round springform cake tin, lined with greaseproof and lightly greased.

  1. Start with the icing, though first preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 and pop in a baking sheet at the same time.
  2. To make the icing, put all the ingredients bar the chocolate into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir to make sure it’s all dissolved together before turning off the heat and adding the broken chocolate. Swirl the pan to make sure it’s submerged; leave for a minute before whisking until glossy and smooth. Set aside.
  3. Put the dry ingredients – flour, bicarb, salt and cocoa in a bowl and fork to mix.
  4. Dissolve the instant coffee granules in the water, before mixing in the sugar, vegetable oil and vinegar.
  5. This cake is literally wet-into-dry – once the wet’s all mixed (ensure the oil isn’t floating on the top), tip into the dry ingredients and whisk just until combined and there’s no lumps, then pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35 minutes. Though ovens do vary – do check at the 30-minute mark to see if it is already done – but you may need to bake for an additional 10 minutes as well.
  6. When it’s ready, the cake will be coming away from the edges of the tin and a cake tester will come out clean, apart from a few crumbs. This is a fudgy cake and you don’t want to overdo it – chocolate cake can take being slightly underdone and squidge is desirable here.
  7. Once the cake is cooked, transfer the tin to a wire rack and let the cake cool in its tin.
  8. When the cake is cooled, unspring from the tin and place on a stand or plate. Stir the icing in case it’s really thick and then spread with rapturous joy over the cake. I found it to have the exact consistency of buttercream frosting when made with these ingredients so just frost away.
  9. If you want to decorate it, just sprinkle with whatever your heart desires and then leave to set before slicing.