Mary Berry’s right. You CAN make a fluffy Victoria sponge without that wretched stirring!
LIKE most women of her generation, my mother can practically make a Victoria sponge in her sleep. and not just any sponge, but the best I’ve ever tasted. Feather-light, eggily yellow, with a thick grout of jam and cream squidged in the middle.
she doesn’t need to consult a cookbook, since the recipe was long ago lodged in her head, but she always begins by spending about ten minutes creaming — vigorously mixing — sugar and butter together in a large bowl.
But now, none other than Mary Berry has broken all the rules by admitting she’s ditched the ‘traditional creaming and folding methods’ of making a Victoria sponge.
Instead, she swears by her ‘ all- in- one method’, which gives ‘excellent results’ every time — and entails simply dumping all the ingredients in a bowl and combining, which means the whole cake is prepared in five minutes flat. Berry also adds crisply that home bakers ‘ are wrong if they think that you have to take a day off in order to make cakes successfully’.
I can practically hear my mum’s wooden spoon clattering to the floor. no creaming?
This simple technique forms the basis of most classic sponge recipes, since it’s supposed to incorporate small air bubbles into the mixture, which you preserve by then carefully ‘folding’ in the eggs and flour instead of stirring.
all this labour makes, as the theory goes, for a light and fluffy cake.
named after Queen Victoria, who liked a slice with afternoon tea, the Victoria sponge came into existence thanks to the invention of baking powder in 1843, which helped batter to rise higher and so made cakes lighter and softer than before.
Ever since, being able to whip up a perfectly risen Victoria sponge has been a benchmark for home bakers, with fierce competitions waged at village fetes across the country.
Food scientist dr sue Bailey, former course director of the Msc in Food science at london Metropolitan university and a culinary history consultant on the Great British Bake Off, says: ‘The whole idea with a sponge cake is to trap air into the mixture, to give it that distinctive light texture.
‘ That’s what the process of creaming does. That’s also why you use caster sugar for a Victoria sponge — the crystals are the perfect size for trapping air, whereas icing sugar crystals are too small and granulated too large.’
dr Bailey says that in the days when all the beating had to be done by hand, creaming was the easiest way of aerating your cake.
she says, ‘when creaming, you can see the mixture start to change colour as the sugar crystals break down and air is trapped in the mix. It goes from a pale lemony colour, to almost white. That’s how you know that you’ve done it enough.’ Modern technology has changed the game however — these days you can easily whip up a light, frothy batter using an electric mixer, and selfraising flour will give your baked goods a little extra lift.
so, what does dr Bailey think of Mary’s suggestion? ‘Typically, experimentally, it’s been shown that the traditional method will give a slightly better rise than the all-in-one method Mary Berry advocates.’ But she adds: ‘Mary Berry was properly trained and she knows exactly what she is doing.’
so, can the cheat’s way really taste as good as the traditional method? I put both to the test . . .
First I followed Mary Berry’s method for making a sponge, which couldn’t be simpler.
she even suggests using margarine, or ‘baking spread’, because you can use it straight from the fridge — unlike butter which has to come to room temperature before it’s soft enough to use. while butter purists may argue the flavour is superior, it’s hard to beat Berry’s method for sheer convenience. If you really prefer butter, you can just substitute it for the baking spread in her recipe.
You use 225g of baking spread, straight from the fridge, 225g of caster sugar and the same again of self-raising flour. add four large eggs and a level teaspoon of baking powder.
Then you mix it all together using an electric mixer, before dividing it between two lined sandwich tins and baking for around 25-30 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack, then sandwich with whipped double cream and strawberry jam. Top with a dusting of caster sugar.
ThIs was laughably easy to do. I finally get what people mean when they talk about ‘whipping up’ a cake — this was in the oven in less time than it would take to pop to the shop for a packet of biscuits.
The result was surprisingly delicious. loyal as I am to my mum’s cooking, this was moist with a nice crumb and a lovely, airy texture.
no more ‘forgetting’ to make something for the school bake sale then.
Then I followed the same recipe, but creamed Berry’s preferred baking spread ( you could instead use butter at room temperature) with the sugar, before folding in the flour and eggs carefully, to preserve the air bubbles.
This was obviously a more laboured process and my arm definitely started to ache.
The creaming probably only took about five minutes but I was also nervous about timing it accurately.
If you over-cream, you can end up with dense, gummy streaks in your cake.
The butter and sugar combination must be not too hard and not too soft, but just right. I looked for the change in colour from yellow to white before folding in the other ingredients.
I fully expected my efforts to be rewarded with a superior cake — one with the texture of a cloud. however, it was almost identical to the one where I just bunged everything in together.
The light texture, the crumb, the comforting yellow colour, even the level of moistness were all pretty much identical.
I Know which one I’ll make next time. how could we have ever doubted Mary Berry? Creaming is simply unnecessary.
Whipping up a treat: Rebecca starts baking