Welcome to the first post in my new Baking Basics series! In this series I will be sharing recipes for basic baked goods, think perfect scones for afternoon tea, a brilliant white bread loaf, and ultimate gooey chocolate brownies! So basic in name, but definitely not basic in taste and enjoyment. This series is mainly for beginner bakers who want to learn the secrets behind baking, because getting the basics right is the best place to start. More experienced bakers will really enjoy it too, as there are so many delicious recipes to try out! And what better recipe to start this series with than a Victoria Sponge Cake. It's beautifully simple, enjoyed by everyone, and is a British classic that's known around the world.
Why is a Victoria Sponge Cake called a Victoria Sponge Cake?
It was named after Queen Victoria as she used to enjoy a slice with her afternoon tea. It is also known as a Victoria Sandwich Cake, and it is famous for being the cake to test your oven with. In the Great British Bake Off, a Victoria Sponge Cake is made in all of the ovens before the contestants start baking. This type of cake became popular when baking powder was invented, giving it a lovely rise and soft sponge like texture.
The creaming method or the all in one method?
If you're not familiar with these terms, the creaming method refers to adding ingredients one at a time and mixing between additions. For example, making a sponge cake by first mixing the butter and sugar together, then adding eggs and mixing them in, then adding flour and mixing that in. The all in one method is adding all of the ingredients in the bowl together and only mixing them together once. I personally recommend the creaming method as it gives you a chance at each stage to ensure everything is well mixed together, which in turn adds air and lightness to the batter. You can also be more vigorous with your mixing when adding the eggs to ensure they are well incorporated, but then more gentle when adding the flour so as not to knock any air out of the batter. This results in a beautifully well risen sponge.
The great filling debate!
For me, the best and most delicious way to fill a Victoria Sponge Cake is with jam (either strawberry or raspberry, but I do prefer strawberry) and fresh whipped cream. It seems that many people share this opinion, as it is a very popular filling. However, there are two other options, and everyone's got their opinion on which filling is correct and what their favourite is! One of the other options is to fill it with only jam, and in fact the Women's Institue insist on a raspberry jam only filling when you enter their baking competitions! The third option is to fill with jam of your choice and buttercream, which results in a sweeter cake. Which filling will you choose?
To decorate or not to decorate?
The traditional decoration (if you can go as far as to call it that) for a Victoria Sponge Cake is a simple dusting of either icing sugar or caster sugar. You can upgrade this by using a stencil or a doily to make a pattern on top with the icing sugar if you like. Many bakers have decorated this cake in much more elaborate and creative ways too. Adding extra rosettes of whipped cream on top is very common, as is adding fresh strawberries or raspberries. Ultimately, if you're going to be eating it, then it's up to you how you decorate it!
How to make a Victoria Sponge Cake...
To make the sponge you only need four basic ingredients - butter, caster sugar, eggs and self raising flour. I've also added vanilla extract as a fifth ingredient because I absolutely love the flavour it brings to this cake. If you decide to use it, please only use vanilla extract, not essence, as the former is natural and tastes so much better.
What is self raising flour and what if I can't get hold of it?
Self raising flour is flour with a raising agent, and sometimes a little salt, already added to it. Therefore when using it, you don't need to add baking powder to your recipe. You cannot substitute self raising flour for plain flour, however you can easily make your own self raising flour using plain flour.
To make your own self raising flour, add 2 level teaspoons (a measuring teaspoon, not the kind you stir your coffee with) of baking powder to 200g plain flour or all purpose flour. Stir together well so the baking powder is evenly distributed throughout the flour. I would advise making a batch of self raising flour, then you can store it in an airtight container and measure it out as and when you need it.
Should I use butter or margarine for a Victoria Sponge Cake?
Again, this is more of an opinion and taste lead decision as it really depends what you prefer. I made the pictured cake using unsalted butter, but I have made many Victoria Sponge Cakes in the past with margarine, or baking spread, and had brilliant results. I always use Stork as I find it very easy to use because it's so soft straight from the fridge. I also find that Stork is more consistent and reliable in creating light and moist cakes every time.
If you are using butter, you need to remove it from the fridge a while before you start baking so that it can soften. You want it to be soft enough so that you can easily press it between your fingertips, but it is still malleable. This could take as little as 20 minutes on a warm day, or up to an hour on a cooler day.
In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to mix the butter (or baking spread) and caster sugar together until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Then mix in the eggs and vanilla extract, again using an electric mixer. You can do this by hand, but electric mixers will give better results and speed up the process.
Then gently whisk or fold in the self raising flour by hand. Divide the mixture between the tins, you can use scales for accuracy to get an even amount of mixture in each one. When lining the tins, I line the bottom with greaseproof baking paper, and grease the sides lightly with butter or margarine.
Once the cakes are golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean, around 25 minutes, remove them from the oven and leave them to cool for 15 minutes in the tin. Then run a knife around the edge and remove the cakes from the tin to cool fully on a cooling rack.
Level off the cakes with a knife or cake leveller, then spread the jam over the first layer. Use a piping bag and nozzle to pipe the whipped cream on top, but you could spread or dollop on with a spoon too. Then add the second sponge and dust it with icing sugar.
