June 14, 2014

Victoria Sponge (or Sandwich) Cake & High Altitude Baking

Since I started this blog almost two years ago next Friday (can you believe it??) I've learned a LOT, about cooking and baking and blogging and social media and PINTEREST! What an awesome invention/way to waste tons of time. :) No seriously, I love Pinterest. Thousands of recipes at my fingertips?! Genius. I try to answer as many questions as I can, looking them up for you if I just plain don't know, and learning with you! One thing I get asked about a handful of times is high-altitude baking. You'd think, living just a few feet shy of 6,000 feet above sea level, that I'd be all over that, right? Nope. Not a clue. I tend to veer away from tall, fluffy cakes in favor of quick breads, muffins, and biscuity things that aren't affected much by altitude. Actually, I've scrapped half a dozen cake recipes in the past year because they all collapsed after multiple attempts, and I had no idea until a few weeks ago what the problem was. Altitude. Baked three different versions of that darn lemon ginger cake with no luck. So after much searching and reading and testing, I found the best high-altitude baking guide ever, from King Arthur Flour. Those people are geniuses, I swear. In fact, it's SO good, that I'm sticking the link in a tab up above, in case anyone needs it for future reference. I have followed their tips to the tee with three completely different kinds of cake since, including this one, and the results have been perfection! It looks like a lot of info, but once you've done it a few times, it becomes part of your recipes. Subtract some flour, decrease the leavener, add some liquid. Voila, perfect cakes at high altitude! From now on, I will include high-altitude adjustments in italics to my cake recipes when needed. If there are no adjuments, assume that the recipe works just fine the way it is, even at high altitude!

*Note: In case some of you thought this original recipe was already adjusted for high altitude, I'm so sorry for the confusion! I'm adding the adjustments I made for high altitude, in parenthesis and italics, into the recipe. I'm at 6000 feet, so if you are significantly higher or lower, please check the King Arthur Flour link to the left to adjust for your altitude. since there seems to be a decent demand for high-altitude baking, I'll include those adjustments from now on. Sorry again!! *

Victoria Sponge Cake (inspired by The English Kitchen)
Printable Recipe

5 oz (10 Tb) unsalted butter, room temperature
5 oz (10 Tb) margarine, room temperature*
10 oz (about 1 1/3 cup) granulated sugar (minus 2 Tb)
5 large eggs, room temperature (6 eggs)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
10 oz (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour (You can just use 10 oz of self-raising flour and skip the salt and baking powder if you aren't at high altitude. I had to break it up to decrease the leavening, and add 2 Tb for 6000 ft)
3 tsp baking powder (1 1/4 tsp)
1/2 tsp salt

buttercream frosting
raspberry or strawberry jam

Butter the bottom of two 9 inch cake pans**. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment and butter and flour the whole pan and set them aside. (Buttering AND flouring your pans is key to a perfectly formed cake. That baking spray with flour is okay, but just not as good as the real thing. Trust me, it's worth it!) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. (365 degrees for high altitude)

If not using self-raising flour, whisk the salt, baking powder, and flour together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter, margarine, sugar and extracts together until pale and fluffy, 5-8 minutes. Gradually beat in the eggs, a little at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each. If the mixture begins to look curdled, add a spoonful of the flour. It'll be fine. Gently fold in the flour with a spatula, taking care not to knock out too much of the air that you have beaten into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans, leveling off the surface. Make a slight dip in the center of each and tap very gently on your counter or table, to release any air bubbles.

Bake on a center rack of the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden and well-risen. Allow to cool in the pan for five minutes before running a knife carefully around the edges and turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Once cooled, place one layer, top down, on a cake plate. Spread with jam and buttercream (if using). Place the other cake on top, pressing down lightly. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Notes:
* I know, I know, it says margarine, and lots of us think margarine is the devil. Or at the very least, inferior to butter. 99% of the time I would agree with you, except in this recipe. It is based off of a recipe from my very favorite English cook, and she used to be a real-no-kidding chef, and if she says margarine gives you a better texture, use margarine!! I didn't notice any lack of flavor. Far from it!!

** The original recipe (link next to the recipe title above) was measured for a 7 inch cake pan. I don't have any of those. Most standard American cake pans that we all have at home are 9 inch, so I adjusted it. The awesome thing is, there is a very simple formula for adjusting it back down to an 8 inch, or 7 inch if you've got one. For an 8 inch pan, you need 8 total oz of margarine and butter, 8 oz of flour, 8 oz of sugar, and 4 eggs, with 1/4 tsp of salt and 2 & 3/4 tsp baking powder. For a 7 inch pan, 6 oz of each, 3 eggs, a pinch of salt, and 2 & 1/4 tsp baking powder. See the pattern? It goes up by one egg and 2 oz of each main ingredient per pan inch. I gave approximate measurements in cups, but if you can measure this one on a kitchen scale, I seriously recommend it!

