Tuesday 12 November 2019

Rachel Allen: 'Is there anything better than a slice of freshly baked sponge cake with a cup of tea?'

Never underestimate life’s simple pleasures. When Rachel Allen fancies a delicious, comforting cake, it’s the classic sponge she turns to

Vanilla sponge cake
Vanilla sponge cake
Simply delicious: Swiss Roll

Rachel Allen

I'm often asked what my favourite cake is. I'll start by thinking about something exotic; something rich and nutty, with citrus and spice. Or perhaps something laden down with chocolate, that's intense and complex.

 And then I tend to do a complete U-turn and come back to one of the very first cakes that I ever baked, and what I turn to when I want something completely delicious but unchallenging and comfortingly simple.

A slice of freshly baked sponge cake with a cup of tea is up there among life's little pleasures. Never underestimate the simple pleasures.

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The classic Swiss roll - which apparently wasn't even created in Switzerland, but is thought to have its roots in late-19th-Century Austria - is a whipped-up sponge containing just eggs, sugar and flour. Rolled around raspberry jam, with a dusting of caster sugar on top, it's the epitome of simply delicious.

The trifle, one of the oldest recorded puddings around, was created to use up leftover bits of bread and cake, dousing them with sherry or brandy in a bowl and topping the lot with custard and cream. This version of trifle, far right, is one we like to make at the cookery school at Ballymaloe. In our trifle, we use a Swiss roll, lots of sherry, home-made custard and some billowy clouds of whipped cream - completely delicious.

And if you feel like a buttery sponge, then you have Queen Victoria - or one of her ladies-in-waiting, apparently - to thank for the tradition of sweet cake and tea in the afternoon, which led to the creation of this recipe, also far right, in particular. Sometimes it's hard to beat the old favourites.


Rachel recommends

When sandwiching the cakes together for the Victoria sponge, place one cake upside down on a cake stand or plate, then spread over the jam, followed by the whipped cream, before topping with the second cake.




Use any seasonal berries instead of the jam in the Victoria sponge.


Victoria sponge

Serves 6-8

You will need:

225g butter, plus extra for greasing the tin

225g plain flour, plus a little extra for flouring the tin

225g sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon milk

2 tablespoons jam (such as raspberry jam or blackberry jam, or see In Season, below)

300ml whipped cream

Caster sugar or icing sugar, for dusting

1 You will also need 2 x 18cm cake tins with sides that are at least 2½ cms high. Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4.

2 Butter and flour the sides of the tins and line the bases with discs of baking parchment.

3 In a large bowl or in an electric food mixer, cream the butter until it is soft. Add the sugar, and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.

4 In a small bowl, whisk the eggs together for a few seconds until they are just mixed, then gradually add the whisked eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, beating all the time.

5 Sift in the plain flour and the baking powder, then add the milk, and fold it in gently to incorporate it. Divide the cake mixture between the two prepared tins, making a slight dip in the centre of each cake, so that when they rise, they will be flat on top and not peaked.

6 Place the cakes in the centre of the preheated oven. Bake them for 18-25 minutes, or until they are golden on top and springy to the touch.

7 Remove the cakes from the oven and allow them to cool in the tins for five minutes, then use a small, sharp knife to loosen around the edges of each cake. Carefully remove each cake from its tin before leaving the cakes on a wire rack to cool down completely.

8 Sandwich the two cakes together - see Rachel Recommends - with some jam and whipped cream (see Note, below), then dust the top of the cake with caster sugar or icing sugar, whichever you're using.

Note: If I know that all the Victoria Sponge won't be eaten on the day it's made, then I'll serve the whipped cream on the side instead. It doesn't do the cake any favours to store it in the fridge.


Swiss roll

Serves 8

You will need:

1 tablespoon melted butter

1 tablespoon plain flour

For the Swiss roll, you will need:

4 eggs

110g caster sugar

2 tablespoons warm water

Half-teaspoon vanilla extract

110g plain flour

A few tablespoons caster sugar

6 tablespoons warmed raspberry jam

300ml whipped cream (optional)

1 You'll also need a 25cm x 38cm Swiss-roll tin. Preheat the oven to 190°C, 375°F, Gas 5.

2 Line the Swiss-roll tin with parchment paper cut to fit the bottom of the tin exactly. Brush the paper and sides of the tin with the melted butter, then dust with the plain flour, shaking out any excess.

