Queen Victoria was known to have a sweet tooth, but few desserts occupied quite the pride of place in her teatime menu that a simple, layered sponge cake did. The jam and buttercream filled cake is known as "Victoria Sponge" even today, after the monarch who made it famous. Here's a small slice of its royal history:
In the summer of 2020, to celebrate their Royal Garden Parties, the pastry chefs at Buckingham Palace shared the official recipe for Queen Victoria's favourite sponge cake. The former monarch was said to be quite partial to the treat, which she regularly had with her tea.
Victoria, who reigned from 20 June 1837 until her death (aged 81) on 22 January 1901, had a reputation for being fond of desserts. And going by what food historians have to say, this isn't without its basis in fact. Writing in The Conversation, Rebecca Earle, professor of History at the University of Warwick, notes that "Queen Victoria truly did enjoy a Victoria sponge, decorated with a single layer of jam, alongside other cakes and edible treats, at tea parties on the Isle of Wight."
As per the recollections of a member of her personal staff, the queen was quite partial to "chocolate sponges, plain sponges, wafers of two or three different shapes, langues de chat, biscuits and drop cakes of all kinds, tablets, petit fours, princess and rice cakes, pralines, almond sweets, and a large variety of mixed sweets", perhaps explaining — as Prof Earle notes wryly — Victoria's 50-inch waist.
A team of confectioners and pastry chefs were tasked with the responsibility of keeping the queen supplied with “the cakes and biscuits which, four or five times a week, followed (her) to Balmoral, Osborne, or wherever else she (was) staying”.
Coming back to the Victoria sponge, the Buckingham Palace recipe lists the following ingredients for its preparation:
For the sponge
-150g caster sugar
-150g unsalted butter
-150g sieved self-raising flour
-1/2 tsp of vanilla essence
-100g jam (strawberry or raspberry)
For the buttercream
-150g softened unsalted butter
-220g sieved icing sugar
-1/3 vanilla pod or vanilla essence
The directions for baking the cake are outlined thus:
For the sponge: Preheat the oven to 180C (375F). Grease and line two 8-inch cake tins (if you only own one tin, you can bake the sponge and slice in half). Cream the caster sugar, vanilla essence and softened unsalted butter until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs. Gradually add the beaten eggs, a little at a time, to avoid the mixture curdling. Sieve the flour and fold into the mixture. Divide the cake mix between the two cake tins and smooth. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes, until the cake appears golden brown. Insert a skewer and ensure it comes out clean. Remove the sponges from their tins and leave to cool.
To make the buttercream: Cream the softened butter with the sieved icing sugar and seeds from the vanilla pod (or vanilla essence).
To assemble the cake: Ensure that both sponges are completely cold before spreading a layer of jam onto the surface of one sponge. Spread a thick layer of buttercream on top of the jam. Gently place the second sponge on top and press down. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with a pot of fresh English tea.
It must be noted that during the early part of Queen Victoria's reign, baking powder and other leavening agents were not as commonly in use as they would be later. Thus, recipes extant from the time do not include baking powder for Victoria sponge cake.
Read more about how the Victoria Sponge got its name, on Slurrp.