My path was clear as I set out to consider the teatime menu and the newest addition to honour both Liz and the now much taller than me 14 year old. Plus, It’s been a hot second since my tea service got an airing and the table was decorated with finger sandwiches, scones and many cakes. The excitement is palpable.
While tea might be my favourite meal to cater, it poses issues. You see, I’m very greedy and certainly not the demure hotel cream tea type – I like an opulent overflowing table of delicacies. And I want to eat more than a mouthful of EVERYTHING. But a generous selection of multiple layer and iced cakes risks me reaching my sugar fill before I’ve sampled a decent enough amount of the offerings of the day.
After much faffing with a combination of cakes and trifles, I settled on a single layer sponge finger thingy with all the glory of a classic and quintessentially English Victoria Sponge. It’s the perfect taster size to satiate the sweet tooth and leaves room for other teatime treats. The secret to this slice of success is the icing – a combination of whipped cream and (wait for it) SHOP BOUGHT CUSTARD.
Thank you Nigel Slater, one of my great culinary gurus, for this inspired union of whipped cream and custard and the permission to not make everything from scratch. It renders the silkiest icing on each slice while cutting the richness of the more traditional straight cream version and is officially my new alternative to buttercream fillings.
I am aware that many of you lovely loyal subscribers are not English and are probably not celebrating this great British milestone. And a fair few of you might not be particularly fussed about the monarchy (both are camps I loosely fall into), but I think its safe to assume we all love cake. So, whatever the occasion, I hope you enjoy this slice of summer joy.
This is a classic sponge recipe that I clipped many decades ago from a magazine and before the days of proper annotation in my notebooks. I have been making it for years as a basic sheet cake or layer cake springboard for celebratory tea occasions and works brilliantly every time. The original didn’t include lemon zest or vanilla, but I like to push boundaries on the purely traditional.
I think that self raising flour is clutch here. An ingredient I don’t normally use because I like to be in absolute control of the raising agents, somehow here it works like a charm, resulting in the perfect light crumb. For some reason whenever I make it with plain flour and baking powder, it’s never quite the same.
This is also a very rare recipe where I sift the flour into the cake batter. Usually I just give the dry mixture a quick whizz with a fork or small whisk, but sifting it here makes a massive difference. I urge you not to skip it.
I have included fresh raspberries here. I have now made multiples of these cakes, both with only jam and with the double whammy of crushed fresh raspberries as well. I do prefer the addition of the fresh fruit, but the cake will not keep more than a day. For longevity you might want to err on the side of caution and omit the fresh raspberries. Just a thought.
If you can’t get your hands on any shop bought custard and don’t have the gumption to make it from scratch, just whip the cream with a tablespoon of sugar. It will still be delectably delicious.
This recipe can also be made into a double layer Victoria Sponge, using two 20cm sandwich cake tins.
For the Sponge
- 220g caster sugar (I love to use golden caster sugar here)
- zest of 1 lemon (preferably unwaxed and organic)
- 220g room temperature butter (I always use salted)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs
- 220g self raising flour
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
For the Toppings
- 300g fresh raspberries (optional – see note above)
- 40g (approx 1/3 cup) raspberry jam
- 300ml double cream
- 150ml best quality shop bought custard
- 1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (the flecks of vanilla look gorgeous peeking through)
- 50g sliced almonds (toasted) or other decoration of choice
Preheat oven to 180C (350F)
Butter and line a 1/4 sheet cake / Swiss roll tin (33cm x 24cm) with baking parchment.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, gently rub the lemon zest together with the sugar to release the fragrant oils.
Add the butter and beat together with the lemony sugar on medium high speed until light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes).
Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl down in between each addition. The batter will be magnificently pillowy. Add the vanilla extract.
Combine the flour with the salt and sift the dry mixture over the batter. Very gently and swiftly incorporate the flour, being careful not to overheat the mixture. I sometime do this with a rubber spatula instead of in the mixture.
Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Bake for 20-22 minutes until the top is golden and its springy to the touch.
Allow to cool completely. I often make this a day in advance and wrap in a double layer of cling film once completely cooled ready to decorate before serving (this leaves time for other tea prep to happen on the day).
When you are ready to assemble the cake, whisk the cream to soft peaks. You want it to be quite stiff as the custard will loosen it. Stir in the custard and give the mixture another whip to make it thick and silky. It should be spreadable but not runny. Add the vanilla and stir through. Again, you can make this a few hours in advance and keep it in the fridge until you are ready.
You can either serve this straight out of the tray (think American traybake), or present the slices on a serving dish of your choice. If you are choosing the latter, turn the cake out onto a board. I do this by turning it upside down onto the surface just so that it’s easier to peel off the parchment paper and leaves the smooth side of the cake facing up.
Spread an even layer of raspberry jam (or strawberry if you prefer) over the top of the cake. If you are using fresh raspberries as well, tip them into a bowl and crush them with the back of a fork. I love the added texture of the pips against the smooth icing. Smooth them over the jam being careful to leave about 1cm clear around the edge of the cake to stop them spilling out too much.
Finally top with generous spoonfuls of the custard/cream combo and gently smooth over with an offset palate knife or ribber spatula. Finally sprinkle some toasted sliced almonds or any other decoration of choice.
Cut into 12 slices (or squares if you prefer) and serve to the crowd.
Have you made this dish?
Let me know what you think, share your efforts and any tweaks you made to the recipe on Instagram, don’t forget to tag #BuildingFeasts or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org