"Rachel, you know about cakes. What about cake etiquette?"
Thus began one of the more surreal food-related conversations to which I've been a part. I asked for clarification, and it transpired that the particular issue of etiquette under consideration was the kind of cake one should serve to a peer of the realm. My friends had a Baroness visiting them for afternoon tea, and were feeling uncertain about what to offer her.
Having first noted how seldom I have to worry about such things in the regular course of events, I wasn't going to let lack of experience stand in the way of giving advice.
"You could go for the supremely traditional, and make a Victoria sponge," I suggested. "Or for something more contemporary, maybe serve a selection of cake canapes."
They went for the modern option, and made miniatures... and the Baroness chose a mini Victoria sponge.
So there you have it: Victoria Sponge, still the cake of choice for British aristocrats.
Classic Victoria Sponge Cake Recipe
For the cake:
6oz (165g) butter
6oz (165g) caster sugar
6oz (165g) self-raising flour
¼tsp baking powder
¼tsp vanilla essence
For the filling:
2oz (55g) butter
4oz (110g) icing sugar
½tsp vanilla essence
6oz (165g) fresh strawberries
Extra icing sugar for dusting
- Line two 6in (15cm) cake tins with greaseproof paper, and preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F)
- Cream butter and sugar together with the back of a spoon.
- Add the vanilla essence, then add the eggs one by one, whisking until combined.
- Beat the mixture until light and bubbly (I use a hand whisk as my electric one is too powerful).
- Gently fold in the flour and baking powder, until fully combined.
- Divide the cake mix between the two cake tins (you can weigh it out if you're not comfortable doing this by eye).
- Bake for 25 minutes, or until the surface is springy and a knife comes out clean, then remove from the tins to cool on a wire rack.
- To make the buttercream, whip the butter until soft, add the vanilla essence, then cream in the icing sugar. Beat until light and fluffy.
- Wash the strawberries, pat dry, and cut into halves.
- Once the cakes have cooled, spread buttercream across the top of one cake. (You can slice the top first to level it if it's extremely uneven, but buttercream will cover a multitude of sins.)
- Arrange the strawberries on top of the cream (see image below) and then place the second cake on top.
- Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar before serving.
For a bit of variety (or depending on what you have in the cupboard), you could use thick whipped cream instead of buttercream, and/or substitute jam for the fresh strawberries.