The sponge is lightest and airiest; the strawberries are sweet and sun-kissed and the thick whipped cream billows in between the two. Who could refuse this classic English dessert?
Fun fact about strawberries
Strawberries are crafty little beasts: they trick us into thinking they’re sweeter than they actually are.
It’s all in the smell: food scientists (there’s my missed dream career path) have found that the sugar levels in strawberries are generally thought to be higher because of specific volatile compounds wafting from a luscious berry.
Those scent compounds deceive us into thinking that a strawberry is sweeter than, say, a blueberry while the latter contains actually more sugars.
Sweet is as sweet looks
The same goes for other red fruit. Tomato varieties that contain more of those particular volatiles are perceived as sweeter; irrespective of the attested sugar levels.
I’ll add to that the visual factor, as decisive contributor to taste perception as the smell: subconsciously, we interpret red foods as sweet.
And there we have it – a strawberry is just a pretty face after all.
Not just for Wimbledon
Strawberries and cream, the English classic, is the showcase of Wimbledon which is at the end of June.
But sometimes, weather permitting, late season strawberries are better as the summer continues. Riper, juicier, and better for the macerating exercise I propose in the recipe below.
Sprinkle them with sugar and leave in a bowl on the kitchen worktop. In barely half an hour delightful juices will release – a ready-made syrup to drizzle the sponge base.
Victoria sponge in a lighter version
My take on Victoria sponge is what it really should be: a sponge cake with airy crumb and very little butter in the ingredients. That’s infinitely nicer than the staple of tearooms: a stodgy pound cake usually baked as two separate layers.
The point here is for the gorgeous juices to seep and soak into the cake layers. There is no way that will happen when the layers are encased in solid crust.
The sponge recipe is based on genoise, the lightest, nicest continental cake. The trick of dropping the tin with just-baked cake is ingenious and possibly counterintuitive but it works a treat. It helps maintain aeration within the cake crumb and stops it from collapsing.
When cold, it is really a doddle to slice the cake in half horizontally, even without a cake wire contraption. Use a sharp bread knife or wrap a length of thread around the middle of the cake and twist it. You’ll be surprised how well it works!
And thus, you have two layers with exposed crumb, thirsty for the lovely strawberry syrup! Make sure you drizzle the top half particularly generously, as the bottom will absorb more juice from the strawberry pieces sitting on it.
Cream for strawberries
The sponge is sweet, so are the berries (though not as much as they look to be, hehe) and they have been steeped with some sugar, so the cream best be plain, flavoured with vanilla.
If your tooth veers towards sickly, add a tablespoon of sugar to the whipping cream but in my view it’s redundant. The cream should be whipped soft, so it enfolds the strawberries like a cloud.
And that’s the makings of an exquisite summer treat: airy sponge, almost-melted zesty strawberries, a pillow of cream… And the clever strawberries will make you believe this dessert is sweeter than it really is.
More strawberry recipes
A strawberry drink is perfect for summer, especially when it’s a fizzy, prosecco-based cocktail.
Fresh strawberries are a dream dessert ingredient. Here in my twisted Eton mess, with sweet filo pastry shards instead of meringue – Athens mess.
The easiest strawberry crumble cake with buttermilk batter is the firm summer favourite in my house.
More summer berry cake recipes
A slightly different sponge recipe, lightly roasted blueberries to intensify the flavour, and here’s a worthy competition to the strawberry Victoria sandwich: blueberry and cream sponge cake.
Easy cherry sponge cake with fresh cherries lightly roasted; the base is gently prebaked and the end result a gorgeous double decker cherry cake.
Finally, time for raspberries: fresh berries scattered on top of light and airy cake sponge batter. Dust with icing sugar for a perfect summer dessert.