I’m a cooker, not a baker. Having said that, I do love baked goods – fresh artisan breads, old traditional cakes, cookies, biscuits – yep, pretty much all of it. Just because I love eating it doesn’t mean I can actually make them though. When our good friend Jo announced that she doesn’t “do” birthdays I figured it was absolutely necessary she have a cake, and I was going to bake it. Uhm, sure.
There were hours spent looking for inspiration on the internet and scouring cookbooks. I consulted a Twitter buddy who is a bit of a baking hero and we thought I might try my hand at her latest invention – a symphony of chocolate in 4 processes.
Then I thought maybe I should actually ask her what she likes and it turns out she likes a sponge cake with strawberries and cream. Easy!
Or not. I’ve never made a sponge before and I have heard that there is a bit of a knack to it, which is probably the reason why it is still a constant contestant at fairs and fetes everywhere.
I wanted to make a Victoria Sponge but at the last minute changed my mind to make a recipe out of Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion. This one I managed to stuff up TWICE. The first didnt even make it into the oven, the egg whites just wouldnt fluff up. The second went into the oven, rose to amazing heights, and deflated to next to nothing a few minutes out of the oven. Sweet pizza base anyone?
So at the last minute I grabbed Nigella Lawson’s Victoria Sponge recipe How to Be a Domestic Goddess.
Thank you Ms Lawson for keeping it sane. No separating eggs and whisking whites till firm, nothing delicate here……apart from the final product.
Of course I adapted the recipe to fit in with my brief of straberries and cream.
225g caster sugar
225g soft butter (at room temperature)
4 eggs (at room temperature)
200g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk (at room temperature)
punnet of strawberries
2 tsp caster sugar
pure icing sugar
- Preheat the oven to 180°C or 350°F or gas mark 4.
- Wash, hull and slice strawberries.
- In a bowl combine strawberries with caster sugar. Pop into the fridge until later.
- Put ALL the ingredients in a food processor and pulse for a few seconds until everything is mixed.
- Split the batter between 2 greased 20 cm round tins, and bake for 25 minutes.
- Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes.
- Turn out onto a cooling rack and leave until completely cooled.
- Spread a thin layer of jam onto one sponge
- Cover with whipped cream and strawberries.
- Put second sponge layer on top and dust with a layer of icing sugar.
Sponge cake making observation #1 – Just because the books says anyone can do it, doesnt make it so. Give yourself extra time to try again. (and again)
Sponge cake making observation #2 – When an English woman says room temperature, that may not necessarily apply to an unairconditioned Queensland kitchen at the height of summer.
Sponge cake making observation #3 – Room temperature butter in an unairconditioned Queensland kitchen at the height of summer is not perfectly soft. It has melted. Not only has it melted but the milk solids have separated.
It tasted great. The birthday girl was happy, it reminded her of the cakes her mum used to bake when she was little. Yay me.
It was heavier than I wanted it to be. I envisioned this fluffy, airy spongy texture that a Victorian Sponge is known for but really, working with butter in 30+ degrees C and 98% humidity, I should not have gone with the soft, soft option but kept it a little more solid.
Overall I am happy with my first ever sponge cake. I am sure there will be many more down the track and I will learn my own little knack that our grandmothers are famous for.