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The Victoria sandwich is one of those bakes with a very rich history to it. It is believed to have been (one of) Queen Victoria’s favorite cake(s). It is a round cake of two layers with jam in the middle.
As is the case with every food with a rich history to it, the Victoria sandwich has changed and morphed over time. It’s hard to find the ‘original’, if there is even a need to do so. We’ll go on a journey through Victoria sandwich land, ending with a modern day variety.
Queen Victoria’s reign, a time of change
Queen Victoria reigned over the UK in the 19th century, from 1837 until her death in 1901. During her reign the country went through a lot of changes. She was the first British monarch to take a train for instance. More importantly for this story though, she was probably also the first monarch to have enjoyed cakes made with the modern leavening agents baking powder and baking soda!
Invention of baking powder & baking soda
Baking powder and baking soda (here‘s how they work) were only invented in the first half of the 19th century. The first products for consumers started coming on the market in the 2nd half of that century. Around the turn of the century, a wide variety of brands has been started, all selling baking powder & soda. When baking powder & baking soda arrived on the British market isn’t easy to find, but it’s likely to have found its way into the Royal palace before the end of Victoria’s reign.
The importance of baking powder for cakes
So why is this invention of importance for the cakes Queen Victoria (and others at the time for that matter) ate? Before the invention of baking powder & baking soda it was a lot harder to make a light and airy fluffy cake. You could use yeast, but that takes a lot more time, or eggs, but that takes a tremendous amount of whipping (especially without an electric mixer). Baking powder made it a lot easier to create an airy cake.
Baking powder in a Victorian sandwich?
This is where recipes and opinions start to divert. Some claim that the addition of baking powder is what makes the cake so delicious. In other words, it’s what made it unique at the time. Others don’t use any and whisk the batter a lot more to create those desired air bubbles.
The recipe we made (at the bottom of this post) does include baking powder.
The type of cake: sponge vs. pound?
In the world of cake baking there are a lot of different cakes, with a lot of different names that aren’t always used consistently (as we also discovered when researching Genoise cakes). A sponge cake tends to involve whisking up egg whites to create air. A pound cake, which is equal quantities of eggs, butter, flour and sugar, on the other hand does not, modern versions often contain baking powder. Which style you use, thus depends at least partially on whether you use baking powder or not.
The 2 (or 3?) components of a Victoria sandwich
Everybody seems to agree that a Victorian sandwich consists of two layers of cake with jam in between. The classical jam to use would be raspberry, but most recipe writers give the cooks the freedom to choose whichever they want.
There is some disagreement though as to whether a Victorian sandwich also contains sweetened whipped cream. Most classical recipes don’t, but if you like it, why not?
Looking for an analysis of a bunch of Victoria sandwich recipes? The Guardian did a nice and extensive analysis on ingredients, steps and methods used.
Learn more about Queen Victoria on the royal.uk website.
The British Women’s Institute is of the opinion that a Victoria sandwich is not made with baking powder.
The BBC makes a Victorian sandwich using a pound cake recipe (so equal weight quantities eggs, sugar, butter, flour) and they add both jam and cream. TheKtchn does so too, but since they use volumetric quantities, it’s hard to see.