When I first found out I was going to be placed on furlough, I didn’t know how much I would crave normality, or at least the new normality we’ve found ourselves in during the coronavirus pandemic. I missed the routine of sliding out of bed to make a cup of tea, pulling on comfortable leggings and oversized knits, commuting to the spare room to open my laptop and begin the day. With the weeks stretched out ahead of me without words to write or social media posts to create, I needed something to keep me occupied. So I turned to baking.
I had lofty ideas of sourdough starters and perfecting things that have long evaded me like macarons (which I actually managed!), but what I enjoyed most were the simple bakes. Things that were comforting, like a warm cookie fresh from the oven or a slice of pillow-soft sponge cut through with sweet jam and buttercream. I understand why so many people have turned to baking banana bread during lockdown, the simplicity of it makes it that much more enjoyable. To turn browning bananas into a loaf cake without much effort makes the process sweeter, a bounty of spoils in return for mashing fruit with a fork.
Perhaps Victoria sponge isn’t the simplest of bakes for some, but when I had a sudden craving for it one afternoon it made me so happy to cream butter and sugar together, to whisk in eggs, fold in flour and fill tins with cake mix. Taking care to make a cake for myself that was as pretty as it was delicious. It seems strange baking something purely for my own enjoyment, as the majority is usually shared around my co-workers. Luckily my appetite hasn’t waned during lockdown and between two of us, we demolished it in three days. A simple cake, perhaps one of the first things I learned how to bake, brought me a lot of comfort during some difficult times. I hope it can do the same for you.
- -For the cakes
- 170g unsalted butter, softened
- 170g caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- ½ tsp vanilla paste
- 170g self-raising flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1-2 tbsp milk
- -For the filling
- 150g unsalted butter, softened
- 340g icing sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
- 2-3 tbsp milk
- 3 heaping tbsp raspberry jam
- Icing sugar to finish
- Preheat the oven to 190oc/170oc fan and grease and line two 20cm sandwich tins. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or large bowl if using a handheld whisk, beat together the butter and sugar for around 3 to 4 minutes until pale and fluffy.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until fully incorporated. The cake batter may look a little split, but the dry ingredients will bring it back together. Add the flour and baking powder and beat together until smooth. Add the milk a little at a time until the cake mix is light and fluffy and at a dropping consistency.
- Divide the batter between the two prepared tins and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the tin then remove the cakes and leave to cool on a wire rack completely.
- To make the buttercream, add the butter to the bowl of a stand mixer or large bowl if using a handheld whisk. Beat for around 5 minutes, scraping the bowl to ensure all of the butter is being whipped. Once the butter is very pale, add half the icing sugar and beat to a smooth icing. Add the second half of the icing sugar and beat again until the icing is an off-white colour and smooth. Add the vanilla and a little milk to loosen and beat again until the buttercream is soft and pipeable.
- To assemble, place one of the cakes upside down on a cake stand or plate. Briefly mix together the jam in a small bowl to loosen then spread over the first cake. Scoop the buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a round nozzle and pipe small blobs around the edge of the cake, following the pattern into the middle of the cake until it is covered in buttercream. Alternatively, spread the buttercream over the jam with a palette knife for a rustic look. Place the second cake upside down on top of the buttercream then dust with icing sugar to finish.