It was my 32nd birthday at the weekend and as I’m pregnant with twins, the thought of an adult late night boozy party filled me with a) nausea and b) seething jealousy. I felt the only reasonable response was to throw myself a perfect afternoon tea. I like a proper cake for my birthday and there’s nothing more proper than a Victoria Sponge. I’ve never made one before so this seemed like an excellent choice.
There is some debate over the Victoria Sponge as to fillings, size etc, even the WI and Wikipedia fall out over what should be the filling, with Wiki going all gaga for cream and the WI staunchly claiming it should be jam and jam alone between those lovely sponges. We plumped for a mix of the traditional and the jazzy by sandwiching ours with raspberry jam and buttercream. To be sure that I wouldn’t bring the wrath of the WI down on my head, I followed this Delia recipe which was fantastic. Delia has her detractors, but for those times when you are trying out a classic I find her to be the best and most reassuring cookery writer. Adding details like the height of the sieve and what kind of spoon to use to fold the batter certainly seemed to make all the difference with our cake. I keep saying ‘we’ as without Karim, my husband, this cake would not have happened. We’ve just moved and have the bare essentials in our kitchen so no electric mixer for us and my arms are no way near strong enough to cream three lots of butter! Creaming butter is essentially where you beat together butter and sugar until the sugar is totally incorporated. It is essential the butter is at room temperature otherwise you might have to replace your electric mixer or your arm. Here is some evidence of his energetic beating:
Notice the pale colour of the butter and sugar mixture. You really do have to keep battering the stuff until it becomes light and fluffy and falls off a spoon. Adding the eggs very very tentatively also seemed to help avoid the dreaded curdling. Sieving from a great height was another excellent tip from this recipe and did seem to result in a beautifully light and soft sponge. One tip I picked up from a random TV show is that when you divide the mixture into the two tins, create a slight dent in the middle of the cake mixture. That way you avoid the doming that you get when cakes rise in the oven. This makes it easier for sandwiching.
For the buttercream, take 110g of butter and beat it until it’s soft and pliable. Then, gradually add 220g icing sugar (yes, you read that correctly). Next add a tbsp of milk and a tsp of vanilla extract. Neither of us had baked a sponge before and I’d only ever baked one cake so I was pretty happy with the result. Once the cakes were cool it was easy to handle them, I spread the jam on the underside of the top layer and we spooned the buttercream on top of the bottom layer, smoothing it towards the edge. I secretly splodged another dollop in the middle whilst Karim wasn’t looking and gently squished the layers together.
If that all sounds like a total faff, this muffin recipe will be for you as muffins are the easiest and least precise of the baking dark arts. The chocolate chip muffins that we served with the cake (we do live in Canada after all) are a bastardized version of a recipe from a marvelous baking book called Baking by Martha Day (thank you Becky Hatch!). Her recipe is for an oatmeal and raisin muffin. I’m not that fussed about raisins so I replaced them with the same amount of chocolate chips, but that didn’t look enough so I doubled it. I did worry this would ruin the balance of the recipe, but guess what? It just made it more chocolate chippy, what’s not to love? Here is the recipe, it makes 12:
85g rolled oats
120g butter, at room temperature
100g dark brown sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp salt
and 50g chocolate chips!
1. In a bowl, combine oats and buttermilk and let soak for 1 hour.
2. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin or use paper cups.
3. Preheat oven to 200°C/Gas 6. With an electric mixer (or your incredibly strong arm) cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, slowly.
4. In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Stir into the butter mixture alternating with the oat mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Do NOT overmix.
5. Fill the prepared cups two-thirds full. Bake until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool. Try not to eat them all within half an hour of cooking.
Handy tip: if you don’t have buttermilk in your local shop, add 1 tsp lemon juice or vinegar to milk. Let the mixture stand for a few minutes to curdle.
It was a great birthday tea and I have just enough ingredients to make myself another batch of muffins so I was happy and full. As usual.