Victoria Sandwich – Gluten-free, Dairy-free


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The Victoria sandwich, also known as the Victoria sponge cake, was named after Queen Victoria, who reigned in Britain between 1819 and 1901. She was known to enjoy the small cake with her afternoon cup of tea. The quatre quarts, or four quarters cake, known as a pound cake in America, became popular in Britain in the 18th century, as cakes moved towards something lighter and more golden, away from being heavy and full of fruit. It eventually took the form of the iconic Victoria sandwich, with four equal parts of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. The version that Queen Victoria ate would have been a two-layer sponge-like cake filled with raspberry jam, the top of the cake was devoid of icing or any form of decoration, apart from a light dusting of castor sugar. It was the invention of baking powder in 1843 by the English food manufacturer, Alfred Bird, which allowed the quatre quarts cakes to rise higher than had previously been possible. This invention was celebrated with a patriotic cake: the Victoria sandwich. Before the invention of the chemical leavener, baking powder, it was difficult to make airy, fluffy, light cakes. Yeast was sometimes used, as were eggs, however it took a lot of time, effort, and muscle in whipping the cake batter to create such a ‘spongy’ cake. As well as lacking in a ‘sponge’-like consistency, the cakes were much thinner. They were more like a modern-day British biscuit. The first published recipe for Victoria sandwich was in Mrs Beeton’s book, Household Management, in 1861. It was only later that a cream filling was added, originally a buttercream, and only recently, a whipped cream of some form. The latter is easier for the industrial manufacture of sponge cakes.

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The Victoria sandwich, itself, was cut into small ‘sandwiches’ and served, and eaten, in a similar manner, particularly at that quintessential, traditional, time of ‘afternoon tea’, with a cup of traditional English tea. Just what is afternoon tea? The formal, afternoon tea habit became the norm in the upper and middle classes in the mid-1800s, soon after the discovery of the Indian tea plant in the 1820s. Historically, the creation of afternoon tea is attributed to Anna, the Duchess of Bedford (1788-1861), who was one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting. The concept came about because, after a hearty breakfast and the noon meals becoming skimpier, the Duchess suffered from ‘a sinking’ feeling at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Basically, she was hungry, and could not wait until the next sumptuous meal in the evening, before eating something in between. So, she took a ‘snack’, sneaked in to her dressing room by servants. Soon after, she adopted the European tea service format of inviting friends to join her in her rooms in Belvoir Castle, where she stayed during the summer months, for an additional afternoon meal at 5 o’clock. The menu for this afternoon tea, or ‘high tea’ (N.B., there is also a British ‘low tea’!) centred around small cakes, bread and butter type sandwiches, assorted sweets, and, of course, cups of tea: a typical British affair. Due to its popularity, she continued this practice when she returned to London. It was a practice soon taken up by other social hostesses, including Queen Victoria herself. It was quite a formal occasion. When her husband died in 1861, Queen Victoria spent time in retreat at her residence, Osborne House, on the Isle of White, which is a small island off the south coast of England. It was here that, apparently, the Victoria sponge cake was named after Queen Victoria. It is said that it was a cake that she really enjoyed eating at high tea. In those days the cake was only six inches in diameter and one cake served five people. Although often referred to as ‘sponge cake’ (especially in the UK), technically it is not a sponge cake; that is made differently, with different quantities and types of ingredients, and the leavener is the trapped air in the generated foam and that is aided by the steam’ created in the baking process.

The traditional filling is raspberry jam, however additional fillings have been added over time; such as buttercream, whipped cream, or other more exotic cream combinations. The addition of ‘cream’ as a filling helps the flavours of the other components to come to the fore. A traditionally made French buttercream, even using superfine sugar, still tastes heavy and bitty. A smoother and richer tasting version is made by using the crème anglaise, or custard, based approach. The taste is both lighter and creamier. Also, the eggs are fully cooked and the sugar is totally dissolved, thus adding a custard taste to the buttery flavour.

Due to the method that was used to mix the quatre quarts cakes, the ‘dump’, or ‘all in one’ method, whereby all of the ingredients were beaten together, and the reliance on baking powder as the leavener, most modern bakery authors use Self-raising flour, which includes baking powder as an ingredient. Some authors even add extra baking powder to that too, to be on the safe side. However, using the traditional sequence of mixing: beating the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy (to introduce trapped air), and then gradually adding the egg yolks, and then folding in the combined (in this case) All-purpose flour and baking powder, produces a much lighter, delicate structure than that produced by the ‘dump’ method, which produces a cake that is both dense and chewy.

