sponge cake | The Proof of the Pudding


I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again (and many times more): Scottish strawberries are the best strawberries. Despite the amount of moaning we do about our weather here, we are actually lucky enough to live in a country which happens to have the perfect strawberry-growing climate: long daylight hours during the summer, consistent temperatures that aren’t too scorching (see, it’s good for something!) and water, water everywhere. Right now we can get a kilo of Scottish strawberries for £3 in our local supermarket, which is the perfect excuse for over-indulging in the small, sweet treats until your finger tips are stained pink and your tummy is just a liiittle bit sore.

And this weekend is the perfect time to fit some strawberry-themed baking into your schedule, since it’s the Wimbledon finals. This cake is just a regular Victoria sponge, but it’s a handy little recipe to have under your belt, or up your sleeve, or in whatever metaphorical clothing garment you desire. It’s the simple rule of 200:200:200:4, which means 200g of butter to 200g of sugar to 200g of flour and 4 eggs, and it works perfectly every time. A Victoria sponge is often sandwiched together with jam and butter cream icing, which is lovely too, but I think fresh strawberries and double cream are called for during the summer. And without horribly jinxing the outcome of tonight’s semi-final, maybe your Scottish strawberry cake will have a particularly patriotic connotation come Sunday afternoon…

One year ago:
– Strawberry and vanilla muffins

Ingredients 200g soft butter, plus a little extra for greasing 200g caster sugar 4 medium eggs 1 tsp vanilla extract 200g self-raising flour 1 tsp baking powder 300ml double cream 400g strawberries

Icing sugar for decoration

Method 1. Heat the oven to 190C/170C fan/Gas Mark 5. Grease and flour 2 x 21cm cake tins.

2. Place the butter and sugar into a large bowl and beat well to a light, fluffy consistency.

3. Slowly beat in the eggs, one by one, and add the vanilla extract. A tip to avoid a split batter (where the mixture looks a little curdled) is to add a dessert spoon of the flour after both the first and third eggs.


This was a bit of an experimental recipe, which turned out to be absolutely gorgeous (forgive me if I blow my own trumpet on this one, but it really was a scrumptious cake: light, moist, rich, sweet and spicy). Obviously the idea comes from a pineapple upside-down cake, which has become to be regarded as somewhat of a retro cake that would fit in at a 70s themed dinner party along with prawn cocktail, cheese fondue and duck a l’orange. Now I don’t mind telling you: that sounds like a great menu to me, “retro” or not. With plums still in season they seemed like the obvious fruit choice, and they work well with festive spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. A simple vanilla sponge cake recipe made using the all-in-one method was all that was needed to top (or bottom, depending on which way round you look at it…) the fruit.

I do have a confession to make about the execution of this recipe, which will demonstrate how things in my kitchen don’t always go so smoothly (as if you needed that after mayonnaise-gate). The oven was at temperature, the cake was layered in the tin and I popped it into the oven with great anticipation. Less than five minutes later acrid black smoke was billowing from the oven as a little of the sugar and butter mixture (and presumably some juice from the plums) oozed out the bottom of the cake tin and hit the hot oven floor. At the speed of lightning I whipped the tin out, onto a baking tray and back into the oven, to prevent it getting worse. Luckily, neither the opening of the oven door at the start of baking or the smoke seemed to affect the quality of the cake in the end. SO, if anyone has any bright ideas about how to prevent this from happening do leave a comment below! For now, my advice would be to put the cake tin on a baking tray from the start or perhaps to use a cake tin that doesn’t have a loose bottom (though in this case I would grease the tin extremely well as it may be more difficult to turn out).

Ingredients 50g softened butter, plus extra for greasing 50g light soft brown sugar ½ tsp ground cinnamon ½ fresh nutmeg, grated 1 tsp vanilla extract

6-8 ripe plums

200g softened butter 200g caster sugar 200g pain flour 4 tsp baking powder 2 tsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Grease a 21-23cm cake tin generously with butter. 2. Cream together the butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla until smooth and well combined.

3. Cut the plums in half and remove the stones.

4. Spread the creamed butter and sugar onto the bottom of the cake tin and push the plums into the mixture, cut side down. Pack the plums tightly together – you may need to cut the final one into more than halves in order to fill all the gaps.

5. Place the ingredients for the sponge (butter, sugar, flour, baking powder, vanilla and eggs) into a large bowl. Using an electric whisk beat together the ingredients until everything is incorporated and you have an incredibly light, fluffy mix.

6. Spoon the sponge mixture on top of the plums and spread evenly. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out the middle of the cake clean and the sponge springs back to the touch. Leave the cake to cool slightly before turning out.

When you are ready to serve, gently release the cake from the tin. Place your serving plate on top of the sponge and flip the cake in one brave move.

Cut at the table so everything can admire the beautiful pattern and colour of the plums on top.

As this is a very sweet and spiced cake, I would recommend serving it with a dollop of crème fraîche or natural yogurt. Enjoy!

One of the joys of cooking is using fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season. It really does make a difference if your ingredients are at their prime: there is nothing better than the first home-grown artichoke of the year; or biting into a crisp Autumn apple; or the pungent smell of basil as it is crushed to a pulp for pesto in July; or cutting into a pomegranate at Christmas time and seeing the deep red juices run out. I had been planning to make a pomegranate cake for a while, but their best days are nearly over and right now oranges are some of the best fruit you can eat. We have a fabulous local green grocer who provides us with entire crates of oranges. As you can see, ain’t nobody getting scurvy in this household.

We use most of the oranges for juicing – freshly squeezed orange juice is one of the best things you can have on your breakfast table – but it also seemed like a perfect opportunity to try a baking experiment. I gathered the ingredients I had to hand, plus a pile of oranges, and the results were delicious. The structure of this cake holds very well and the brown sugar gives it a rich, caramel-y flavour. The topping adds moisture and a burst of freshness. If you have oranges in the house then I encourage you to give it a go…if not, then go out and buy some! They are the fruit moment.

Ingredients 200g butter, softened 100g caster sugar 100g light brown muscavado sugar 3 large eggs Zest of 1 lemon Juice of ½ a lemon 250g plain four 2½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp vanilla extract

For the topping: Juice ½ lemon Juice of 2 oranges (200ml) 50g sugar

3-4 oranges

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas 3. 2. Grease a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin and line with a circle of baking parchment at the bottom. 3. Beat the butter with the two sugars until fluffy and pale. An electric whisk will be your best friend here, but if you don’t have one then give it some welly with a balloon whisk. 4. Beat the eggs in one at a time.

5. Mix in the lemon zest and juice and the vanilla extract.

6. Sift the flour and baking powder and mix well until all the ingredients are combined to a thick batter.

7. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and spread flat. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 50 minutes. The cake is ready when it is golden brown in colour and a skewer comes out clean from the middle. 8. Place the cake, still in the tin, on a wire rack and leave to cool for 10 minutes. 9. While the cake is cooking, combine the lemon juice, orange juice and sugar and heat in a pan over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes to reduce the liquid to a thick syrup.

10. Peel and slice the oranges. I learnt the following trick years ago and it was such a revelation when using peeled oranges in a recipe. It will be much, much easier if you use a serrated knife.

11. Make holes in the cake with a thin skewer and spread over the orange syrup, reserving a little of it for the very top.

12. Remove the cake from the tin and decorate with the orange slices. Finish by brushing the remaining syrup over the oranges as a glaze.

This cake is perfect served with crème fraîche or natural yogurt, and will keep in a tupperware box for a couple of days.

I’ll just leave you with the little nursery rhyme which inspired the name of this recipe…

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!