I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to receive a reply from Julie Walters, and I was even more thrilled that she chose the queen of cakes, a Victoria sponge.
Julie Walters – a bona fide National Treasure – needs no introduction from me. If you need any reminder of her work she is (depending on your age, geographic location etc):
Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques (I can still never say the word “macaroons” without turning it into a Mrs O impression);
Pauline Mole aka Adrian Mole’s mum;
Rita in Educating Rita (one of my all time favourite films);
Ron Weasley’s mum in the Harry Potter films;
Annie, one of the naughty WI ladies in Calendar Girls (I can’t advocate using cakes that way!);
Billy Elliot’s dance teacher in…er…Billy Elliot;
Rosie in Mamma Mia.
A classic victoria sponge has two key elements. Firstly, the weight of the ingredients is determined by the weight of the eggs in their shells. Secondly, it must be sandwiched only with jam – no cream or buttercream. It was with the second point that I hit a snag; when I told Mr CC I was making a classic victoria sponge thus could only use jam he said quietly, in a wounded puppy kind of way, “but I like buttercream”. To cut a long story short (if it isn’t already too late) – my classic victoria sponge now has added buttercream. I know this means it can’t be deemed a classic victoria sponge…so feel free to omit it if you’re more of a purist than me.
It did feel weird weighing the eggs in their shells and then using this measurement for all the other ingredients, but if it’s good enough for Mrs Beeton it’s good enough for me!
The sponge was different to the more modern sponge recipes with prescribed quantities; it was richer, more buttery, yellower and had a moist rather than crumbly texture.
Here’s my top tip for transporting a sandwich cake; I have found that – in transit – the top layer can slide off the buttercream filling making a bit of a mess. By wrapping the cake in a collar of baking paper it holds everything in place. I think I might start wearing a collar of baking paper...
My nephew, The Boy Wonder, has a lovely dog called Monty. He’s in late puppyhood and is about to celebrate his first birthday. We offered him some sponge (the first cake he’s ever had) to see what he thought; here he is inspecting it...
...before deciding that it really was pretty tasty stuff:
Finally, if you want to see a masterclass in comic timing from Julie Walters then please watch this classic sketch from “Victoria Wood as Seen on TV”. It has entered our family language as a description of when it’s difficult to walk i.e. “my back was so sore and stiff I was walking like Two Soups.” Click here to see the "Two Soups sketch".
For the sponge:
Unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
A little milk, if necessary
For the buttercream, if using:
75g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To assemble the cake:
Icing sugar or caster sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 180˚C/fan oven 160˚C/350˚F/gas mark 4.
Line two 20cm sandwich cake tins with baking paper; just to be sure, I line the base and sides of the tin.
Weigh the eggs in their shells – this will tell you the weight for the butter, sugar and flour. Mine weighed 267 grams.
Whatever the weight of your eggs (in their shells) weigh out the same amount of butter, sugar and flour.
Beat the butter until it is light and whippy, then beat in the sugar until light and fluffy. Don’t skimp on this stage as it’s the key way of getting air into your sponge.
Beat in the eggs one at a time; if you whipped the butter and sugar enough there shouldn’t be any curdling, but if there is add some of the flour to correct it.
Beat in the vanilla extract.
Fold in the flour.
If the batter is thick and won’t easily drop from the mixing spoon, fold in a tablespoon of milk. It may need a further tablespoon. Add enough milk to reach “dropping consistency”.
Spoon the batter into the prepared sandwich tins and gently smooth the tops with a knife.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the sponge comes out clean.
Leave to cool in the tin for a couple of minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.
Now make the buttercream: beat the butter until it is light and whippy. It will start to look almost like whipped cream.
Add the icing sugar and beat until soft, light and airy looking.
Add the vanilla and beat again.
To assemble the cake turn one of the sponges upside down on the serving plate, so the flat surface is uppermost.
Spread the buttercream over the sponge.
Take the other layer of sponge and generously spread the flat side with jam.
Place the jammy sponge, flat side down on top of the buttercream and press gently to ensure the layers have stuck.
Dust the surface with icing sugar or caster sugar before serving.
Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have made.