Flour power: Mark Hix pays tribute to his grandma's legendary victoria sponge

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Sponges bring back so many happy childhood memories – a Victoria sponge and butterfly cakes would be a regular weekly feature on my gran's gold trolley in her living room. I'm not quite sure what purpose the gold trolley served, except that it collected a hell of lot of dust and it also housed the sacred Victoria sponge in its plastic dome. Trolleys were common in the Sixties and Seventies, but you don't see many around these days; I guess many of them have ended up on eBay.

My gran was a bit of a dab hand at cakes and she was often asked to make and decorate cakes for the locals. Her delicious Victoria sponge always had butter cream (most probably made from margarine, I think) and jam and I always looked forward to finding a slice in my school lunch box and sharing the cake among my mates at lunchtime.

I was recently flicking through Fiona Cairns' new book Bake and Decorate and there were the recipes for Victoria sponge and the butterfly cakes, as well as many more inspirational recipes guaranteed to get you baking.

'Bake and Decorate' by Fiona Cairns is published by Quadrille, priced £19.99

Victoria sponge

This is Fiona Cairns' all-in-one version of the classic Victoria sponge and I must say it works a treat – but you must ensure the butter is very, very soft. You can vary the filling if you wish; try adding ingredients such as lemon or cocoa for a slightly different flavour.

175g unsalted butter, softened, plus a little more for greasing the tin
175g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
3 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
175g golden caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract

For the filling

150ml Jersey cream
4-5tbsp raspberry or strawberry jam
Icing sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 175C/gas mark 4.

You can choose to cook this cake either in a 1 x 20cm sandwich tin or in 2 x 20cm sandwich tins; then line the bases with discs of baking parchment. If you just use 1 tin, line the sides with a 7cm-high collar of baking parchment as well, to allow for the rise. Grease the tin or tins.

For this batter, you can use an electric mixer and beater attachment; or use a food processor; or a bowl and an electric whisk if you want.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, then add the butter (in knobs), the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Beat together until thoroughly blended, taking care not to over-mix so you will have a light sponge. Scrape the batter into the tin or tins and level the top.

Bake for 20-25 minutes if you are using 2 tins, or 30-35 minutes for 1 tin, until the cake springs back to the touch or a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and leave for a couple of minutes, then run a knife around the rim to loosen the cake from the tin and turn out on to a wire rack. Peel off the paper and leave until completely cool.

Lightly whip the cream until just thickened into soft peaks. If you have baked the cake in 1 tin, split in half horizontally with a serrated knife. Fill with jam and cream and sandwich together, with the cream forming the uppermost layer. If you have baked the cake in 2 tins, sandwich the flat bases together. Dust the top with icing sugar.

Madeleines

Makes about 12

These are simple little cakes baked in shell-shaped Madeleine moulds that can be eaten at any time of the day with tea or simply as a little after-dinner nibble. I've even started making savoury versions with cheese to go with soups; or you could use them as a base for savoury canapés.

135g unsalted butter, softened
2tbsp clear honey
3 large eggs
110g caster sugar
15g soft light brown sugar
135g self-raising flour, sifted

Melt the butter and honey in a saucepan and simmer until golden brown. Leave to cool; then, using an electric beater, whisk the eggs, caster sugar and brown sugar together for 8-10 minutes until tripled in volume. Fold in the sifted flour and butter mixture until well mixed. Pour into a container and leave to rest for 2 to 3 hours in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Grease your Madeleine moulds with butter and dust with flour. Place a dessert spoon of the mixture in each mould and cook for 12-15 minutes. Leave to cool and transfer to a cake wire.

Butterfly cakes with passion fruit filling

Makes 12

Cup cakes have become huge business over the past few years. You see them everywhere – and now there are shops and stalls specialising solely in cup cakes. My gran used to make simple cup cakes and butterfly cakes topped with butter cream or fresh cream with strawberries or hundreds and thousands. You can make butterfly cakes with any filling you fancy, really. Just use the same mixture and method as the Victoria sponge; but use medium-sized cup cake tins instead; or you can also use paper cake moulds.

For the passion fruit filling

3 passion fruits
60g caster sugar
120-150ml double cream
Icing sugar for dusting

Halve the passion fruit and scoop the seeds and juice out into a small saucepan. Add the sugar and a couple of tablespoons of water and simmer on a low heat for a few minutes until it's thick and syrupy; then remove from the heat and leave to cool. Whip the cream until stiff, then fold in the passion fruit mixture. Cut the tops off the cakes and cut those tops in half. Scoop out some of the cake from the centre (you can freeze this for a trifle) and fill generously with the filling. Dust the tops with icing sugar and push them into the filling like wings.

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