What’s the difference between a Victoria sponge and a Madeira cake? If I want a light, moist sponge covered in lots of royal icing, which cake should I use? If I want a cake that I can cut bits out of and then cover in butter icing, which is best? These are the questions I have been pondering over the past few weeks. I’ve done a lot of reading, baking and eating to find the answers, now I want to share those answers with you.
Both cakes have the same amount of butter, sugar and eggs. Some people start by weighing out their eggs and then weighing out exactly the same amount of butter and sugar.
So how do they differ? It’s all about the flour. The Victoria sponge has the same amount of flour as butter, sugar and eggs. The Madeira has more flour, or more flour equivalent. In my recipe below I have added ground almonds instead of more flour. The ground almonds give a great texture.
The technique is similar for both cakes. In my experience, it’s the technique that is critical. Here are my ten tips to give you top class sponge cakes.
1. Weigh everything in same units. Baking is a science, you can artistic with the icing but not the baking. While the recipe may state 110 g / 4 oz butter, 4 oz is actually 113 g, so stick with the same units.
2. Similarly the size of your eggs is important, if the recipe calls for large eggs, make sure they are large. If you can’t find large eggs, the eggs just need to be the same weight as the butter and sugar. So whisk up the number called for in the recipe and weigh them, then add in more whisked egg to give you the same weight of eggs as butter and sugar.
3. The butter needs to be soft to make it easy to add air to it with the sugar. Take the butter out of the fridge at least an hour before starting to bake. The first thing to do with the butter is too give it a good beat to ensure it’s all soft. Ideally you do this with an electric whisk but a wooden spoon will work too. If your whisk gets full of butter, just hold them up a little in the bowl and the butter will eventually spin off.
4. Both recipes call for the butter, sugar and eggs to be beaten together. This will add air to the mixture and it’s the air that will expand in the heat of the oven and give you a light fluffy cake. So you want to beat good and well. When you come to add the flour however beating time is over, instead get a metal spoon and carefully fold in the flour using a figure of eight motion. The moment you can’t see anymore flour it’s time to stop. Then spoon the mixture into the tins.
5. The baking powder similarly helps create a light and fluffy cake. It’s best to mix it into the flour first before you then sift that on top of the butter and sugar. My Victoria and Madeira sponge recipes call for self-raising flour. I’ve experimented with plain flour and self-raising flour using baking powder with both types of cake. The self-raising flour gives a slightly lighter cake. But if you only have plain flour don’t worry the cake will still turn out well.
6. The moment the baking powder, mixes with the butter mixture it will start working. You want it to do it’s work in the oven, not sitting in the bowl or on the side. So make sure the oven is preheated and your tins are greased and lined so you can get the cakes in the oven straight away.
7. If you are making layers for a cake then (if space allows) cook them all on the same shelf so they get as similar experience in the oven as possible. Try not to open the oven door until the cakes are ready, as this will disrupt the baking. The cakes are done when they have shrunk back from the side of the tin, spring back under the weight of your finger and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
8. To prevent the cakes from drying out, the moment they are completely cool either start icing them or store them in an air tight container, or wrap them well in cling film. Once iced store similarly.
9. I use the removable bottoms of the cake tins to help move the layers of cake from the cooling rack to assemble the cake.
10. To make butter icing you beat softened butter and icing sugar together with an electric whisk. Cakesbakesandcookies.com suggests using a damp tea towel to cover the bowl while you whisk. This prevents the kitchen from looking like a snowstorm just past through after you finish.
• You need two bowls – one for your flour and one for your butter. Make sure the largest one is the one you start the butter off in, as it’s where everything else will end up.
• A spatula will mean you can move the cake mixture back down to the bottom of the bowl so it doesn’t escape the whisk.
• An electric whisk is ideal but a wooden spoon and strong arm will work too.
• A sieve will ensure you can add air to the flour before it hits the butter mixture.
• Your baking tins should be the right size.
Victoria or Madeira?
A Victoria sponge is so called because Queen Victoria is said to have enjoyed this sponge and jam combination. I personally like whipped cream with the jam in the middle and I’m sure she would have approved. The top is normally dusted in icing sugar. A Madeira cake is denser, still light, but slightly more solid. When you know a Madeira cake has more flour in it than a Victoria sponge the texture makes sense. It’s called a Madeira cake, because it was traditionally served with a glass of Madeira.
If you want a light, moist cake that you can cover in royal icing (the thick icing that a Christmas cake or wedding cake is normally covered in) then Madeira is your best bet. It’s firmer texture will stand up to the weight of the icing well. It’s also a good choice if you need to shape the sponge before you ice it. I made a chocolate Madeira cake recently, which we shaped into a Peppa Pig shape and then and my husband covered it in royal icing.
If you want to cover a sponge in butter icing (see tip 10 above) then I would use a Victoria sponge as your cake. The butter icing is lighter than the royal icing, so you don’t need the structural properties of Madeira and you will get a fluffier cake with a Victoria sponge.
Last week I wrote about a Lemon and blueberry piñata cake that I made. This uses a Victoria sponge as it’s base. With piñata cakes you cut out the middle and fill it with sweeties, or in this case blueberries, so that when it cut it open they all spill out. I wanted to cut small holes in the cake and fill those with blueberries so that everyone got their own personal little piñata piece of fun. If I needed to remove more than just small holes from a cake, then I would choose a Madeira sponge to ensure it didn’t collapse prior to serving.
Hopefully that has answers some questions you had about the difference between Victoria and Madeira sponge cakes. If not, ask your question below and I’ll do my best to answer.