My partner is well aware of my cookery pet peeves, and when he’s in the mood to playfully take the piss out of me, he claims I’m a recipe purist: too keen on following recipes by the book, too rarely supportive of his ideas for tweaks. Funnily enough, the last time we had this conversation I was trying to lure him into tasting Delicious Magazine’s prawn, pea and bacon rice, and he refused, arguing that the combination of prawns and bacon was far too outlandish for his buds. So much for experimenting, right?
If I really was a purist, most of the recipes on this blog would never have seen the light. I like to follow recipes by the book the first time I make them, to understand their strengths and flaws, and later adapt them with full knowledge of what I’d like to enhance, or change altogether. Sometimes I go a little wild and skip the first test, jumping straight into making my own gluten-free tartlet crust or savoury muffin batter. Little beats the sense of achievement I get when I can translate my craving for one particular flavour into a real, successful recipe, crushing hours of crippling performance anxiety in just one bite.
The recipe purist in the family is, without doubt, my mum. A fact I discovered, much to my dismay, the day my dad made his own version of tiramisu, replacing savoiardi with Northeastern Italian biscuits Esse di Raveo, and using grated dark chocolate instead of cocoa powder. The argument on whether his creation deserved to be called “tiramisu” rapidly escalated, with my mum claiming she tasted “a decent dessert without a name”, and warning him that she wouldn’t accept anything but “the real thing” in the future.
When the three of us had breakfast at the Edinburgh Larder, I sensed the old family feud reigniting. How would my mum take the news that the Plum Victoria Sponge we were savouring was a variation on a traditional recipe that involves no plum jam at all? For peace of mind’s sake, I conveniently forgot to tell her. And as she tucked into her cake, my imagination started spinning too, conjuring my own take on my favourite British dessert.
First off, I considered why I love my Victoria Sponge so much: above all, because of the soft yet firm texture, and the smooth, fresh notes of the buttercream and jam filling. Then I remembered the reasons why I never bake it at home: the butter overload in the recipe, the hassle of preparing two cakes with a small oven and just one tin. All of a sudden, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
Replacing most of the butter with fat-free Greek yoghurt was the key to making a healthier sponge, without compromising on the texture. Using a regular cake tin instead of a small sandwich mould allowed for a perfectly cooked through cake, made with just one tin, yet still thick enough to be cut in two neat halves. The lack of jam in my cupboard, coupled with the wealth of WhyNut samples I had yet to test, made for the perfect filling: whipped double cream mixed with pure pistachio paste, and sprinkled with pistachio kernels. I wonder what Queen Victoria would think about that.
Don’t call it a Victoria Sponge if you don’t feel like it; just don’t let the love of traditions keep you from falling in love with this simple and delicate treat. While being a purist is not a crime, missing out on it would be a real shame.
One-Tin Yoghurt Sponge Cake with Pistachio Cream
(Serves 8 – 10)
For the sponge
(adapted from BBC Good Food’s Healthier Victoria Sandwich)
- 175g self-raising flour
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- 140g granulated sugar
- 25g ground almonds
- 2 eggs
- 170g fat-free Greek yoghurt
- 1 – 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 25g butter, melted
- 2tbsp vegetable oil
For the filling
- 150ml double cream
- 2 – 3 tsp pistachio paste (I used WhyNut’s 100% Pure Green Pistachio Paste)
- Unshelled, unsalted pistachio kernels, to your taste (I used WhyNut’s Green Pistachio Kernels)
Prepare the sponge
- Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and ground almonds into a large bowl.
- Beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then add the yoghurt and vanilla extract. Stir until you obtain a smooth cream.
- Pour the wet mixture, melted butter and oil in the bowl containing the dry mixture. Mix until well combined.
- Pour the batter into a greased 20cm springform cake tin.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°. Bake for about 20 – 25 minutes, until the cake has risen, is golden in colour, and you can see the edges slightly coming away from the tin.
- Remove the cake from the oven, and loosen the sides with a round-bladed knife.
- Leave aside to cool down, then remove the cake from the tin.
- Cut the cake in two, lengthways. A wire cake cutter will help you make two neat and even halves, but if you don’t have one, you can use a bread knife instead: just be prepared to clean up a few more crumbs!
- Whip the double cream, add the pistachio paste, and mix until combined. Do this on the day you’re first serving the cake, to ensure the filling stays fresh for longer.
- Spread the cream filling evenly on one of the cake halves, then sprinkle with pistachio kernels.
- Top with the other half, slice and serve.
- Store any leftover cake in the fridge, where it will keep very well for about four or five days.