This version is baked using 23cm (9in) sandwich tins, rather than 20cm (8in) sandwich tins, as most people do. This Gluten-free version is based on the proportions given in the Gluten ‘Classic Victoria sandwich’ recipe given by the BBC Good Food Team (, although the method used is traditional, rather than the ‘dump’ method. Yet, in the interest of tradition, baking powder is used with the traditional mixing method. Jane Grigson in her book, English Food, (London, Penguin Group, 1974), gave an early recipe for a buttercream filling, which she stated could be improved by using a custard-based approach. However, testers found that this was too thick, so it was substituted with a classic crème mousseline to make the filling lighter. The cream filling is made dairy free with the use of Hemp milk.

Ingredients (cake): (23cm (9in) sandwich tins)
Gluten-free Flour mix* 300g
Baking powder 2 1/2tsp
Salt 3/4tsp
Butter 300g
Cane sugar (superfine) 300g (blitz cane sugar in a coffee grinder to superfine)
Eggs 300g (6 large)
Hemp milk 3Tbsp (possibly a little more)

Cream filling (approx. 510g)
Raspberry jam 5Tbsp

*Gluten-free Flour mix: 440g Brown Rice flour, 125g Sweet Rice flour, 45g Potato starch, 95g Tapioca starch, and 55g Arrowroot. Total weight: 760g

Method (cake):
To achieve as much volume as possible in the final baked cake, the butter used needs to stay above 15C during the whole mixing process. To help this process, place the stand mixing bowl in a freezer for 15 minutes before using.
Preheat the oven to180C for a minimum of 45 minutes.
Grease, with room temperature butter, the insides of two sandwich tins, and then line them with parchment paper liners. The parchment paper liners should then be greased.
In a medium sized bowl (1), sift in the Gluten-free flour mix, add the extra baking powder, and the pinch of salt. Whip with a wire whisk to fully combine, periodically using a spoon to turn the outside flour into the middle of the bowl, and whisk again, rotating the bowl at the same time, until the components are fully combined. Set aside.
In the cold bowl (2) of a stand mixer fitted with a flat paddle mixer, add the cold, sliced and cubed butter. Beat the butter, at medium-high speed, until the butter is smooth, pale in colour, and creamy. This will take about 3 minutes.
Slowly add the superfine cane sugar and combine, continuously beat, or cream, the butter-sugar mixture for 5-6 minutes, stopping the mixer and scraping down the sides and across the bottom of the bowl, at least once. Periodically feel the side of the mixer bowl, and if it is feels warm, stop the mixer and place the filled bowl in the freezer for 5 minutes. Before resuming creaming the butter and sugar. The creaming is done when the butter-sugar mix is smooth, light and white. The whiter it is the more trapped air is inside, for a lighter cake.
At the lowest speed add the first egg and incorporate completely. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the rest of the eggs, one at a time, completely incorporating each one, and scraping down the sides of the bowl before adding the next egg. After the last egg has been incorporated, beat the mixture for a further 1-2 minutes to complete the lightening of the mixture.
Remove the mixer bowl (2) and add 1Tbsp Hemp milk and sift in 1/4 of the Gluten-free flour mix, avoiding getting any on the sides of the bowl, and fold in with a silicon spatula, the edge going down, scraping across the bottom and lifting up to the top and folding over, or use a wire whisk and drag and rotate, to fold the flour in. This is done by dragging the wire whisk from the far side of the batter to the front, then rotating the mixing bowl a quarter turn, and repeating the dragging. It may take between 5 – 6 drag and rotates to fully incorporate the flour into the batter. Add a further 1Tbsp of Hemp milk, and sift in the rest of the Gluten-free flour mix, and fold in. Then add in 1Tbsp of Hemp milk and fold in. Check the dropping consistency of the batter, what is requires is that it easily drops off a spoon, yet, not run off; this is so that the batter pours. If necessary, add sufficient Hemp milk for the batter to easily drop off a spoon.
Divide the batter, evenly, between the two sandwich tins. This does not have to be exact. Tap the sandwich tins on the worksurface to displace any bubbles, then smooth the top surface with a spatula.

Baking and cooling:
Immediately place the filled sandwich tins in the middle of the preheated oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes (avoid opening the oven door before 25 minutes have elapsed), or until the cake is golden and well risen, the cake springs back when lightly pressed, or when a thin paring knife inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, yet moist. Ideally, the cake does not pull away from the sides of the tin. Place the sandwich tins on a wire cooling rack for 10 minutes, then carefully turn the cake out and put it, flat side down, onto another cooling rack. Remove the parchment paper linings and allow the cake to cool completely.
Note that the finished cake is hugely sensitive when it comes to oven temperature, and hence timing, so much so that some oven manufacturers actually use the cooking of a Sandwich Sponge to test their oven's consistency.

