It might be surprising to hear, but I don’t usually freak out for sweets. I really love a well-made dessert or pastry, but I don’t usually crave them. What I do love are mini pastries and bite-sized confections with my afternoon tea (my favorite way to have sweets!). I can think of a handful of exceptions to this rule, most notably pecan pie, a custard or cheese-based sweet, a superbly made blueberry or peach pie, and walnut fudge. But cake? Not so much. I do love a well-made, flavorful, moist cake, but it’s not what I crave. The one exception to this rule is the Victoria Sandwich (also called Victoria Sponge Cake). This delectable goodie involves a classic sponge cake, Chantilly cream (really just whipped cream with vanilla), and a homemade raspberry or strawberry jam. I think that’s what makes me love it so: simplicity. A light, moist sponge cake layered with freshly made jam and vanilla cream is not fussy or complicated. It’s just good, clean, honest sweet-makin’. Also, I love the idea of cream, fruit, and cake together.
The Victoria Sponge was named after Queen Victoria, who had a well-documented love for cakes with her afternoon cuppa. Although, her version would have been a jam sponge (just jam and cake). The addition of whipped cream didn’t come along until the twentieth century. Some purists claim that there should be no vanilla in the cream. Some even insist a true Victoria sandwich has no cream at all. I say, “phooey.” I think enough bakers and enthusiasts take my stance for there to be a mild uprising against the purists, considering these additions only add to the cake’s appeal. A traditional Victoria Sponge is also dusted with caster sugar (superfine sugar), and not icing sugar. I am among the contingent that throws this out with the “no cream” assertion, as icing sugar sits much better on the tops of these beauties than a granulated sugar, albeit a superfine variety.
But my favorite thing about this recipe is the size of the cake. I’m a sucker for anything mini or bite-sized – not only because they’re so stinkin’ cute, but because I don’t usually want a huge piece of anything (unless it’s pecan pie!), and these are much more manageable.
It is possible to get Victoria Sponge wrong, and if it goes wrong, it’s terrible – mostly because there isn’t much to it, so each component has to be flawless. The cake batter can NOT be overbeaten or overbaked for one second; otherwise, you’ll have a failure on your hands. The mixing process is also important, but it’s so easy, that anyone with a love for baking could do it.
I have a great love for self-rising flour, and I use it in my baked goods on a frequent basis – because it does the leavening job with no muss or fuss, and it doesn’t impart that bitter baking powder aftertaste that can be so prevalent in some baked goods. Since the baking powder is evenly distributed throughout the flour before packaging, there is no chance of the baking powder being unevenly mixed into the confection. I’m also convinced that it has a chance to “mellow out” throughout the flour so that the flavor isn’t as strong. I’m not sure if I’m the minority on the whole baking powder flavor thing, but my palette tends to pick up on its addition like radar. Additional note: self-rising flour has baking powder already mixed in, along with a tiny bit of salt. So, if you use it, you can and should cut down on the salt in your recipe.
A couple of notes: I love using this vanilla bean paste. It gives a wonderful concentration of vanilla bean flavor; and a jar lasts a very long time.
I also use these mini cake pans with removable bottoms for ease in extracting the cakes after they are baked. I suggest investing (a small investment) in a handful of these so that you have them on hand to make the perfect mini sponge. They also work great for mini cheesecakes!
Make these for an afternoon tea, and people will want to forego the expensive tearoom for your comfy abode – mini sponges and all. Just remember to serve them with proper British tea (milk and sugar, if you please), like Builder’s – my favorite!