If you only ever make one cake, let it be the glorious Victoria sandwich. The simple mix of equal quantities of eggs, butter, sugar and flour, sandwiched together with raspberry jam, is unquestionably the queen of British cakes. It has long reigned supreme at the tea table, the village fête and the garden party – indeed, a freshly baked Victoria sandwich will lend itself to almost any occasion. Originally, to make a perfect cake, the eggs were first weighed in their shells and the exact equivalent weights of butter, sugar and flour were measured out. With the strict grading of eggs these days, it’s not essential to do this, but I would stick to this rule if you’re not sure precisely what size your eggs are – for instance, if you keep hens yourself. If you are buying eggs in a shop, I recommend using medium ones to equal the quantities of the other ingredients in this recipe. Get to know this recipe if you can, not least because it forms the basis of all manner of other cakes. With the addition of a few well-chosen extra ingredients, the classic Victoria can swiftly be altered to almost any flavour you fancy (see variations overleaf). You can also use this recipe to make cup cakes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4.
Sift the flour and salt together into a bowl and put aside.
In a large mixing bowl, using either a wooden spoon or a hand-held electric whisk, beat the butter to a cream.
Add the caster sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is very light and creamy (this will take about 5 minutes with a hand-held electric whisk and up to 10 minutes using a wooden spoon). The lighter and fluffier the butter and sugar mix is, the easier it will be to blend in the eggs, which in turn helps to prevent the mixture curdling.
Add the eggs, about a quarter at a time, adding 1 tbsp of the weighed-out flour with each addition and beating thoroughly before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla extract with the last of the egg.
Sift in the rest of the flour, half at a time, and use a large metal spoon to carefully fold it in. The mixture should drop off the spoon easily when tapped against the side of the bowl. If it doesn’t, then add a spoonful or two of hot water.
Divide the mixture equally between the prepared sandwich tins (or spoon it all into the larger cake tin if using), spreading it out lightly and evenly with the back of a spoon. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 25 minutes or until the cake(s) are lightly golden and spring back into shape when gently pressed with a finger.
Leave the cake(s) in the tin(s) for a couple of minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool completely. (If you’ve baked a single cake, once cooled, cut it horizontally into two equal layers.)
When cold, spread one cake layer with the jam, place the second on top and dust lightly with caster sugar. The cake will keep for 5 days in an airtight tin.
Fillings and toppings
Instead of raspberry jam, fill with any other favourite jam or homemade Lemon curd, or fill and top with chocolate hazelnut spread. Instead of sprinkling with sugar, top with Glacé icing. Or, in the summer, fill with strawberries or raspberries and whipped cream and dust with icing sugar.
Place 3 or 4 deliciously scented geranium leaves, such as Mabel Grey or Attar of Roses, in the base of the lined tin. Remove when the cake is turned out to cool.
Replace 25g of the flour with cocoa powder. Fill the cake with Chocolate buttercream (see p.49) and top with Chocolate glacé icing (see p.55), or fill and top with Chocolate crème fraîche topping (see p.65).
Omit the vanilla. Dissolve 1 tbsp instant coffee in 1 tbsp hot water and add to the mixture with the final egg. Fill and top with Coffee buttercream.
Victoria cup cakes
Bake the mixture in one or two well-greased or paper-lined muffin trays; there should be enough to make 18 cup cakes. When cool, split in half and fill with jam and whipped cream.
175g self-raising flour
Pinch of sea salt
175g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and softened
175g caster or vanilla sugar, plus extra to finish
3 medium eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
3–4 tbsp soft-set raspberry jam
2 x 20cm sandwich tins or a 23cm round tin, lightly greased and base-lined with baking parchment note
For total egg weight less than 175g use 2 x 18cm sandwich tins, or a 20cm round tin