English cuisine is filled with stereotypes, mostly based on the ideas of hearty “pub food” or the traditional “afternoon tea”. Falling into the second category is the classic Victoria Sandwich.
Named after Queen Victoria, the Victoria sandwich is a light, airy, two-layer sponge cake made of equal quantities of flour, butter, sugar and eggs, with jam and cream in the middle – although in Queen Victoria’s time, the cream would not have been in it. It is also often called a Victoria sponge, but strictly speaking, a typical sponge would not have any fat in it, so the official name remains Victoria sandwich.
The Victoria sandwich came about with the invention of baking powder in the 1840s, which transformed baking and made it possible to bake cakes which rose higher. It was often served with tea, small sandwiches and other cakes as part of an afternoon tea, which also started to gain popularity among the English aristocracy from the 1840s and had become a formal event in which Queen Victoria regularly took part in by 1855. However, before becoming a staple of afternoon tea and one of Queen Victoria’s favourite cakes, it was most likely served to nursery school children, as it did not contain nuts or seeds and was therefore deemed particularly safe for them to eat.
Nowadays, Victoria sandwich is a timeless classic that can be enjoyed in cafes, parties and homes across the UK. Whilst raspberry jam and whipped cream is widely considered the traditional choice of filling, there are plenty of other adaptations out there involving other kinds of jam, marmalade or curd, or replacing the whipped cream with buttercream. True to stereotype, it is still customary to have a slice with a cup of tea.
The Victoria sandwich also frequently features in baking competitions as a way of tasting people’s cooking skills, as its simple recipe which leaves no room for mistakes and nothing for a baker to hide behind. This was famously showcased in the ‘Technical Challenge’ of the ever-popular television programme, The Great British Bake Off, a few years ago. Similarly, some people use Victoria sandwich to test new ovens, as the cakes are sensitive to cooking times and temperatures and the results should always be consistent and predictable.
There are a number of similar cakes in other parts of the world. Examples include genoise, madeleines, and pound cakes. Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Gâteau) is also similar in texture and structure.
So, next time you’re in the UK, make sure you make time to sit down with a nice cup of tea and a piece of Victoria sandwich – you won’t regret it!
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/8753182/The-great-Victoria-sandwich.html [accessed: 22.10.2018]
https://warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/expertcomment/queen_victoria_truly/ [accessed 22.10.2018]
https://hforhistory.co.uk/article/history-of-baking/ [accessed 23.10.2018]
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/may/16/how-bake-perfect-victoria-sponge-cake [accessed 22.10.2018]
https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Cakes/VictoriaSponge.htm [accessed 22.10.2018]
https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/built-in-ovens/article/why-oven-temperature-matters [accessed 23.10.2018]
https://www.thewi.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/117518/web_033_FEB-COOKERY-2015.pdf [accessed 22.10.2018]
Written by Jennifer Louisa Fletcher-McGrady, translation trainee in the English unit at the European Parliament. She has a BA in German Studies from the University of Warwick, and speaks English, French and German.