While English Husband isn’t much of a royalist, he does miss his England–and also really likes cake–so I couldn’t overlook the Queen’s Jubilee this weekend celebrating her 60 years on the throne.
Victoria spent 64 years as monarch and in her hono(u)r they created a very humble and yet, very delicious cake: The Victoria Sponge. (For American readers, the word “sponge” sounds quite unappealing. Dish sponge being the first thing that comes to mind, not “sponge cake,” a term that is rarely used today. Trust me that it’s just a delicious yellow cake.) The Victoria Sponge is one of my favorite British cakes: two yellow cakes layered with strawberry jam and whipped cream. With merely a dusting of confectioners’ sugar on top, it is delicious and jolly lovely on a picnic, with no need for a fork, just grab and eat. I am sure Victoria would’ve liked it that way.
Elizabeth II also seems a no-nonsense type of Queen. I once read a novel in which the Queen, unable to afford her royal lifestyle, was forced to move to a housing estate in the Midlands of England. She adjusted swimmingly, walking her corgis everyday on the street and waving politely to her neighbo(u)rs. It was utterly plausible. Phillip probably couldn’t hack it in the real world, but Liz and her cardigans and sensible shoes would have no problem.
So what do you make such a lady? I pondered all sorts of British conglomerations of food, maybe a savoury pie stuffed full of Scotch eggs, creamed Welsh leeks and Irish potatoes? Maybe a cake made with all sorts of treats from Commonwealth countries where her face still appears on the currency? A maple and rum-glazed cake made with Vegemite could roll Canada, Jamaica and Australia all into one. And taste reasonably disgusting.
I pondered a simple chocolate cake, but realized that’s what I wanted, and contrary to my delusions, I am not queen.
I settled on a modified Victoria sponge. I took away its Victorian repression and gave it a bit of twenty-first century flair. I modified one of my favorite British desserts (Eton Mess, a blend of whipped cream, fruit and crushed meringues) and used that as the filling for a lemon-scented cake. I added a thick layer of lemon curd to the filling to add a little bit of pucker.
And it was quite lovely indeed.
I do so hope you will enjoy it too. With a cup of tea, perhaps preceded by some coronation chicken sandwiches. And there must be bunting. No English event would be anything without bunting. My husband claims it’s all he remembers from Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee, so this weekend we will be getting out the paper, string and scissors and whipping up some bunting to festoon our little British outpost in New Jersey.
For the cake:
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- 2 1/4 cup self-rising flour **
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 2 Tbsp milk
- 1 1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 8-inch cake pans.
Using a mixer, or a good old-fashioned wooden spoon and some upper body strength, cream the sugar, lemon zest and butter until creamy. (Blending the lemon zest in early like this helps to disperse all that good lemon oil better.) Add the eggs, self-rising flour, baking powder, milk and vanilla extract, and beat until the batter is smooth–about 3-4 minutes.
Divide the mixture evenly between the two cake pans and smooth the batter to the edges. Place in the middle of the hot oven and bake for about 25 minutes. The cake should be golden and the center of the cake should spring back when touched. Let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then turn the cakes out of their pans on to a wire rack and let fully cool.
When the cakes are cooled, make the filling.
For the filling:
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 tsp real vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
- 1 1/2 cups mixed berries (I used slice strawberries and raspberries)
- 1 1/2 cups crushed meringues
- 1 cup lemon curd
Make the filling and assemble the cake:
Whip the cream with the vanilla extract and sugar until soft peaks form. Fold in the berries and crushed meringues. Lay down some lovely doilies on a lovely plate (because if you’re not using doilies for the Queen’s Jubilee, just when will you??). Put one of the cakes top side down on top of the doily. Spread lemon curd thickly on top. Then slather the cream-meringue mixture on top of that spreading it almost to the edge of the cake. Place the second cake top side down on top of the filling and press down gently. If you are feeling fancy, you can make rosettes of cream on top to give it more of a crown-jewel look. Or merely dust with confectioners sugar, put on a pot of tea to brew and exclaim heartily: “God save the Queen!”
Post-Jubilee Update: Although I haven’t heard whether the Queen of England liked my cake, I did hear from my mother–who is a woman of regal bearing– who said that the cake was the best she’d ever had. And while a vote from the author’s mother may seem a tad biased, believe me when I tell you this is not a comment given lightly. I have worked many years for this moment!
**Self-rising flour features in many British cakes, bless ‘em. Saves a lady a step. And you can buy it at just about any grocery. I find it regularly at Target.