Summer is the season of horticultural and agricultural shows. Up and down the country, towns, villages and counties have fairs, fates and big shows and often there’s a competition where crafters, growers and bakers enter their produce to be judged against the best.
We were on holiday in the North Devon village of Welcombe during the preparations for their 60th Welcombe Horticultural Show. We have friends and family in the village, and they suggested I enter some of my baking. So that’s what I did. I entered two classes in the cookery section – Victoria Sponge and Homemade biscuits.
A Victoria Sponge should be a fairly straight forward thing to bake. It’s considered my many to be entry-level baking; but with a Victoria Sponge there is nowhere to hide. It’s so simple but quite easy to get a little bit wrong. Before I became more interested in baking I used to make very mediocre Victoria Sponge cakes, but in recent years I’ve perfected my recipe and technique and now my Victoria Sponge is as good as any.
We were staying in a converted barn which had a very well equipped kitchen, so I only needed to buy some new cake tins and some weighing scales, plus the ingredients I needed. I made everything the night before the competition and made sure I read the WI rules for the perfect Victoria Sponge which you can find below.
Guidelines for making the Victoria Sponge sandwich for competition are set out in the NFWI Education Committee’s handbook On with the Show:
- May be baked in one or two tins
- No cooling rack marks on top or bottom surface
- Traditional filling of raspberry jam, sufficient and evenly spread
- Light sprinkling of caster sugar on top
- Pale golden colour, evenly baked
- Texture fine, even
- Flavour delicate, characteristic, with no strong favour predominating
I followed these instructions almost to the letter, almost because I used icing sugar rather than caster sugar sprinkled over the top. I’ll know better next time.
I had a bit of a disaster with my lemon shortbread biscuits, the mix wouldn’t firm up enough for me to roll out, so I baked it in a traditional round and sliced it into six wedges. I knew that presentation would mark me down, and I was right; but the judges did comment on the lovely flavour and texture. So I just need to figure out what went wrong for next time.
We dropped my entries off on the morning of the show and then had a nervous wait while the judges deliberated. I was delighted when the show opened that afternoon to find that my lemon shortbread had won 3rd prize in its class and my Victoria Sponge was joint 1st.
I genuinely did not think my baking stood a chance against the talented local bakers. The competition was very stiff and I was so pleased with myself for doing so well.
The recipe I used for my Victoria Sponge was based on my fail-safe sponge cake recipe which has done me proud over the years. It never fails, never.
Prize Winning Victoria Sponge cake Recipe
200 g caster sugar
200 g softened butter or margarine (I use Stork)
4 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 tbsp milk
200 g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 of a jar of good quality raspberry jam
Caster sugar for dusting
Heat your fan oven to 190c. Grease two 20cm sandwich tins, I also lined the bottom of each tin with a circle of baking parchment. In a large bowl, beat your butter and sugar together until fluffy (I used a hand mixer). Add the eggs, milk and vanilla and combine, then add the flour and baking powder and mix together until you have a smooth batter.
Divide the mixture equally between the two tins. You can weigh them to make sure they’re fairly equal if you’d like. Bake in your pre-heated oven for around 20 mins until golden and they’re cooked. Remove from the tins and leave to cool on a cooling rack.
If you’re baking to WI standard and want to avoid making cooling rack marks, then turn your cakes out onto a cooling rack; but make sure there is a piece of baking parchment between the cake and the rack.
Leave your cakes to cool, preferably overnight before thickly spreading good quality raspberry jam between them and sandwiching them together. Dust with a little caster sugar and serve.
It’s really important to make sure your cakes are cool before you put your jam layer in. I thought mine were cool enough, but they weren’t and my jam seeped into the layers and I got marked down for that.
My Victoria Sponge was victorious! I’m planning to go back again next year and defend my title, enter a few more things into the show and do better with my lemon shortbread.
If you live somewhere where there is a village show, or some kind of Bake Off competition, please do consider entering. It’s really great fun. I entered thinking I didn’t have much hope of even placing, let alone winning anything. I was delighted to have done so well. Good luck, and happy baking!