High Country Baking: Victoria sponge cake can be made multiple ways
May 23, 2018
Editor's note: High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Did you watch the royal wedding? Oh my, it had me loving all things British for days and led me to bake this sponge cake, often touted as England's most iconic pastry. It gained popularity during the reign of Queen Victoria and has been a national favorite ever since. A countless number of recipes for it have evolved over the years. They all result in two layers of airy sponge cake filled with jam and either whipped cream or buttercream but they differ in the method used to make the batter. The traditional recipes call for adding the cake ingredients, one at a time, and creaming thoroughly after each addition. In the newer and speedier recipes, including one from Mary Berry (who reigns over the Great British Baking Show), all the ingredients are creamed at once. Both ways create a sweet, buttery cake, but the traditional method is thought to yield a slightly tighter crumb and more tender texture. I've included directions for making it both ways and for either a whipped cream or a buttercream filling.
Use a light hand when spooning and levelling the flour into a measuring cup; too much flour will kill the cake's texture. Don't overbeat or overbake. And, seek out a quality thick, high-quality jam.
Victoria Sponge Cake
Make in two 8" cake pans
Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000 feet and above
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4 large eggs, room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker's
1 ¾ cup plus 3 tablespoon bleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
¾ teaspoon baking powder
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced and room temperature
6 tablespoons whole milk
½ cup strawberry or raspberry jam
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup confectioners' sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center. Line the pan bottoms with a circle of parchment or waxed paper. Grease the pans and the paper with a baking spray with flour.
2. Make the cake. The speedy way: Place the eggs in a mixing bowl, and, using a stand mixer, beat lightly. Add all the rest of the ingredients, and with your mixer's low speed, stir until the flour is absorbed. Increase the speed to medium and beat until well combined. Stop once a smooth batter forms; don't overbeat. This can also be done in a food processor.
The traditional way: Beat the butter with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, add the sugar and beat another one to two minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating until the batter is smooth after each addition, and adding the vanilla with the last one. Sprinkle half the flour and the baking powder over the mixture and stir, on low speed or by hand, until absorbed. Add the rest of the flour and repeat. Add 6 tablespoons of milk and beat only until it's absorbed. Don't overbeat.
For both: Test the batter's thickness; it should easily slide off a spoon but not be runny. If necessary, add more milk, one tablespoon at a time, until it does.
3. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly, and level and smooth the tops. Tap the pans on a counter to eliminate air bubbles. Place the pans in the oven and don't open the oven door for the first 18 minutes of baking. Bake until the tops are a light golden color, the sides start to pull away from the pans and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 25 minutes, though start checking earlier. Remove the pans to a cooling rack, run a knife around the sides of the cake and let the cakes cool completely. At this point, they can be wrapped airtight and frozen for a month.
4. Make the filling: Stir the jam so it's fluid and easy to spread. If necessary, warm it slightly. If using whipped cream: Chill a mixing bowl, a whisk or beaters (if using an electric mixer) for 30 minutes and make sure the cream is very cold. Pour the cold cream in the chilled bowl, add sugar and vanilla and whip to medium-stiff peaks. If using buttercream: Cut up the soft butter, place it in a bowl, beat with your electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar, beating until smooth, and then, add the vanilla.
5. Remove the cakes from their pans. If they're domed, trim the tops so they're flat. Place one, top side down, on a cardboard cake circle or a plate. If using whipped cream as your filler, first spread the jam on this layer, let it set up for about 10 minutes, then cover it with whipped cream. Place the second cake, top side down over it, pressing gently to level. If using buttercream as your filler, spread the buttercream on this layer and spread the jam on the top of the second layer. Sandwich the two layers, so the jam covers the buttercream, pressing lightly so the top is level. Refrigerate the filled cake, covered, for at least two hours. Just before serving, dust with confectioners' sugar and, if using, top with a few berries. The cake cuts most easily when cool but serve at room temperature.
Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbooks Baking Above It All and Cookies in the Clouds, (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco), is a high-altitude baking teacher. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.