Victoria sponge with fresh strawberries and cream

Victoria sponge cake with strawberries and cream
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 for Victoria sponge cake with strawberries and cream
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.
Greased and lined 21cm cake tin
Or if, like me, you only have one cake tin this size then just bake the layers one at a time. Be ready to wash out the cake tin, and grease and line it quickly the second time, as you don’t want the wet cake batter to sit for too long – the raising agents begin to react as soon as they come in contact with the wet ingredients so should be baked as quickly as possible.

2. Place the butter and sugar into a large bowl and beat well to a light, fluffy consistency.
Soft butter and caster sugar
Creamed butter and caster sugar
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.
Adding eggs to the butter and sugar
4. Sift the flour and baking powder and fold into the cake batter until well combined.
Sifting the flour and baking powder into the wet ingredients
Folding the dry ingredients into the wet mixture
Victoria sponge cake batter
5. Divide the mix evenly between the cake tins and bake for 20 minutes until they are golden brown. The sponge should spring back when gently pushed and a skewer pushed into the centre should come out clean.
Cake batter ready to be baked
6. Remove from the oven and allow the cakes to cool for 5 minutes in the tin. Then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
Cooling the sponge in the tin
Cooling the sponges on a wire rack
7. Whip the cream to soft peaks and prepare the strawberries by removing the stalks and cutting into thick slices.
Preparing the strawberries and double cream
8. Place the bottom layer of the cake (I usually pick the flatter sponge for this) onto the plate you want to present your cake on and arrange the strawberry slices into a thick layer.
Arranging the strawberries on the sponge cake
9. Carefully spread a generous layer of double cream on top of the strawberries.
Spreading the whipped double cream on the strawberries
10. Sandwich the top layer of the cake on top of the cream, pressing down firmly.
Sandwiching the second sponge layer 1
Sandwiching the second sponge layer 2
Dust the cake with icing sugar just before serving.
Dusting the Victoria sponge cake with icing sugar
This cake doesn’t really need to be served with anything, other than perhaps even more strawberries piled on top. And of course a cup of tea, or a glass of Pimms if you’re really doing things right, to wash it down with.
Slice of Victoria sponge cake with strawberries and cream Continue reading

Upside-down plum cake

Upside down plum cake served with creme fraiche
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 for upside down plum cake
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.
Butter and sugar for creaming
Creamed butter and sugar
3. Cut the plums in half and remove the stones.
Halved plums
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.
Top layer of the upside down plum cake
Plums pushed into the creamed butter and sugar
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.
Ingredients for the all-in-one method
All in one method sponge 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.
Pouring the sponge mix into the cake tin
Upside down plum cake ready to be baked
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.
Upside down spiced plum cake with vanilla sponge
Cut at the table so everything can admire the beautiful pattern and colour of the plums on top.
Upside down spiced plum cake with vanilla sponge
As this is a very sweet and spiced cake, I would recommend serving it with a dollop of crème fraîche or natural yogurt. Enjoy!
Slice of upside down plum cake with creme fraiche

Bells of St Clement’s Cake

Sponge cake topped with orange slices and syrup on a wooden board

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.

Crate full of oranges

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 for orange cake laid out on table - flour, sugar, eggs, oranges, lemon, vanilla, butter

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.
Pouring lemon juice into cake mix of butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and lemon zest
5. Mix in the lemon zest and juice and the vanilla extract.
Flour in a bowl on electric scales weighing exactly 250g
6. Sift the flour and baking powder and mix well until all the ingredients are combined to a thick batter.
Cake mixture in a glass bowl with a wooden spoon
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.
Orange syrup simmering in a metal pan with wooden spoon to mix
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.
6 pictures showing the steps of peeling an orange with 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.
Cake on the right in it's tin and orange syrup on the left with a pastry brush
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.

Sponge cake with sliced oranges decorating the top

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!