Who knows why this very British cake is called Victoria Sponge? It’s not elaborate; the ingredients are simple. And it comes topped with cream and strawberries. For that reason, I’ve chosen this as a Valentine’s Day cake. Chocolate is always delicious, but so predictable on this day of romance. Strawberries are equally delicious and, as in my book, Lipstick on the Strawberry, associated with love.
This cake, as with all genoise cakes, bakes up on the dry side. That’s why moistening the top of the layers with macerated liquored strawberries gives it that little extra. Or simply use thick strawberry jam mixed with kirsch to moisten in the same way.
Cooking spray for the pans
1 ½ cups cake flour, sifted three times
½ cup sugar
¼ cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups strawberries, washed and hulled
3 tbs sugar
2 tsp kirsch
1/8 tsp salt
Or, if you are pressed for time, use 2 cups best-quality strawberry jam, plus the other ingredients.
1 ½ pints heavy cream, chilled
3 oz powdered sugar
This cake achieves its lightness without the addition of baking soda or powder because it is beaten to an airy froth while warm.
Bring the ingredients to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray two 9 -inch cake pans, and cover the bottom of each with parchment paper cut to size.
Sift the flour and melt the butter gently.
Bring a large saucepan of water to the simmer. Your mixing bowl should be able to just fit inside the top of the pan so its bottom is over, but not touching, the simmering water.
First, mix the eggs in the bowl in a stand mixer until frothy. Beat in the sugar till it is blended with the eggs. Then put the bowl over the pan of water on the stove and whisk the egg-sugar mixture for 3-4 minutes till it is warm.
Remove the bowl to the stand mixer and beat on high or so until it becomes thick and light and the texture of whipped cream. Separate the already sifted flour into three batches, sift each over the mix and gently fold in each addition. Meanwhile, reheat the butter until hot, and pour into a small bowl. Take one and a half cups of the egg mixture and incorporate into the butter, together with the vanilla. Fold it all gently back into the larger egg/sugar mix bowl.
Pour the batter into the two pans and bake for 20 minutes until the cake starts to pull away from the sides. The top should spring back when touched with your finger. Do not overbake.
Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges of the cakes and invert onto racks to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the strawberry mash filling. Reserve two dozen of the most beautiful strawberries. Cut up the remainder and toss with the sugar into a bowl and let sit for one hour.
Strain the juice from the berries and reserve, to make half a cup. Pour into a small saucepan and add the kirsch. Heat gently and cook until the mixture is syrupy. You should have about 3-4 tbs. Remove from the heat and reserve.
Put the sugared berries into a food processor and chop. This will yield about 1 ½ cups.
Add these processed berries to the syrup, stir in the salt, and wait till the cake is cooled.
If using jam instead of fresh berries, heat it gently in a saucepan and add the kirsch. Let sit so the flavors mingle.
When the cakes are completely cool, take a cake platter and prepare it by cutting four long strips of parchment paper to cover it. This will keep the platter clean while you assemble the cake.
Whip the cream, adding sugar when soft peaks form, until the cream forms stiff peaks.
Carefully lift one cake from its pan and lay on the paper. Spread half of the macerated, liquored berry or jam-kirsch mix onto the cake, leaving about half an inch around the border. With a rubber spatula, carefully cover this layer with half of the whipped cream, again leaving space around the border.
Place the second cake layer on top of the first, pressing gently down. The cream will squish out to the edge of the cake. Repeat the steps of covering this layer with strawberries or jam, then whipped cream.
Now, pull out the parchment strips from under the cake, very carefully. Don’t worry, any little flaws that are caused in the cake by pulling out the strips can be hidden by a ring of berries.
Finally, halve the reserved berries and put them around the side of the completed cake.
If serving several hours after assembling, place in a domed cake carrier to protect the top, and refrigerate.