Photo: Cynthia Low
Britain's queen of cooks Mary Berry recently left award-winning BBC programme The Great British Bake Off, where she was a judge, after its impending move to a rival channel was announced.
The 81-year-old, who appeared in her first television cooking show in the 1970s, has written more than 70 cookbooks. One of her classic recipes is the Victoria sandwich - a sponge cake sandwiched with jam and sometimes cream between the layers.
The cake is said to be the favourite of the late Queen Victoria, hence its name, and appears to have been widely popular during her reign.
Berry is not the only fan of sponge cake, which is generally agreed to be a European recipe invented in the early 19th century.
There is a National Sponge Cake Day that is celebrated on Aug 23 in the United States and the United Kingdom.
There are times I wish that one of those sponge cake enthusiasts, or Berry herself, could be at my side when I take on the tricky task of making the cake.
The basic sponge cake appears deceptively simple to make - it just needs common baking ingredients such as eggs, sugar and a little flour with careful beating to create thousands of air bubbles for the lightness.
But putting the mixture together and baking the cake just right requires much care.
A classic Victoria sponge is made from eggs, sugar and a small amount of flour, and then filled with jam or cream. In fact, the Women's Institute in the UK has insisted that a Victoria sponge should be filled with only raspberry jam and nothing else. I guess it would frown on some of the modifications that exist today.
There are versions of the humble sponge cake, for instance, that are layered with fillings of fruit or filled with cream of various flavours.
Whatever the variation, there are a few things you can do to enhance the end result.
First, start with the eggs at room temperature, which means they will fluff to a greater volume when beaten.
Second, substitute half the plain flour with self-raising flour which helps to ensure a light, fluffy cake.
Finally, sift the dry ingredients at least three times, which makes them lighter and easier to fold into the egg mixture.
I also like to stir in a small amount of melted butter when folding in the dry ingredients as this makes the folding easier.
While making the perfect sponge cake may seem challenging, it is greatly satisfying when you turn out a good one. So do not be discouraged if your first few attempts turn out flat.
CHOCOLATE SPONGE CAKE
Recipe adapted by Cynthia Low
150g caster sugar
60g plain flour
60g self-raising flour
2-3 heaped tbsp cocoa
60g melted butter
Raspberry jam, whipped cream and 100g fresh raspberries to serve
1. Heat the oven to 180deg C. Grease two 20cm round cake tins and line the bottoms with baking paper.
2. Crack the eggs into a large bowl of an electric mixer and whisk at high speed for around eight minutes while gradually adding the sugar. Continue beating until the mixture becomes pale, thick and has tripled in size.
3. Sift both types of flour and cocoa together at least three times, then gently fold into the egg (pictured) mixture using a slicing action with a slotted metal spoon. Be careful not to over-mix and lose the air bubbles.
4. Add melted butter into the mixture and gently fold it through, also using a slicing action with a slotted metal spoon.
5. Gently spoon the mixture equally into each of the two prepared baking tins. Bake for around 25 minutes until the sponge cakes are springy to touch.
6. Place the cakes on a wire rack to cool. Sandwich with raspberry jam and whipped cream. Decorate and serve with fresh raspberries.
This article was first published in The Straits Times with the headline 'Sponge cake fit for a queen'.