3 Start to make the Swiss roll. Put the eggs, the caster sugar, the warm water and the vanilla extract into the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk the mixture until it is very light, pale and fluffy - this should take about 4-5 minutes.

4 Sift in about one-third of the plain flour at a time, and use a spatula to fold it into the egg, sugar, water and vanilla mixture. Once you've folded in all the flour and there are no lumps, tip the mixture gently into the tin.

5 Bake the Swiss roll in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes until it feels lightly springy to the touch in the centre. The edges will have shrunk in slightly from the sides of the tin.

6 Take the tin out of the oven and let the sponge sit, in the tin, for five minutes. Sprinkle the top of the sponge generously with caster sugar, then place another piece of parchment paper over the sponge and turn it out of the tin. Remove the tin and the parchment paper from the bottom of the sponge, which will now be facing up.

7 While the sponge is still warm, spread it sparingly with the slightly warm raspberry jam (warming the jam will make it easier to spread). If you are using the whipped cream, allow the sponge to cool and spread the cream on top of the jam.

8 Now, with the short (25cm) end of the sponge facing you, roll up the sponge, using the paper to help you roll it nice and tightly. Sprinkle the Swiss roll with a little more caster sugar if it needs it, transfer it to a long plate and cut it into slices to serve.


Traditional sherry trifle

Serves 8-10

You will need:

1 x Swiss roll (see recipe, left)

600ml whipped cream (measure when whipped)

Glace cherries or crystallised violets

Pieces of angelica

For the custard, you will need:

375ml milk

A vanilla pod (see my Top Tip, below) or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 eggs

110g caster sugar

30g plain flour

150ml sweet or medium sherry

1 You will also need a glass bowl that has a capacity of 1.7 litres to 2 litres. First, make the Swiss-roll sponge as in the recipe, left. While the Swiss roll is baking or cooling, make the custard. In a saucepan, bring the milk just to the boil, with the vanilla pod in it, or if you are using the vanilla extract, add it after the milk has come to the boil. Allow the milk to sit.

2 Separate the yolks and whites of 2 of the eggs. In a jug, whisk the two egg yolks and the remaining whole egg with the caster sugar until the mixture is light in colour and texture; this should take about 3-4 minutes. Whisk in the plain flour until there are no lumps.

3 Reheat the vanilla-y milk in the saucepan until it is hot, discarding the vanilla pod. Pour the hot milk onto the egg and flour mixture in the jug, whisking to combine.

4  Return the vanilla-milk, egg, and flour mixture to the saucepan (I like to quickly wash the saucepan or use a clean one), then stir it over a gentle heat, whisking until it comes to the boil. Allow it to boil for two minutes, still gently whisking all the time to prevent any lumps from forming. The custard is ready when the mixture is thick. Transfer the custard to a bowl. In a clean bowl, whisk the remaining egg white until itt is stiff, and then fold it into the custard mix while it is still warm. Allow it to cool before using.

5 Prepare the Swiss roll with jam and caster sugar as in the recipe, left. Cut the Swiss roll into 1½cm-thick slices and use them to line the glass bowl, sprinkling them with sweet sherry or medium sherry, whichever you are using, as you go along. Pour in some of the cooled custard, and then arrange any remaining Swiss-roll slices over the top. Sprinkle the Swiss-roll slices with the remainder of the sherry. Spread the remaining custard over the top. Cover the bowl with cling-film and leave it for 5-6 hours, or preferably overnight, to mature.

6 Before serving the trifle, arrange softly whipped cream over the top- or pipe rosettes if you like. Decorate the trifle with cherries or crystallised violets, whichever you're using, and pieces of angelica.

Rachel's top tip

When using a vanilla pod for the trifle custard, wash it afterwards, then pat it dry and store it to use it another few times. I normally split it on the second or third time I'm using it, to extract the maximum flavour from it.


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