Cream filling (custard type):
The Classic Crème Mousseline recipe is based upon the dairy recipe given in Baking, (Berkeley, Ten Speed Press, 2009) by Peterson J, although a different method is used for combining the custard and butter.This combining method is given in Roland Mesnier’s book Dessert University, quoted in Corriher S O, BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking with Over 200 Magnificent Recipes, (New York, Scribner, 2008).

Ingredients (Cream filling): (approx. 510g)
Cane Sugar 50g
Eggs 64g (1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk)
Cornstarch 2Tbsp plus 1 1/2tsp
Hemp milk 240g
Vanilla essence 1/2tsp
Butter (room temp, chopped) 170g (sliced and cubed)

Method (cream filling):
Take the butter out of the refrigerator, at least 30 minutes before use, and bring it up to room temperature.
In a saucepan (2) over medium heat, add the Hemp milk and Vanilla essence, and bring the milk to a gentle simmer, yet avoid boiling.
In a large bowl (1) add sugar, egg, and yolk, and whisk together for at least 30 seconds (otherwise the egg yolks will burn due to the acid in the sugar), to form a smooth, lemon coloured mixture. Whisk in the cornstarch until the mixture is smooth.
In a saucepan (2) over medium heat, add the Hemp milk and Vanilla essence, and bring the milk to a gentle simmer, yet avoid boiling.
Turn off the heat. Slowly pour half of the hot milk (saucepan 2) into the egg mixture (bowl 1) and stir constantly with a wire whisk. This is called tempering, and is a method of easing two components with widely different temperatures to cook together and prevent premature coagulation: to control the rate of protein folding and reconnecting.
Pour the resultant mixture (2) back into the saucepan (1) containing the remaining hot milk mixture and whisk together to combine.
Turn heat back on to medium-low, for even unfolding and reconnection of the egg proteins, and stir the pastry cream mixture with a wooden spoon until it is thoroughly blended and smooth. Make sure that wooden spoon reaches everywhere - bottom, sides, and corners, so that the mixture does not burn. Keep the spoon in constant motion. Once you sense that the mixture is slightly thick on the bottom of the saucepan (look at bottom of spoon), remove it from the heat. Once the mixture has reached 75 – 77C the egg proteins reattach and solidify. Heating above 77C will result in an ‘eggy’ taste to the custard. The thickened mixture should thickly coat the back of the wooden spoon.
Off heat, continue stirring the pastry cream mixture for a further minute, until the mixture is thick, smooth and uniform (this allows a slow and even coagulation of the eggs and will produce a creamy texture).
Return the saucepan to the heat and cook for a further 1 – 2 mins to overcome any resultant starch flavour.
Line a baking tray with clingfilm, and pour the custard cream into this, ensuring that it is thinner than 5cm (2in) in thickness. Allow the custard to cool to room temperature. The custard will continue to thicken as it cools. Check the bottom of the baking tray, it is cool when the bottom of the baking tray feels cold. To speed up the process, cover with another sheet of clingfilm and place in a refrigerator. The pastry cream should be thick, creamy, and smooth, indicating that the fat, in the butter, milk, and eggs, has been properly emulsified with the water in the milk and eggs.
In the bowl (5) of a stand mixer add the sliced and cubed butter, fit the mixer with a flat paddle attachment, beat at medium-high speed until it is smooth, pale in colour, and creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
At the slowest speed, slowly add in the cooled custard, whisking, and frequently scraping down the sides, until the buttercream is light and creamy.
Finally, beat for a further 3 – 4 minutes until it is completely homogeneous, smooth and airy.
Use immediately, or keep, tightly covered with clingfilm, in a refrigerator for up to three days. To use, bring up to room temperature and whip the cream filling first, so that it can aerate.

To assemble the cake, first decide which of the two cakes has the most appealing surface, then take the other one and place it, top surface down, onto a plate, or server. As soon as the cake is cool, spread the flat surface with 5Tbsp of Raspberry jam, going right out to the edges. This will allow time for it to ‘set’.
After making the cream filling, spread the custard buttercream generously over the jam covered surface, starting around the outer perimeter, finally, place any cream left into the centre of the cake surface. Spread the cream evenly over the top of the jam with a thin metal spatula, smoothing the cream in towards the centre. This way less jam will spread out over the side. Then, place the other cake, flat side down, on top of the layer of cream. The weight of the cake will press down and the cream oozes out to the sides (a standard feature of British sponge cakes). Finally, dust the top of the Victoria Sandwich with cane sugar.

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Should the cake survive one sitting, it can be placed in an airtight container, such as a cake tin, and stored for up to two days.
Ollie, after all those resplendent and certainly scrumptious cakes made and remade, and even if I haven't had the pleasure of tasting them to also feel a breath of history between two bites, I can tell you that you are a fine alchemist/historian of the practical application of pastry.
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