Make a classic British dessert from “The Great British Baking Show:” a Victoria Sandwich! Sponge cake sandwiched around layers of raspberry jam and vanilla buttercream.
Do you love “The Great British Baking Show” as much as I do? Talented home bakers creating classic British desserts, expert assessment from the regal Mary Berry and the brutally honest Paul Hollywood and not an ego or manufactured drama in sight.
Only the Brits could give us a cooking competition show where regular people dedicate themselves to the art of baking for weeks at a time in exchange for nothing more than a chance to win a cake plate, the honor of being named Star Baker and, if you’re really lucky, a coveted Paul Hollywood handshake.
One of my favorite aspects of the show — besides the genuine camaraderie among the bakers — is the diversity of the contestants. I imagine that the bakers in the tent reflect modern-day British society: men and women of different ages, classes — I love this season’s Cockney baker, Candice — races, and religions. Immigrants from countries as different as Bangladesh and Ghana go head-to-head with English grannies on who can make the best Jaffa Cake or Swiss roll.
I always wonder how I would fare in the legendary tent, but truth be told, I know I’d never even make it there in the first place. I don’t have anything close to the skill and knowledge that the contestants do. And while I think that my “bakes,” as the Brits say, usually taste pretty good, I am useless at the decorative aspects that the contestants excel at: elaborately piped buttercream, sugar work, fondant flowers and the like.
So when I decided to tackle a recipe from the show, I picked something simple. In the season four finale, Mary Berry, the queen of British baking, asked the finalists to make a Victoria Sandwich, a classic teatime treat, without a recipe. I tried to explain to my husband how hard that is. No one bakes without a recipe. No one.
(Although sometimes they have to do it on Top Chef, my other favorite cooking competition. I remember one contestant, Chef Edward Lee, from a few years back who arrived with a memorized recipe for a Genoise. It came in handy several times.)
Luckily, you and I do not have to worry about whether we have memorized the proper ratio of butter to eggs to flour when making sponge cake. (Hint: traditionally, it was equal portions of each by weight.) We can follow Mary Berry’s very own recipe for the perfect Victoria Sandwich.
The classic Victoria Sandwich contains raspberry jam and either whipped cream or buttercream. I had some homemade raspberry-red currant jam in my pantry – a recipe from The Joys of Jewish Preserving — so I used that. Considering how much the Brits love red currants, I do not think this change was too heretical. If you are not a jam maker yourself, I recommend buying the best quality raspberry jam you can find.
I have changed the recipe a little to make it more American — self-rising flour is kind of pointless, if you ask me — but essentially, it’s the same recipe from the show. Victoria Sandwich is a lovely cake to serve for an afternoon party or even brunch. It’s not too sweet and it feels nice and light.
So, does your Victoria Sponge make the grade? How would you fare on a Mary Berry technical challenge?
- 1 3/4 cup flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
- 6 ounces raspberry jam
- 4 oz (1 stick) butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted plus extra for dusting
- 1 TB milk
- Preheat the oven to 350. Grease two 8-inch round baking pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper and grease the paper as well.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- Combine the eggs, sugar and butter in the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the flour mixture. Beat together just until combined.
- Evenly divide the batter between the two cake tins.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cakes are golden-brown and the edges are pulling away from the sides of the tin.
- Allow to cool in the tins for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
- While the cakes are cooling, make the buttercream. Beat the butter in a stand mixer until smooth. Add the sifted powered sugar and milk and beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy. (If the mixture is too thick, add up to 1 additional TB of milk.)
- To assemble, select one of the cakes to be the bottom. (If the top is very uneven, use a long, sharp knife to trim it so that it is flat.)
- Spread the jam on top of the bottom layer, leaving a small border around the edges. Pipe or spread the buttercream on top of the jam.
- Place the remaining cake on top of the buttercream and press down slightly.
- Dust the top with powdered sugar.