strawberry and cream victoria sponge
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Strawberries are crafty little beasts: they trick us into thinking they’re sweeter than they actually are.
It’s all in the smell: food scientists (there’s my missed dream career path) have found that the sugar levels in strawberries are generally thought higher because of specific volatile compounds wafting from a luscious berry. Those deceive us into thinking that a strawberry is sweeter than, say, a blueberry while the latter contains actually more sugars.
The same goes for tomatoes: the varieties that contain more of those particular volatiles are perceived as sweeter; irrespective of the attested sugar levels. I’ll add to that the visual factor, as decisive contributor to taste perception as the smell: red must surely be sweet. And there we have it – it is just a pretty face after all.
My take on strawberries and cream, the English classic, is made with late season strawberries. I’ve found they get better as the summer continues – they go on long after being Wimbledon showcase, weather permitting. My take on Victoria sponge is what it damn well should be: a sponge cake, lots of air, very little butter; not the stodgy pound cake usually baked as two separate layers. The gorgeous juices won’t seep through the crust, for God’s sake! Airy sponge, almost-melted zesty strawberries, a pillow of cream…
And the clever strawberries will make you believe this dessert is sweeter than it really is.
- For the sponge:
- 155g (about 1 ¼ cups) plain flour
- 1¼ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp fine salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg white
- 230g (1¼ cups) caster sugar
- 80ml (1/3 cup) whole milk, slightly warmed
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 30g (2 tbsp.) butter, melted
- For the filling:
- 500g (1lb) strawberries
- 25g (2 tbsp.) icing sugar plus more for dusting the cake
- zest grated from 1 lemon
- 300ml (1 cup and 2 tbsp.) double cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Butter a 20cm (9in.) cake tin and line the bottom with parchment. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.
Mix the flour with the baking powder and salt in a small bowl. In a large bowl, or the bowl of standing mixer beat the eggs and the egg white until foamy. Add the sugar, little by little, and keep beating until the mixture is pale, thick and doubled in volume; about 10 minutes.
Sieve the flour mix into the eggs and fold it in very gently, taking care not to deflate the eggs. Add the milk, butter and vanilla extract and fold in gently. Pour the mix into the prepared tin and bake for 30 – 35 minutes until golden in colour and firm to the touch.
Take out and drop from 20cm height onto a couple of folded tea towels, two or three times. This is the best part, and it works so well it’s amazing – contrary to appearance, it stops the sponge from collapsing and sinking. Turn the tin upside down onto a wooden board and leave for 5 minutes. Turn it the right side up, remove from the tin and cool completely on a cake rack.
While the cake is cooling, prepare the strawberries: top them and slice thinly; leave a few whole for decoration. Stir the icing sugar and the lemon zest into the bowl with strawberries and leave them to macerate – they will release the more juice, the longer you leave them standing.
When the cake is cold slice it in half horizontally with a bread knife or a wire cake cutter – do not bake it in two separate tins because the strawberry juices need to seep into the sponge.
Whip the cream with vanilla extract until soft peaks form.
Drizzle the released juice over both cut halves of the cake, the top one especially generously – the other one will get naturally soaked because of the strawberries sitting on it.
Spoon the strawberries onto the bottom layer, pile the cream over them and cover with the top layer, pressing gently so the cream oozes somewhat around the sides. Dust the top with icing sugar and decorate with remaining strawberries.