There aren’t very many cakes in How To Eat. In fact, in her “basics” chapter Nigella lists just 3:
- Victoria Sponge
- Birthday Cake
- Fancy Cake
There are others scattered through the book – like her Clementine Cake and an Orange Blossom and Almond Cake – but other than that if you’re looking for a cake recipe head to one of her other books. I read somewhere or heard somewhere, that this was because she didn’t fancy herself as a baker – and at the time of writing How To Eat she had a vague idea that one needed to identify as either a cook or a baker. Thank goodness she got over that misconception.
Anyways, first up in the cake stakes is the Victoria Sponge – and a confession: the last time I made a Victoria Sponge was when I was about 14 in Year 8 Home Science class. Back in those days – the beginning of the 80’s – girls still had to do home science class where they taught us things like how to cook and manage the household budget. Further, we had to do most of what we did by hand. The school I was at in country NSW certainly didn’t have the budget for expensive equipment like mixmasters. That meant we’d all be there beating our eggs and sugar with a wooden spoon until it was light and frothy. Mrs Locke, our teacher and a formidable figure of a woman – all stout and stern – would stalk around and tell us to up our game. To be honest, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if home science classes weren’t the reason why many women of that generation refused to cook – especially when the growth of convenience meals, microwaves and independent careers meant that we didn’t really have to if we didn’t want to.
Okay, to Nigella’s sponge cake. This one differs from a traditional sponge in that it’s done in a food processor with additional baking powder to mimic the lightness that you’d normally get from all that beating of the eggs and sugar.
At first, I was a little concerned about this so I did some research. Mary Berry’s Victoria Sponge is also a beat it all together cake. And, as we all know, Mary is rarely wrong. Her’s though, is a beat it all together with an electric mixer not in a food processor. So too is Felicity Cloake’s perfect version for her Guardian column. The recipe is here – along with the history of the cake and lots of things you’ll be tested on later about flours and raising agents.
The recipe we’d made all those years ago was a CWA (Country Women’s Association) recipe – and if anyone knows a thing or two about baking, it’s countrywomen. In that recipe, the (room temperature) eggs are whisked until they’re frothy and then the sugar added slowly – almost as you do when making a meringue. The flours are sifted and folded in and the butter is melted in warm milk and dribbled in. The result is, as you’d expect, a light-as-air cake. You can find that recipe here.
Sadly, the one I made following Nigella’s food processor recipe was not – as light as air, that is. It was still a lovely cake and it rose more than I expected it too – and the jam and whipped cream made it even lovelier – but it wasn’t what I remember a sponge cake as being. It certainly wouldn’t have stood up to the competition in an Australian country show.
Again, my photo is dark making the cake look darker than it was and the lighting is dreadful. Plus, my husband (despite being “advised” not to) pushed down too hard on the cake top so the cream spewed out the side in a gloopy mess before I could take the photo. #itshardtogetgoodhelp
In any case, the sponge cake episode is one I feel that I both need to redo and rephotograph. With decent lighting.
I’ve taken on the challenge to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find other episodes here.