Victoria Sponge Cake
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Another special birthday, another go at a cake. I find a recipe, I buy ingredients. I start a podcast and set to work, but I’ve overlooked an important detail: the butter should be soft. My butter is hard as wood, the kind you want for a scone but not a sponge. I’ve got other things to do anyway, so I wait.
While the butter softens I go for a run. I’m slower now than I used to be, older. My stride is lumbering if I don’t pay attention, uneven like a pinwheel coming off the stick. I feel the difference of a mile. I look at the water, the birds, the mural across the pond on the side of a building. I’m at sightseeing pace. I’ve been trying to do that more.
While the butter softens I wash the dishes. The white plates and bowls we got as wedding gifts, a few chipped at the edges in little scallops of wear. The silverware passed down from Nico’s Grammy, a full set with its own wooden box. My favorite blue spatula for the eggs we share in the morning, the pan I hate to scrape down but can’t seem to give away.
While the butter softens I check my email. I check it again. Refresh. Refresh. Freelance work is equal parts waiting game and mad dash.
While the butter softens I look at recipes. I consider the options, decide which part of myself I will be next.
When the butter is soft, I descend on my kitchen with the hungry impatience of a baker kept waiting. I make the sponge, then the cream. The whirring of the mixer stimulates a Pavlovian response; I know there will be a treat soon. My layers come out in different sizes, a little top heavy—she’s a brainy looking cake, nothing wrong with that. The sponge is denser than expected but I like it that way, and the buttery cream and raspberry jam are comforting; a play on toast. The cake is perfect, sweet and berried. I eat too many pieces with as many cups of tea over the next few days, relieved to see the last sliver leaving in my sister’s bag.
When the cake is gone I start on the next dish; this time, reading through the recipe first.
The following is the recipe I used, as found here.
For the cake:
1 cup unsalted butter (softened)
1 cup superfine sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch salt
4 eggs (room temperature)
2 Tbsp milk
For filling & decorating
6-8 ounces strawberry preserves - OR -
8 fl oz heavy cream , whipped
powdered sugar (for dusting)
For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350F. Meanwhile, grease two 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.
Beat butter and sugar together for several minutes until fluffy and white (using a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment or hand mixer). Scrape sides occasionally.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
Add the eggs and flour to the butter mixture in alternating thirds on low. Add the milk to loosen a bit. Scrape as needed.When fully combined, divide between baking pans.
Bake for 25 minutes or until light brown and the surface springs back when pressed gently with the fingertip. Let cool completely - about 1 1/2 hours
On the bottom layer of cake: Spoon on strawberry preserves or lemon curd. Top with a generous layer of whipped cream, then the second layer of cake. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with hot tea.