Victoria sandwich, also known as Victoria sponge, was named after Queen Victoria (naturally) and is still a popular British cake to this day. This is the earliest known recipe for Victoria sandwiches, from Isabella Beeton’s 1861 cookbook The Book of Household Management.
Isabella Beeton’s cookbook was so successful – selling 60,000 copies just in the first year it was published – that “Mrs. Beeton” quickly became a household name in Britain. While many readers might have pictured Mrs. Beeton as an older, experienced matron, Isabella Beeton was in fact only 25 when she published her book. Growing up as the oldest of 21 children, however, she had plenty of practical experience with housekeeping and cooking, and expanded on her experience with additional schooling in pastry making and confectionary.
Although Isabella Beeton has been criticized for plagiarizing many of her recipes (especially from Eliza Acton and Alexis Soyer), her book was still beloved for her sensible, entertaining writing style; her emphasis on practicality and economy; and her comprehensiveness (the book runs to 1,112 pages and contains over 2,000 recipes and pieces of advice). The Book of Household Management stayed in print for 125 years, attesting to its popularity. Mrs. Beeton herself, unfortunately, didn’t live to see the enduring success of her book; she passed away in 1865, at the age of 28. While the book was still published under the name “Mrs. Beeton,” later revisions and additions were done by other authors.
- 4 eggs
- baker’s sugar, sifted
- flour, sifted
- 1/4 tsp salt
- jam or marmalade
- Start by weighing the eggs. Then, measure out the same weight of sugar, butter, and flour.
- Cream the butter. Add the sugar, flour, and salt and mix together thoroughly. Finally, add the beaten eggs.
- Using an electric mixer, beat the whole mixture together thoroughly for about three to four minutes, until the mixture looks light, fluffy, and completely smooth. If mixing by hand, you will probably need to beat it for even longer (Mrs. Beeton says 10 minutes). Don’t be tempted to skimp on this – you really need to mix it this long, or it will not rise and you will end up with sad, flat cakes…don’t ask me how I know.
- Pour the mixture into a greased and floured 9×9 pan (Mrs. Beeton only says to use a greased pan, but I found that flouring it as well helped the cake rise a little better).
- Bake at 350 for about 30-35 minutes.
- Once the cake has cooled, cut it in half horizontally. Spread the bottom layer of the cake with jam, then place the top layer back on top. Cut the cake into long, thin rectangular sandwiches. Dust the tops with powdered sugar.
Unlike most modern Victoria sandwich cakes, Mrs. Beeton’s recipe contains no baking powder. Although it does still rise (if you beat the batter long enough), it may not be quite as light and airy as typical modern-day Victoria sandwich cakes. Although many modern recipes for Victoria sandwiches are called “sponge cakes,” the name is technically a misnomer, since most Victoria sandwich cakes are more similar to pound cakes than true sponge cakes. Mrs. Beeton’s version, with equal weights of sugar, butter, eggs, and flour, is a classic pound cake (and note that she correctly calls it a sandwich and not a sponge). Still, I found to my surprise that even without baking powder, the pound cake really didn’t seem that dense or heavy.
I did have some difficulty finding the correct baking pan size for this recipe. Mrs. Beeton calls for a Yorkshire pudding tin, which most likely would have been a long, narrow tin. I don’t have one of those, so I first tried an 8×8 pan. In this one, the cake was much too tall; it worked for eating with a fork, but was too tall for finger sandwiches. Next, when I tried a 9×9 pan, I initially didn’t beat the batter enough, which resulted in a very sad, flat cake. I did finally make a successful cake in a 9×9 pan, but I found it was very, very important to beat the batter for at least 3 minutes. Flouring the sides of the pan seemed to help it rise as well. If you want an easier Victoria sandwich cake with a higher chance of success and a lighter texture, you might want to try a modern recipe with baking powder; but I did have fun exploring the original Victoria sandwich recipe, and it did taste good once I got it right. My failures to beat the batter properly and to find the right baking pan can hardly be blamed on Mrs. Beeton’s excellent instructions.
If you do try this recipe and it doesn’t turn out well, check back next week – I will have a post about a Victorian recipe for using up leftover cake (I had to find one after making this recipe four times!).
Ayto, John. (2012). Victoria sandwich. In The diner’s dictionary: Word origins of food & drink. (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Beeton, I. (1861). The book of household management. London: S.O. Beeton. https://archive.org/details/b20392758/page/750/mode/2up
Davidson, A. (2006). Victoria sandwich cake. In A. Davidson & T. Jaine (Eds.), The Oxford companion to food (p. 829). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Snodgrass, M. (2004). Beeton, Isabella. In Encyclopedia of kitchen history. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn.