a jubilicious victoria sponge and the day I almost met the queen

jubilicious Victoria Sponge
I don't want to sound all bah-humbug about the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Clearly sixty years in a job that frankly would have most people running screaming for a way out, should be congratulated. Our young queen promised loyalty, service and to do her duty and she quite clearly has achieved all of that and more. It's not her fault that I became an anti monarchist at eight years old. It is all the fault of Jane Brewer.

I grew up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and went to an English school. I cannot begin to tell you how much I loved that city, the country. The lack of any close proximity to a member of the British royal family didn't disturb me at all. Other people seemed to think it was important. There were portraits of the Queen in our old fashioned wooden classrooms. My school friends talked about the Queen and the royal family, even the Australian kids. I wasn't fussed at all. The Queen was just someone who appeared on stamps and money back in Blighty.

I was completely baffled when my Irish grandmother started sending me postcards of the Queen and her children. "Why, Mummy?" I asked. "Um, I think your grandmother thinks you might like them," my mother replied diplomatically, muttering under her breath "She probably got a job lot of them from the Avon Lady". Further bafflement ensued.

If it was history that my grandmother wanted to instil in me then she was doomed to failure. While I loved history, I wanted the kind with great clothes and costumes, fabulous inventions, amazing discoveries and interesting artefacts. I wanted adventure and the Windsors just didn't do it for me.

When I was eight, the Queen was visiting some of the countries that the British had turned up at with a large navy, loads of guns and the cunning use of a flag. These were countries that had once been part of the British Empire and were now part of a charmingly named Commonwealth. I'm assuming we had had some warning that the Queen was coming. I don’t suppose she turns up unannounced. What I do remember is that all the British and Commonwealth children in KL were rounded up and bussed to an air force base to welcome the Queen. Everyone seemed terribly excited, except for me. I would rather have been back at school. I had never been to an air force base before so I conceded it might be interesting. I was told by the other children, in no uncertain terms that I wasn't being very British. (Why does anyone care? was the thought that I kept firmly to myself).

It turned out that an air force base wasn't particularly interesting either. Lots of wooden huts and a bit of tarmac; It was hot. I don't do heat or sun very well and I was bored. We were divided up into groups, based on height and given flags to wave when the Queen eventually flew in and emerged on Malaysian soil. We were told to behave and that when the Queen walked down the steps of the plane she had flown in on, that we were to wave our flags like mad. It was suggested that if we were really good, that the Queen might come over and talk to us.

I should explain that I was a tall and sturdy child. I'm not sure quite how tall I was at eight, but I had stopped growing by the time I was ten (and I'm five feet seven). You get the picture. I was the kid that always had to stand on the back row as I was usually one of the tallest, particularly when we were singing. Although that might have been a Health & Safety issue - more to do with the fact that they wanted to keep my croaky bellowing as far away from an audience as possible and lessen the danger of ears bleeding.

On this particular day, as a tall child I was standing on the second row from the back, amongst a bunch of older children that I didn't know. I had been given, at random, a Union Jack flag, rather than the Malaysian flag, which was also being distributed. Funny what a flag does to you. Suddenly it seemed terribly important. The Queen would walk down the steps of the airplane, would walk towards us and would lean across and talk to me. And it was important that the Queen would see me with a British flag and would know that I was English. Clearly patriotism is catching.

"Hello," said Jane Brewer, aged eleven, standing behind and towering over me. God she must have been big. I was distracted and in that moment, she snatched my Union Jack flag from hands and handed me the Malaysian one. "Ha!" she said triumphantly. "Now the Queen will think you are a traitor!" People actually care about this kind of stuff? I thought and at that moment I became confirmed in a lifelong decision to be an unclubbable person. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I never want to be a member of a club that would have me. Or it could just be that I know when I am not wanted!

Needless to say, I never did meet the Queen. She emerged at the top of the airplane steps and gave us all a regal wave. She then walked past us at a regal trot, smiling and making for an air-conditioned limo, either that or she had a thirst on for the duty free . . . (just kidding, Ma'am). It was far too hot for much chit chat. We waved our flags and that was it. A massive anti climax really. Apart from the fact that it helped me form my views on elitism and the pointlessness of flags. But after several decades, I think it is probably time to bury the grudge. So to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee I wanted to make one of my favourite cakes. There is something about a Victoria Sponge that is just sublime. Possibly something to do with the perfection of simplicity.

The discovery of bicarbonate of soda in the mid 19th century meant that cooks were discovering its powers as a raising agent and cakes became lighter than ever. The Victoria Sponge is actually named after our last Diamond Jubilee queen, who apparently had a bit of a sweet tooth and was partial to a slice of cake in the afternoon with tea. A Victoria Sponge is typically made with raspberry jam (my favourite) rather than the strawberry I used here. But strawberry is what I had to hand and besides it seems so terribly British in June!

As mentioned in previous baking recipes, I like to use the same amount of butter and sugar to eggs; the traditional method of baking cakes. Take the eggs and weigh them. Whatever they weigh, match their weight with equal measures of butter, sugar and flour. So for example, if the eggs weigh 200g, then use 200g each of butter, sugar and flour. It guarantees good results every single time.

Another couple of tips are to make sure that you double sift the flour and ensure that the eggs are at room temperature. (To be honest, another rule of thumb is, if you can, never keep eggs in a fridge!)

Almost had another cake-related disaster . . . but more of a cosmetic one. I took the cake out to the garden to photograph it. Everything was set up. I stood back to frame the photo and whoosh. A huge gust of wind lifted most of the icing sugar off the cake and it landed on me. Which is why the cake has a slightly dappled effect!

Skill level: Easy

4 x medium-sized eggs - see directions
230g butter, softened (at room temperature), plus extra for greasing (I use salted butter) - see
230g caster sugar (I use home-made vanilla sugar) - see directions
230g self-raising flour, sifted - see directions
Replace 25g of flour with 25g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
strawberry jam (I used Bonne Maman)
double cream, lightly whipped
icing sugar, for dusting

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas Mark 4.
  2. Lightly butter two 20cm sandwich tins and line the base with baking parchment.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter until very soft, then add the sugar and continue to beat the sugar and butter until pale and creamy.
  4. In another bowl, whisk the eggs together with the vanilla extract.
  5. Add a little of the egg to the butter and sugar mixture, beating between each addition. (If it does begin to curdle, then add a tablespoon of flour each time.)
  6. Fold in the sifted flour and baking powder, using a large metal spoon. Don’t use a wooden spoon as this will knock out the air! Be very careful not to over-mix the batter.
  7. Pour the mixture equally between the two cake tins and level off the top with a spatula.
  8. You can make a slight dip in the centre with the tip of the spatula if you don't want them to be pointed in the middle.
  9. Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 20 minutes. The cakes should be a golden brown colour and they will spring back when the surface is pressed gently with a finger.
  10. Leave to rest in the tin for about 10 minutes before carefully removing. Peel off the baking parchment and place on a wire rack to cool completely (for about 30 minutes).
  11. To assemble the cake, spread the sponge with jam and whipped cream, then carefully sandwich together.
  12. Dust with a little icing sugar and serve.

I have been following what fellow food bloggers have been baking in celebration of the Jubilee and here are some of my favourites:


Al Son Del Mortero said...

Te ha quedado magnífica,me encanta!!!!Un Besote

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Thank you so much, I'm glad you enjoyed it! Su comentario me hace muy feliz también!

o cozinheiro este algarve said...

Jubilations to you and a very many happy returns of that day in June.I dont know the date-sorry

George said...

Happy belated jubilations! Wondering if you're free next Wednesday for a tasting at Babur - George

CJ - Food Stories said...

What a great food story you have here :-) ... You have been nominated for my NEW Food Stories Award for Excellence in Storytelling. You can check out the details at my site ... http://foodstoriesblog.com/food-stories-award/ ... Have a great foodie day!

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Algarve - it's the 22nd and no doubt I shall be writing another self indulgent little piece to celebrate!

George - yes, yes and thrice yes. I love Babur!

CJ - thank you so very much. :) I am very pleased indeed and am getting on the case!

All That I'm Eating said...

It's a nice story that you almost met the Queen, shame you couldn't have the Union Jack flag you wanted! I love Victoria sponge, your story about icing sugar in the garden is the sort of thing that would happen to me!