Recipes | By Margaret M. Johnson
June 14 is designated as “National Strawberry Shortcake Day,” but let’s face it: those delectable berries that are so good in so many recipes are worth celebrating all month long! According to Driscoll’s, a California company with over 100 years of growing berries, “The first printed shortcake recipe appeared in an English cookbook in 1588. In the 1850s, Americans added strawberries to traditional shortcakes and celebrated the start of summer with ‘strawberry shortcake parties.’ Influenced by French chefs, whipped cream became a key ingredient in strawberry shortcake around 1910, and in the 1950s, homemakers turned to Bisquick to make easy drop style shortcakes.”
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Farm stands and markets across Ireland and America are brimming with locally-grown, luscious, versatile, and delicious berries, and for teatime, especially in Ireland and the United Kingdom, serving a traditional Victoria Sponge is one of the most popular ways to feature them. Some say the cake, which consists of strawberry or raspberry jam and whipped cream sandwiched between two sponge cakes, is the “quintessential tea time sweet.” The top of the cake is generally not iced or decorated except for a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar, sometimes over a doily to create a lacy pattern, but it’s often garnished with fresh berries.
The cake is named in honor of Queen Victoria, who spent time at her residence on the Isle of Wight following the death of Prince Albert in 1861. In order to inspire the monarch to get back into the swing of civic duties, she was encouraged to host tea parties, at which a sponge cake like this was served. “Victoria Sponges” became fashionable throughout the U.K. and Ireland and also became the measure of the home-baker. This recipe (and the accompanying photo featuring Aynsley china tea cups and saucers in the Windsor Cottage pattern), is adapted from the tea room at Belleek, Ireland’s oldest working fine china company, established in 1857 in the village of Belleek, County Fermanagh. It’s included in my cookbook Teatime in Ireland; signed copies available at irishcook.com.
For the cake
6 ounces butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the filling
1/2 cup strawberry or raspberry jam
2/3 cup heavy cream, whipped
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Fresh strawberries, for garnish (optional)
- Make cake. Preheat oven to 325° F. Coat two 8-inch round pans with nonstick baking spray with flour.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat butter and sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
- In a small bowl, whisk eggs. Gradually beat them into butter mixture.’ Beat in vanilla. Fold in flour, baking powder and salt until fully incorporated. Transfer mixture to prepared pans.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until top is golden and springs back when gently pressed with your fingers. Remove cakes from oven; let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove cakes from pans; let cool completely.
- Spread one cake layer with jam; pipe or spread whipped cream on top. Sandwich cakes together.
- Place an 8-inch doily on top of cake; lightly sift confectioners’ sugar over it. Carefully remove doily, leaving a lacy pattern on cake. Cover and refrigerate cake until serving time. Garnish with fresh strawberries, if desired.
MINI VICTORIA SPONGE CAKES
This recipe, adapted from one found in Teatime Magazine, could easily pass for a mini strawberry shortcake!
2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons self-rising flour
1/2 cup extra-fine sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
1 cup cold heavy (whipping) cream
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, divided
3/4 cup chopped fresh strawberries
1/4 cup strawberry preserves
Fresh strawberries, for garnish
Fresh mint, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 325°. Coat a 15 ×10-inch rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Line with parchment paper; spray again.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and 1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. With an electric mixer, beat for about 5 minutes at high speed, or until well incorporated. Spread batter into prepared pan, smoothing evenly.
- Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until edges are golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven; let cool completely in pan.
- Using a 2 1/2-inch round cutter, cut out 14 rounds from cake.
- In a deep bowl, combine cream, 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. With an electric mixer, beat at high speed until thick and creamy. Add chopped strawberries, stirring well. Spread a layer of strawberry preserves onto 7 cake rounds. Add a layer of strawberry cream; top each with a remaining cake round.
- Sift remaining 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar over cakes. Garnish each with a fresh strawberry and a mint sprig, if desired. Serve immediately. (To make-ahead; cake rounds can be placed in an airtight container with layers separated by wax paper and frozen for up to a week. Thaw completely before assembling cake stacks).