Best Ever Buttercream Frosting (adapted from Cooking Classy)

3/4 cup salted butter, at room temperature (if using unsalted, add a pinch of salt)
2 cups powdered sugar
1-2 Tb heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla or almond extract (or both)

In a the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer), whip the butter on high speed until nearly white and very fluffy, about 7-8 minutes, scraping down the sides frequently with a spatula.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix on low until combined, then increase speed to medium and continue to beat until very light and fluffy, about 4-5 more minutes, frequently scraping down the sides of the bowl. After a few minutes of mixing, if your frosting is too thick, add another Tb of cream. Use immediately or store in the fridge for a few days.
First, let me just say, that up there is the best buttercream frosting recipe EVER!! I have frosting issues. I either make it too thin because I am afraid of adding too much sugar, or I beat the pants off it until it curdles. No happy medium. This recipe is perfection! Creamy, fluffy, rich, and utterly delicious.!Even the Geologist said so, and he's not a huge frosting guy. Hang on to that one, folks!
 And now on to the cake. This is just about the most quintessential British cake I can think of, and just like their scones, the key is simplicity. Designed to be (optionally) picked up and eaten by hand, it's also known as Victorian sandwich cake, and it's simple flavors really shine through. And even with half margarine, it absolutely tasted buttery!
Not as super sweet as our American layer cakes, it's gently flavored (the almond is my addition, but it is a must!), nearly light as air, soft as a cloud, but just barely sturdy enough to hang on to those scrumptious fillings. It was a HUGE hit in our house, and at the office! Who knew a bunch of rugged rock-studying men could be impressed by such a delicate dessert?? Okay, so they actually aren't THAT rugged, they do work in an office... Anyway.
Once you get done reading all my notes, it really IS a very simple cake, and we love it! It has made it on to our favorites list, and I'm just dying to host a tea party now. Sandwich cake, check. Scones and cream, check. All I need is finger sandwiches... and the actual tea... who's with me??

7 comments :

  1. You got it April! Perfect! Well done! I am glad that you liked the recipe and that you were able to adjust it to high altitude baking! I know nothing about high altitude baking because I don't and have never lived at a high altitude! This is the perfect tea party cake. Love, love this cake, It is our favourite of all the cakes.

    Cakes over here are much sturdier and heavier than North American Cakes. I like that about them. I am glad you do too! xxoo

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  2. Just tried your recipe and it has completely collapsed, which is probably due to the fact that I am at 8000 but due to it being a warm day, the heat index makes it more like 11,000 ft. I spend half the year in Au?stralia where sponges are a staple, but they know nothing whatsoever about altitude, I was thrilled to find your recipe. Any further suggestions or ideas for what I might try next time around? I have read that sponge cake is really at altitudes due to the air and rising agent interaction, but I will try again on a day that is cooler and let you know the results

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    1. I'm so sorry for the confusion!! I mentioned in the paragraph above the recipe that I would keep giving the recipes NOT adjusted for high altitude, but gave the link I used to adjust for altitude. To sum up, here's how I adjusted this particular recipe for high altitude: I added an extra egg (you might need 2, you're higher than me), raised the heat by 15 degrees, added 2 Tb of flour (you'll probably need 3-4), and decreased the baking powder to 1 teaspoon. The link is amazing, it has adjustments per 1000 feet, it's really easy to understand. The link is near the top of my left margin, check it out! I know it will work for you too!! Again, I'm sorry your cake flopped! I think I'll go back and add the high altitude adjustments to the recipe, in case I messed anyone else up. Thank you so much for letting me know!

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    2. I see where I went wrong. After a quick read through your posting, I clicked on the printable recipe so I could take it to the store with me and never returned to the website for a more detailed look at your remarks. DUH. I just got so excited when I read that high altitude title.....someone else had done all the work for me. I was really intimidated with all the math involved with trying to sort out the recipes I came across in Australia: metric, self-rising flour, high altitude.....all those conversions put me right off trying. I'm pleased to report that I hopped right out of bed this morning and baked up two lovely puffed up layers that are cooling on the rack at this moment. They look beautiful, will let you know how they taste later on.

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  3. Hooray! I'm so glad they worked! I hope they're delicious! I know how you feel, nothing can make me want to throw a royal tantrum quite like ruined cakes, and nothing makes me feel more like a five-star pastry chef than perfect cakes! Thank you so much for updating me, that's what this whole sharing recipes thing is about!

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  4. I am not sure if you meant that you could use the butter OR the margarine (it's not stated in the recipe, so I just used the butter) and OMG!!! I finally got the spongecake of the century!!!! My husband is British and I have never had a success until your recipe!!!! THANK YOU!!! I can't wait until he walks in the door and sees and tastes this beauty!

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    1. Ha ha!! I actually meant both, or 10 oz total of butter or margarine, but hey!! I'm so thrilled it worked for you!! It's really fun trying Victoria Sponge in the UK and thinking to myself "Yep, I got it right" :) I hope your husband loves it!!

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