One has a sweet tooth – the royal history of the Victoria sponge
It’s a very special year for Her Majesty, with June marking 70 years since her coronation. To celebrate this wonderful occasion, families and towns across the country are planning events throughout the spring and over the extended bank holiday weekend.
Whether you’re organising a street party, afternoon tea with loved ones or a good old-fashioned knees-up, one sweet treat that’s sure to be top of your list is the Victoria sponge.
Synonymous with the ‘best of British’, this quintessential cake carries a regal name – inspired by Queen Elizabeth II’s great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who was said to regularly eat a slice of sponge cake with her tea each afternoon.
In our latest blog, we tuck into the history of this delicious cake, as well as divulging the recipe used by Buckingham Palace itself.
The jewel in the crown of any spread
First thing’s first, what led to the Victoria sponge reigning supreme in the cake stakes?
Also known as a Victoria sandwich, this two-layer airy sponge is filled with jam and whipped cream, and finished with a dusting of icing sugar on the top. But don’t be deceived by its simple formula – mastering the consistency, crumb and flavour of a Victoria sponge is widely viewed as a culinary art form. You could say it’s a yeast-free yardstick for judging a baker’s prowess!
It also has an incredible history – named after the sweet-toothed Queen Victoria. But its story goes back further than that…
15th Century – The Savoiardi
The first-known sponge-cake incarnation naturally has royal roots. A low-density, dry, egg-based, sweet sponge-cake biscuit ‘finger’ arrived on the scene in the 15th century – created by the court of the Duchy of Savoy to mark the visit of the French king. Known as a Savoiardi, it was an instant hit, and became the court’s official biscuit.
1615 – Biscuit bread
The earliest sponge cake recipe in Britain appeared in Gervase Markham’s ‘The English Huswife’, named biscuit bread. The ingredients comprised a pound of fine flour and sugar, eight eggs, four yolks, half an ounce of aniseeds and half an ounce of coriander seeds.
1840s – Afternoon tea
The taking of afternoon tea was an essential part of socialising in the Victorian upper class – and it’s very much down to one lady. Anna Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford and Queen Victoria’s Lady of the Bedchamber, sought a solution to the hunger felt between luncheon and dinner, and would ask her servants to sneak a pot of tea and cakes to her chamber.
Unsurprisingly, the idea caught on, and she extended invitations to some of her social circle to her rooms at Belvoir Castle – and was even said to have introduced the idea to a certain queen. The ascendancy of the sponge cake was nearly complete, but not before the final ingredient…
1843 – The invention of baking powder
In 1843, Alfred Bird, of ‘Bird’s Custard’ fame, invented egg-free custard powder and baking powder for his wife, who suffered from both egg and yeast allergies. What started as a heart-warming tale of a husband baking yeast-free bread for his wife ended up revolutionising how we make bread and cake today!
1855 – An occasion to savour
Back to the royal household, and thanks to Anna Russell, Queen Victoria quickly became an eager partaker of afternoon tea. With the invention of baking powder, the Victoria sponge recipe as we know it was born, and its royal patron was said to regularly eat a slice with her tea each afternoon. By 1855, she had made it a formal occasion.
1874 – A new name
The Queen’s penchant for this airy sponge cake became well known, and it was soon renamed in her honour – appearing in print for the first time in the 1874 cookbook ‘Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery and Household Management’.
Nearly 150 years later, and the popularity of the Victoria sponge endures. This sweet treat is well-known across the world, and often appears in baking competitions, such as those held by the Women’s Institute and the popular TV programme ‘The Great British Bake Off.’ No soggy bottoms, please!
A royal recipe
In 2020, bakers rejoiced as the royal pastry chefs posted step-by-step instructions for creating the traditional Victoria sponge cake served at Her Majesty’s garden parties.
Why not try it for yourself this summer?
Ingredients – sponge:
- 3 eggs
- 150g caster sugar
- 150g unsalted butter
- 150g sieved self-raising flour
- 1/2 tsp of vanilla essence
- Jam (strawberry or raspberry)
Ingredients – buttercream:
- 150g softened unsalted butter
- 220g sieved icing sugar
- 1/3 vanilla pod or vanilla essence
Method – sponge:
- Preheat the oven to 180C (375F, gas mark 4).
- Grease and line two 8-inch cake tins (if you only own one tin, you can bake the sponge and slice in half).
- Cream the caster sugar, vanilla essence and softened unsalted butter until light and fluffy.
- In a separate bowl whisk the eggs.
- Gradually add the beaten eggs, a little at a time, to avoid the mixture curdling.
- Sieve the flour and fold into the mixture.
- Divide the cake mix between the two cake tins and smooth.
- Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes, until the cake appears golden brown.
- Insert a skewer and ensure it comes out clean.
- Remove the sponges from their tins and leave to cool.
Method – buttercream:
- Cream the softened butter with the sieved icing sugar and seeds from the vanilla pod (or vanilla essence).
Assembling the cake:
- Ensure that both sponges are completely cold before spreading a layer of jam onto the surface of one sponge.
- Spread a thick layer of buttercream on top of the jam ( if you prefer, this can be done first).
- Gently place the second sponge on top and lightly press down.
- Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with a pot of fresh English tea!
The royal seal of approval
This jubilee season, why not experience a taste of the Royals’ lifestyle with our Arthur Price cutlery? If Victoria sponge is on your to-bake list, make sure you check out our vintage cake servers, cake forks and cake stands.
We can’t wait to see your jubilee celebrations – fully set with Arthur Price cutlery, of course – so please do send us a photo on social media and we’ll proudly show it off!