So my 89 year old Grandmother, Billie (her real name’s Edna so the nickname is understandable!) announced to me the other day, in her slightly am-dram voice: “well at least when I die I shall be remembered for something!”. And she’s right, without a shadow of a doubt, the thing she is most well known is her sponge cake recipe, which I consistently pass to any child who cooks in my kitchen and any friends/vague acquaintances/random passersby I find.
What is beautiful about this recipe is it’s absolute simplicity.
- Weigh eggs (shell on) this is the weight you measure all the other ingredients– for a standard 2 sponge 19cm (8inch) cake tin I use 4 – 6 but increase or decrease depending on what you want. These work brilliantly as individual cupcakes too.
- Pre-heat oven to 180’C (I find this is around the 170’C mark if you’ve a reasonably new fan oven)
- Cream butter and sugar until smooth.
- Crack eggs into a mug so you can fish out any errant bits of shell, then steadily mix into the butter/sugar alternating with self raising flour.
- Add a capful of vanilla essence per 4 eggs.
- This is the only tricky bit, take a dollop of mixture on your spoon and hold above the bowl up-side-down. It should take a count of about 5 elephants (the time it takes to say 1 elephant, 2 elephants, etc) before it drops into the bowl. If it’s too stiff add milk a little at a time until the consistency is right.
- Bake until when you stick a knife/skewer in the centre it comes out clean. Cupcakes tend to take about 15 min, I turn them at 10 and then ‘hover’.
The most traditional is a Victoria Sponge. I was always brought up to believe this was fruit jam in the middle and a dusting of sugar on top.
However there is a long standing family argument because some feel a Victoria sponge must include cream in the middle too. If you choose this one MAKE SURE THE SPONGE IS COOL before adding the cream or the top will slide right off , Sod’s law into your Mother-in-laws lap.
The next step on from this, is jam in the middle and cream on top, covered in soft fruit. This looks and tastes wonderful but the same rule about sponge temperature applies and the cream works best fresh, i.e. don’t prepare too long in advance and it doesn’t keep as well as other sponges.
Piping on an icing and using food colouring and whatever toppings you can lay your hands on, especially glitter or metallic spray, all look brilliant for kids birthday cakes. I really like this recipe from ‘Kids Kitchen’ by Jennifer Low which works well either piped or simply spread on.
2 ½ cups sieved icing sugar
60g soft, unsalted butter
4 tbsp milk/cream
1tsp of vanilla extract (or other flavour)
a few drops of natural food colouring
Use a wooden spoon to cream the butter until very soft [it should turn white in colour]. Gradually stir in a few spoonfuls of icing sugar. Mix in the milk/cream. Stir in the rest of the icing sugar and then the vanilla/flavour and colour.
This is an apricot (so there’s no risk of turning the royal icing pink from strawb/raspberry) filling, then coated over the outside of the entire cake and a rolled sheet of royal icing on top which gives you a blank canvas to paint (using edible paints of course!). Getting the black and white to tessellate on this was a nightmare, wholly unhelped by sugar induced shakes! The grass is simply the icing recipe above piped on.
This was supposed to be a racing car tyre. I have to admit I’m not entirely happy with it but it does show how you can combine royal icing and piped (the black was a shop bought tube) to create different effects from kit you can find at the supermarket.
I also discovered while making this cake that metallic sprays only leave a sheen rather than actually covering (I’m sure this was obvious to others but hey ho!).