What are the cup measurements for a Victoria Sponge Cake?
I always strongly advise on using digital weighing scales for baking as they ensure accuracy. They're low cost and easy to get hold of too. So much can go wrong when it comes to cup measurements, for example if you scoop up flour with the cup, or spoon flour into the cup, they will weigh different amounts. The cup measurements for this recipe are 1 ¾ cups + 2 tbsp self raising flour, 1 cup + 1 tbsp butter or baking spread and 1 cup + 1 tbsp caster sugar (super fine sugar). I used the scoop method to convert the flour and sugar amounts, rather than spooning the ingredients into the cup measures.
Can I bake this Victoria Sponge Cake in a different size cake tin?
Yes, absolutely! I've used 8" cake tins for this recipe, but please check out my Conversion Guide to find out how you need to adjust the ingredient amounts for a different tin size.
What can go wrong?
Of course there are always things that can go wrong when baking a cake, here are some common issues and how to solve them:
The cake sank
Whatever you do, do not open the oven while the cake is baking! This will certainly cause the cake to sink. When the baking time has been reached you can open the door to check on it, then give it longer if needed. Other causes of this issue are over beating the batter when adding the flour, under baking the cake, leaving the batter sat out for too long before baking it and using too much raising agent.
The cake is dry
The main cause of dry cakes is that they have been over baked. Check the cake is done within 1-2 minutes either side of the recommended baking time, insert a thin skewer or cocktail stick in the centre, if it comes out clean the cake is done. Giving it an extra 5 minutes to make sure it's done, will over bake the cake and make it dry. Remember that when you take the cake out of the oven, it stays hot and carries on cooking, so you don't need to give it extra time as long as the skewer is clean.
The cake didn't rise enough
Firstly, double check you didn't mix up your plain flour and self raising flour! Self raising flour can also become less effective over time, so if it has gone out of date this will also affect the rise. Mixing the butter and sugar together for a good 3-4 minutes is also really important and will aid the rise and overall fluffyness of the sponge.
The cake has a domed top
There are a few reasons for this, the main reason is the oven temperature being too high. Ovens vary massively and often the temperature on the dial is not the true temperature inside the oven. You can get an oven thermometer to verify this. Domed tops can also occur if too much raising agent is used, or if the cake tin is smaller than the recipe recommends.
There a lot of ways you can add a twist to a Victoria Sponge Cake, here are some delicious ideas!
- Add the zest of two lemons to the batter, then use lemon curd instead of jam. You could also try another tangy fruit curd like blood orange or passion fruit.
- Fill the cake with blackcurrant jam and sweetened mascarpone cheese, just add icing sugar or maple syrup to sweeten it, it's one of my favourite combinations!
- Replace 35g of the flour with cocoa powder, and fill with cherry jam and whipped cream for a black forest style cake!
Recommended equipment & ingredients*
- 8" cake tins
- Mixing bowls
- Cooling rack
- Kitchen scales
- Electric hand mixer
- Stand mixer
- Round cake tin liners
- Cake tester
- Piping bags
- Jem 1E Piping nozzle
- Oven thermometer
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More Baking Basics recipes...
For the cake
- 235 g Butter or baking spread unsalted
- 235 g Caster sugar
- 4 Eggs large
- 235 g Self raising flour see note
- 1 tsp Vanilla extract
For the filling
- 170 g Jam strawberry or raspberry
- 300 ml Double cream
- 1 tbsp Icing sugar optional
- 1 tsp Vanilla extract optional
- 1 tbsp Icing sugar
- Pre-heat your oven to 160C Fan/180C/350F/Gas Mark 4, and grease and line two 8" cake tins. I line the base with greaseproof paper and lightly grease the sides with butter
- Make the sponge by mixing the butter/baking spread and caster sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer, or in a stand mixer, for 3-4 minutes until fluffy. You can also mix by hand, but an electric mixer will give the best results
- Add the eggs and vanilla extract, and whisk until fully incorporated, again using an electric mixer
- Gently whisk in the self raising flour using a hand whisk, or fold in with a silicone spatula, and mix in until you can't see any flour anymore
- Divide the mixture between the tins, use scales for accuracy if you like
- Bake them for 20-25 minutes or until they are golden and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Leave them to fully cool either in the tins or remove from the tin and place on cooling racks
- If the cakes have domed on top, you can level them off with a cake leveller or a knife, you will definitely need to do this for the bottom cake layer so that the top layer stacks on top of it nicely
- To decorate the cake, prepare the double cream by whipping it along with the icing sugar and vanilla extract, with an electric whisk until soft peaks form. You can do this by hand but it will take much longer and require some muscles!
- Put one of the sponges on your plate or cake stand and spread the jam onto it
- Pipe or spread the whipped cream over the jam (or you can pipe or spread the cream on first and put the jam on top of it)
- Add the other sponge on top and dust with icing sugar, or decorate how you like
- Serve immediately, if using whipped cream store any leftovers in the fridge, if using jam only or jam and buttercream store in an airtight container in a cool place and eat within 2-3 days
If you like this, check out more of my Cake recipes!
I'm linking this recipe up with Cook Blog Share hosted by Lost In Food.