Vicky Sarnie. Taste the Difference

As my favourite cookery writer Nigel Slater says:

“I can’t sleep if there’s not a cake in the house”.

This evening there wasn’t but there was a healthy quantity of eggs, butter & sugar left over from my last project, Mabel’s christening cake (post pending!).

To quote Xanthe Clay:

“Producing an evenly risen, high Victoria sponge sandwich cake, moist and tender with a buttery flavour and airy lightness, is the ultimate proof of the traditional British cook”.

Read her article if you’re passionate about sponge, it makes perfect sense.

Nige made a sponge with a twist last night using lemon & thyme. The theme of the episode was to use up what was left over from the weekly shop. This inspired me. I have always followed recipes & rarely venture out of my comfort zone to wing it & improvise. I think I should start to try.

All day I wracked my brains for a new flavour combination with the ingredients I already had in my cupboards – pears, apples, Cornflakes??? But nothing inspired. Unlike Nigel, I don’t have a weekly veg basket delivered from Abel & Cole so my cupboard was rather less inspiring!

In the end I decided I would make a basic sponge cake. Then I realised I didn’t have white caster. But that was ok as Nigel used golden caster in his show, commenting how it gave the sponge a lovely colour & a richer, more butterscotch flavour than white sugar. So I would try that.

Next I realised my old faithful, trusty sponge recipe (I still don’t know it by heart, despite making it umpteen times) in my Nigella Lawson “How to be a Domestic Goddess” book, was still in a box under the bed.

Time to revert to Google. Mary Berry has inspired me recently thanks to the Great British Bake Off so I googled her name & “victoria sponge” & up popped this recipe, claiming to be “perfect”.

Well, who am I to argue with Mary?? I thought this recipe may trump my old Nigella method. But then whilst reading it I realised it was very different to Nigella’s version. There was no milk, no vanilla essence, no sifting of the flour, no cornflour. Mary’s recipe uses the “all-in-one method” where all the ingredients are added to the mixer & mixed at the same time. Mary also uses margarine as this gives a lighter sponge when using the all-in-one method. But if you’re adding the flour & eggs in stages it is fine to use butter & gives a much better flavour than marg. I was skeptical.

There are many variations in method & ingredients for this traditional classic. Women’s Institute purists say you should weigh your eggs then weigh out an identical quantity each of butter & flour. They also say to cream the butter by hand, then add eggs, flour, eggs, flour in that order, which will make for a more tender sponge. I humbly agree. So does sifting the flour which adds air to the mix & makes it lighter. If you mix by hand you incorporate enough air so that you don’t need to use an additional rising agent. I can’t remember if Nigella uses self raising or plain flour but Mary’s recipe uses plain.

Nigel added ground almonds to his batter to give it a more moist texture.


Of course traditionally the sponge is filled with just raspberry jam but I used what I had, which was strawberry. I have done this with homemade raspberry jam before & I could definitely taste the difference. I also think it benefits from a little whipped cream (what doesn’t?).

From this basic recipe you can be adventurous & add all sorts of favours. Another favourite of mine I’ve made a few times for special occasions is Sophie Dahl’s orange & raspberry twist. The buttercream is very sweet & I prefer standard cream. I like to add a few tablespoons of icing sugar & some vanilla essence to sweeten it though.

Mary’s sponge was yummy. I liked the richness provided by the golden caster (not in Mary’s recipe). It was tender but lacked the extra depth without the vanilla essence.

Making the perfect sponge means it must be light, moist & tender. To achieve this takes a little extra effort but it is well worth it. Here are my tips to attempt to achieve this:

• Ditch the Kitchenaid, beat by hand (don’t feel lazy if you do use the Kitchenaid, I usually do!)

• Cream the eggs & butter first then add flour, eggs, flour, eggs, flour in that order.

• Weigh the eggs then use equal amounts of butter & flour.

• Sift the flour before adding it to the mix. The higher you position the sieve the better.

• Replace 25g of the flour with cornflour.

• Use butter, not margarine.

• Add a dash of vanilla essence to the batter.

• Use room temperature eggs, butter & milk to stop the batter curdling (curdling takes away from the light texture).

• Don’t put the sponge in the fridge – it toughens it up. If you’re using fresh cream rather than buttercream you’ll have to eat it the same day!

I will continue to think on different flavour combos to jazz up this traditional sponge. So far I love it best plain & simple, with the addition of fresh whipped cream, natch! Nigella’s recipe remains my tried & tested preference.

I’m going to try these super cute “can cakes” next.



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