Victoria Sponge: Treacle and Spice and everything nice.

flag-mini-british Sounds like the name of an eccentric English detective, yes? Well, no. It's cake from the motherland.

Sometimes I think I was born on the wrong side of pond, so enamored am I of all things British. Well,
many things British. I was always fascinated by English accents, the royal family (didn't I dream of marrying one of the princes as a wee girl?), BBC shows on public television -- think Upstairs, Downstairs, double decker buses and London taxis, tea and finger sandwiches, Paddington Bear books. Over the years my fascination branched out from England to Scotland, Wales and Ireland--all of which hold the bones of my ancestors. I feel a kinship with the United Kingdom, and I’m on a quest to strengthen that kinship through--well, a trip there would be nice but until then--food.

Ever since I discovered
British Country Living magazine I’ve drooled over lots of interesting recipes from the U.K. And my favorite Miss Read books, about country life in the Cotswolds, have introduced me to a teatime treat called “Victoria sponge.”
Sea sponge cake
No no no, not that kind of sponge! This:
Treacle sponge on plate
It's Treacle and Spice Victoria Sponge -- darker than the usual Victoria sponges, which look more like this -- yellow cake layers with fruit or jam in between. A slice with a pot of tea, please!
Sponge cakes were, apparently, a favorite of
Queen Victoria, who not only invented the entire Victorian era but is also famed for her afternoon tea parties. For elevating the ritual of afternoon tea, credit is often given to the Duchess of Bedford, one of Queen V’s “Ladies of the Bedchamber." Apparently The Duchess got a bit peckish at 5ish, hours after the lunch dishes had been cleared and hours to go until dinner time (at 9:00 p.m.). The story goes that she convinced the household help to sneak pots of tea and snacks into her room, to quell the "sinking feeling" of low blood sugar in between meals. She started inviting friends for this daily repast, and when Queen Vic found out she adopted the ritual herself, enjoying slices of sponge cake with her tea every afternoon.

Back to Victoria sponge (named for guess who?), in which butter and sugar are beaten together until light and fluffy, then mixed with the remaining ingredients. The resulting cake is light, but not so light as angel food cake, which relies on whipped egg whites and cream of tartar to create marshmallow fluffiness and height. Typical Victoria sponge recipes call for equal portions -- usually 225g each (this is a British cake, remember) -- of butter,
caster sugar (ground to a fineness between granulated and powdered sugar--here we call it "superfine sugar"), eggs and self-raising flour (flour mixed with baking powder and salt, although my bag also lists baking soda). In fact, one Sponge recipe I found calls for weighing three eggs first, then adding the same weight in butter, sugar and flour. Clever! Like a pound cake.
Treacle sponge butter
With all those lovely grams to calculate, this cake calls for your trusty Escali Digital Scale. You say you don’t have one? Go here to buy! You won’t regret it.

This cake is a departure from regular Victoria sponge -- it is flavored with
dark muscovado sugar (like molasses flavored dark brown sugar), cinnamon and allspice, only one deep layer, no fruit in the middle, and a sweet orange glaze on top. I couldn’t find muscovado sugar anywhere, so I mixed about a tablespoon or more of molasses with dark brown sugar. Someday I’ll find that muscovado sugar to see how mine measured up. I also made my own self-raising/rising flour: 1.5 tsp. baking powder and 1/4 tsp. salt per cup of flour. Not being familiar with treacle, I'm assuming the muscovado sugar stands in for it in this recipe.
Treacle sponge all ingredients
The recipe calls for putting all ingredients into a bowl mixed together, rather than beating the eggs and sugar separately. Oh isn't it nice using just one bowl.
Treacle sponge batter in pan
I plopped the batter into a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper on the bottom.
Treacle sponge baked
It puffed up nicely with the most interesting bubblynubbly thing happening on top. What beautiful color!
Treaclel sponge on rack
I really worked the orange glaze so it dripped down the sides just as prettily as the picture from the recipe.
Treacle sponge on platter
The glaze cracked a bit when I transferred the cake from pan to platter, but thankfully this did
not affect the flavor. It's moist, not too dense or sweet, and tastes like gingerbread. The glaze is exactly right for it -- just a thin layer of sweetness instead of heavy frosting. When I make this again, I might flavor the glaze with fresh squeezed lemon juice instead of orange, to make it more zingly.

Next time, though, I'm making a
chocolate version. I just can't go too long without chocolate.