The best way to learn about a culture is by eating it, I always say. It’s so easy to be inspired when you learn more about a culture’s food and its history. Paired with my love for culinary challenges and my fascination with the cupcake’s versatility, finding and creating a cupcake recipe inspired by another dessert was something that excited me for the duration of my recent trip to London.
While I enjoyed the sights of London with its history, architecture, parks, and people, I felt most at home at the Borough Market where I picked up a small jar of pure Madagascan vanilla powder, a pinch of which would transform a simple buttercream into an aromatic addition to any cake. I was, however, unsuccessful in finding the right jam for me at the Market (I went on one of its lesser volume days). Then I was introduced to Fortnum & Mason where a modest jar of strawberry preserves waited for me.
A History of the Victoria Sponge Cake
Anna, the Duchess of Bedford (1788-1861), one of Queen Victoria’s (1819-1901) ladies-in-waiting, is credited as the creator of teatime. Because the noon meal had become skimpier, the Duchess suffered from “a sinking feeling” at about four o’clock in the afternoon. At first the Duchess had her servants sneak her a pot of tea and a few breadstuffs into her dressing room.
Adopting the European tea service format, she invited friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal at five o’clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle. The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and, of course, tea. This summer practice proved so popular, the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for “tea and a walking the fields. The practice of inviting friends to come for tea in the afternoon was quickly picked up by other social hostesses.
Queen Victoria adopted the new craze for tea parties. By 1855, the Queen and her ladies were in formal dress for the afternoon teas. This simple cake was one of the queen’s favorites. After her husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861, the Queen Victoria spend time in retreat at the Queen’s residence (Osborn House) at the Isle of Wight. According to historians, it was here that the cakes were named after her.
Victoria Cupcakes (makes 12 regular cupcakes or 36 mini cupcakes)
3 large eggs; separated
½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
½ cup cake flour; sifted
½ cup strawberry preserves
⅓ cup butter; softened
3-4 cups icing sugar
⅛ tsp. vanilla powder or ½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup milk
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a muffin tin or lined with muffin liners.
In a bowl of a standing mixer with a whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Add 2 tablespoons sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Scrape the meringue in another bowl. Set aside.
In the same mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and ¼ cup sugar on high speed until thick and light in color, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla, lemon juice and zest. Mix for another minute.
Sift flour and the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over top of egg yolk mixture, followed by folding in half of the meringue.
Fold the rest of the meringue into the batter until just incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tin.
Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in cake comes out clean. Let cool completely.
Prepare the frosting: Cream butter and icing sugar. Add vanilla powder and milk and beat until fluffy.
On the cooled cupcakes, spread a layer of strawberry preserves and pipe the frosting on top. Garnish with chopped strawberries.