For the sponge
- A little melted butter or vegetable oil, for greasing
- 125g butter, cut into pieces
- 125g caster sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 125g self-raising flour
- Pinch of salt
- 2 tbsp milk
For the buttercream
- 75g butter, at room temperature
- 150g icing sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 3-4 tbsp raspberry or strawberry jam
- A few raspberries or halved strawberries
- Caster sugar, for sprinkling
- Check that the oven shelves are positioned correctly, towards the centre of the oven. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Lightly brush two 18cm sandwich tins with melted butter or vegetable oil, then line their bases with circles of non-stick baking parchment or greaseproof paper and lightly grease the paper.
- Put the butter into a large mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon or an electric mixer until soft. (Ideally the butter should be at room temperature so that it creams easily). Add the caster sugar and beat with the wooden spoon or electric mixer until the mixture is very pale in colour and light in texture.
- Beat the eggs together in a jug, then add them to the creamed mixture a little at a time, beating well between each addition. If the mixture looks like it is about to curdle, add a teaspoon of the flour when you add the beaten egg – although don’t worry, as curdling won’t affect the end result. Beat in the vanilla extract.
- Sift the flour and salt into the bowl. Now use a large metal spoon to cut and fold the flour into the mixture. Do this as lightly as possible – the trick is to avoid bashing out the air that you have so carefully beaten into the mixture, so don’t use a wooden spoon or your electric mixer at this stage. Gently stir in the milk.
- Divide the mixture equally between the prepared tins and level the tops with a palette knife. Transfer the tins to the oven. Shut the door quickly and bake for 20-25 minutes. You can check their progress after 18 minutes, but not before. If you interrupt their baking earlier, the oven temperature will reduce and the cakes could collapse before the eggs have had a chance to set, so be warned!
- Test that the cakes are cooked. They should be golden brown, and when the surface is touched lightly with your finger, it should spring back. Cool on a wire rack for 2-3 minutes, then carefully turn out the cakes, and peel away the lining paper. Improvise if you don’t possess a wire cooling rack – use the rack from the grill pan. Cool completely.
- While the cakes are cooling, make the buttercream. Beat the butter until soft with a wooden spoon or electric mixer, then sift in the icing sugar. Beat again until light and creamy, then add the vanilla extract and beat well. (If making coffee icing, dissolve 2 teaspoons of coffee granules or powder in 2 teaspoons of boiling water. Cool, then beat into the icing).
- When the cakes are completely cool, spread one cake with the buttercream and the other with raspberry or strawberry jam. Sandwich together, top with a few raspberries or strawberries and sprinkle the surface with caster sugar. Now put the kettle on!
Coffee Butterfly Cakes
Use the basic mixture to make coffee butterfly cakes, though substitute soft brown sugar for caster, and flavour the mixture with 1 tbsp coffee granules or powder dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water, instead of vanilla. See the tip in Point 7 for coffee-flavoured buttercream icing. Finish off with pecan or walnut halves and sprinkle with icing sugar. Makes 12.
Strawberry Victoria Trifles
Use leftover cake to make these lovely little trifles. Arrange a layer of sliced cake in the base of four attractive glasses, then pour over the juice from a 400g can of pears (eat the pears for another dessert). Top with a layer of sliced strawberries, spoon over some ready-made custard and top with whipped double cream. Finish off with halved strawberries. Yum!
Cake fallen flat? Sue can help.
Q Can I use different sized cake tins?
A Always use the correct size of cake tin specified – it’s important for success. If you want a 20cm cake, you’ll need 175g of butter, caster sugar and flour – and 3 large eggs.
Q Do I need to line my tins even if they’re non-stick?
A Yes! Greased baking paper on the base of the tins will ensure that the cakes will be released without sticking, so it’s worth it.
Q I don’t always have self-raising flour. Could I use plain?
A Yes, though if you’re using a mixture of plain flour and baking powder, check the quantities needed on the baking powder pack – amounts can vary from one brand to the next. And do measure accurately with cook’s measuring spoons, levelled off with a knife. Then sift the flour and baking powder together thoroughly, to make sure they’re mixed.
Q What consistency am I looking for?
A The cake mixture should have a soft, dropping consistency – which means that if you pick up a large spoonful and suspend it over the bowl, it should drop off quite easily. If it doesn’t, lightly stir in 1-2 tbsp of milk.
5 Golden Rules
Successful baking isn’t guesswork – it requires accuracy and timing!
Butter gives the very best flavour for sponge cakes – and their fillings.
Use a light touch when folding in the flour to make sure you don’t lose volume.
Make sure the oven is preheated – it needs to be at the correct temperature before the cakes are put in.
Avoid opening the oven door while the cakes are cooking – please!
Recipe and food styling: Sue Ashworth
Photography: Jonathan Short