I think I MAY have done it. No doubt you will remember my sponge challenge, and the raging success I had with the Cornflour Sponge. But while I was happy to bask in the glory for a short while, I soon realised that I still hadn't mastered a Victoria Sponge, or, some would say, a real sponge. I still hadn't really nailed it, and I was still feeling a little defeated.
Something happened the other day that made me want to get back in to the kitchen, and back to the sponge challenge. I think it was the fact that I had a few moments of child-free daylight hours - an extremely rare thing of late.
Things stared out badly when I went to find a recipe and lots of great advice that a lovely reader sent me via my Facebook page, and I couldn't get back far enough on my page's history to find it all. Very disappointing. But I was determined to get on with the job while I had the motivation, so I turned to Nigella.
And here's the thing. Her recipe was simple. I have done so much reading about how to make a great sponge and there are so many ideas out there. Use only room temperature eggs, sift the flour three times, beat the egg whites, fold gently, use only a certain kind of cornflour, drop the tins on the floor when you get them out of the oven, jump through hoops and stand on one leg. I've tried almost all of them. But nothing was working.
Then finally it came to my attention that I could blame my equipment. Thank goodness! I had never really thought about it before, but my cake tins are awfully large and I don't think they've been doing me any favours. They are 22cm, and the norm is 20 cm. It's hard to get a cake to rise up high when it has so far to spread. So here I was jumping through all these hoops when I just needed the right tins.
My mother-in-law has a couple of 18 cm tins so I used them this time. I don't know if there's a point where your tins are so small that you're kind of cheating in your bid to get height (and end up with hardly any width) but I guess cheating is fine if you get the result you want. And I think this result was pretty good. A very respectable height, and an extremely tasty cake. I've never though of sponges as being particularly tasty but this was really very good. Very buttery actually, which I like. It's not as light as air - the Cornflour Sponge was like candy floss in comparison - but I'm coming to the conclusion that perhaps it's not supposed to be?
So what's the deal with all these fancy techniques and nifty family secrets on how to cook the best sponge? I just don't know. Nigella just had me putting the ingredients in the bowl and mixing them up like any old cake. Actually, she said I could choose to cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs alternately with the flour, or I could just biff it all in and mix (I chose the former - I mean, I have my limits). Many would throw up their hands in horror at such an idea, though many also advocate it. Perhaps, when I am ready to tackle this all again, I could try the same recipe but use every technique I've ever heard and see if it makes a difference. That will be the only way I can ever find peace on the topic.
Do you or your mothers/aunts/grandmothers make sponges? Do they have special techniques that they swear by? Secret ones perhaps? I'd love to you to ask and share what you can.
Three more points:
I believe traditionalists don't use cornflour, but those who do say it gives a better texture. Having not grown up with Victoria Sponges I'm happy to forego tradition (to a very small degree) to get a good result. Feel free to try and convince me otherwise, though the argument "because we've always done it that way" doesn't tend to work with me.
I am a cream fan and will have it with almost anything. In all my experimenting with sponges I have always topped them with whipped cream. However, this time I thought the cake would last a little longer if I served cream on the side, and I wanted to keep the traditionalists happy by doing icing sugar on top as is always done (just don't tell them that I snuck some butter cream in the middle with the jam). But, I tried my second slice without cream and actually preferred it this way. I know, it's nuts, and I'm not sure if I can explain it. I think I could just taste the cake better without the cream, and all the buttery flavour perhaps didn't need another round of heavy dairy. If you're a cream fan I dare you to try it without.
Using glucose instead of sugar doesn't work when you use the whipping egg white and folding in sugar technique. You're making a meringue base which needs standard sugar. I didn't try glucose this time as I have had enough sponge failures, but it occurs to me that it may work as there is no meringue technique involved in this recipe. It looks like I have plenty more experimenting to do. I'll have to make sure I have plenty of eaters around when I do. Perhaps you could join me in the baking experimenting too?
Thanks to Nigella for the recipe below. Her ingredients and ideas, my words.
225g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
200 g self raising flour
4 tablespoons milk
Soften the butter, then cream the butter and sugar. Add vanilla.
Add the eggs one at a time, adding a spoonful of flour in between each egg.
Gently mix in the rest of the flour, including the cornflour.
When incorporated, add the milk.
Pour in to two greased and lined tins (no need to line them if they are loose-bottomed).
Bake for 25 mins at 180 degrees.
When cool, adorn as you wish! I chose jam and butter cream in the middle, and used glucose instead of icing sugar on top.