Birthday Sponge Cake
Happy birthday, Jane! Let's all have cake!
It's Jane Austen's birthday! This wonderful, clever, witty woman of words was born on 16 December 1775 in Hampshire.
Not a lot of people realise this, but Austen was something of a foodie. There are numerous mentions of food in her books and letters. And since this is a birthday post, here's what she had to say on the subject of cake:
You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.
Now, it's possible she was being sarcastic, but let's just go with it and say that Jane loved her a good sponge.
You know who else likes a good whack of cake? I do. And that's why my main characters usually do too!
Cake pops up quite a lot in All Stirred Up, with Susan fondly recalling an afternoon spent decorating a birthday cake for one of her sisters, guided by her mother and grandfather.
“Take off just enough of the frosting to give a smooth appearance, but don’t scrape it all off,” Eliot said. “The whole point of cake is the frosting, isn’t it? You don’t want a bare cake.”
And I think most of us can get on board with Eliot's philosophy on sweet things:
“If you can’t indulge in a little cake now and again, what sort of joy do you have in your life? Can you indulge in anything? And yes, cake is an indulgence. You don’t need it, but you want it. It should feel celebratory, and just a little delightfully naughty when you have it. It’s the same with any dessert.”
So let's indulge, shall we? With a sponge I'm convinced Austen would have loved!
225g (1C) softened butter
225g (1C) golden caster sugar
4 large eggs
½ lemon, zested (optional--you can leave this out for a vanilla sponge)
1 tsp vanilla extract
225g (about 1.5C) self-raising flour
splash of milk
Fillings of your choice: lemon curd, jam, lightly whipped cream
icing sugar for dusting or sprinkles for decorating (as Susan did)
Heat oven to 350F (180C). Butter and line the base of two 20cm spring-form cake tins with baking parchment.
Using an electric whisk, beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. (Historical note: in Austen's day, sponge batter obviously had to be beaten by hand, and since baking powder didn't exist yet, you had to get all your rise from whipped eggs. It could take up to an hour of beating to get a cake right. Sponges were a very special treat!)
Crack the eggs in one at a time and whisk well, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add the lemon zest, vanilla, flour, milk and a pinch of salt. Whisk until just combined then divide the mixture between the two tins.
Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 mins until a skewer inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean. After 10 mins remove the cakes from their tins and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Fill how you like. My personal favourite is a good dollop of lemon curd and some fresh cream, then dust the top with icing sugar. You can also smooth some cream or buttercream over the top and decorate with sprinkles, if you're feeling REALLY celebratory! Will keep for 3 days.
Give the gift of All Stirred Up! Visit Penguin Random House's website to find out where you can get your copy!