At Coyle’s Bakeshop, Rachael Coyle creates a layered Seattle classic with a thick British accent.
IN SEATTLE, IT feels as if the Victoria Sponge Cake came out of nowhere. The split yellow cake filled with fruit and whipped cream and jam attained instant classic status after Rachael Coyle found it in the British cookbooks she was reading at The Book Larder, where she worked at the time. Lovely and luscious, sturdy despite its impressive height, it’s been a greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts hit since she began doing bakery pop-ups in 2013 and then opened Coyle’s Bakeshop in Greenwood in 2015.
As Anglophiles know, though, the cake has a long history nearly 5,000 miles away, in London, where it was supposedly a favorite teatime snack of Queen Victoria. When it was featured as a “classic” challenge in a finale of “The Great British Baking Show,” contestants weren’t even given a recipe to follow.
Surely, if the judges had seen Coyle’s version, they would have rated it beautifully.
“It was this cake that checked all these boxes I hadn’t seen in other cakes,” she says. “I had this idea of a very summery fruitcake that didn’t have a buttercream and didn’t have a cream-cheese frosting, that really was just cream and fruit and jam and cake.”
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Some versions of the cake, also known as the Victoria Sandwich, are simpler — just a split cake with a layer of jam, or sometimes just cream and jam, or just fruit and cream. Hers is a “gussied-up version” with all the above, and she folds mascarpone into the whipped-cream filling to mimic Devonshire cream, making it stable enough to envelop the fresh fruit without it smushing out the side.
What I love about the cake is how it’s come to mark spring and summer in Seattle. It materializes in the bakery case with the first batches of rhubarb, switches over to strawberries when the local ones ripen, then morphs into a raspberry or peach or other version depending on what’s available. Generally, once the stone fruits are gone, the Victoria Sponge Cake also disappears until the next spring.
“It really is very much a summer celebratory cake …” Coyle says. “Most of the fruit that goes into the Victoria Sponge is getting picked out by me or my staff at the farmers market. We like to put our eyes on things, especially when something’s not getting cooked … it’s really make or break.”
Coyle appreciates that British treats are generally getting more attention on this side of the pond — and this side of the United States, whether through the popular TV show, communities of expats or just fans of good food making new discoveries. The desserts are generally more approachable than French-baked goods, easier for home cooks to attempt.
For the Victoria Sponge, she says the hardest part is just making the cake: a yellow cake that tastes something like a lighter poundcake.
“You’re not decorating the outside; you’re not trying to crumb (layers) or doing anything like that. You’re just cutting the cake in half. We put our jam down, we put our fruit down, then we lightly whip cream with a little sugar and fold in our mascarpone. That goes on the fruit, the top goes on the cake and the cake is done.”
Many recipes, including the one below, call for baking two separate cake rounds rather than splitting a single cake. If people pause at making homemade jam, they can use store-bought. If whipped cream or fruit sounds too involved, they can make “the homey version,” and just spread jam inside the split cake.
“It can be as humble or involved as you want,” Coyle says.
Victoria Sponge Cake
1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
3¼ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks), softened, more for greasing pan
¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons whole milk
½ cup raspberry jam, more to taste
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees, and place a rack in the center. Grease and line the bottoms of two 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until incorporated, then beat in milk, scraping down sides of the bowl as necessary. Mix in flour mixture until combined, then scrape into prepared cake pans, smoothing the top.
4. Bake cakes until golden brown and springy, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, then unmold them onto a wire rack to cool completely, flat-side-down.
5. Transfer one cake (the less-attractive one) to a serving platter, and spread jam evenly on top. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract just until it holds stiff peaks. Dollop about half the cream on top of jam, then top with remaining cake. Dust with powdered sugar, and serve immediately, with the extra whipped cream on the side.
Melissa Clark recipe from The New York Times