Look at that. No blog posts for a month, then two come along at once.
Yesterday, it hoofed down with rain, so there was absolutely no possibility of a walk. With no plans for the day and a full complement of building team downstairs, it seemed an ideal opportunity to try out my (hopefully) final version of an egg-free, dairy-free (and ergo vegan) sponge cake. Particularly ideal because the said large quantity of blokes meant nothing lying around to scupper my diet later in the day.
Before you all go ‘ugh, vegan,’ I promise you this cake is nothing short of delicious. It has a really nice crumbly texture and a crisp top (it would have been even crisper if I had not forgotten to scatter some sugar on the top before I put it in the oven – it had already started to rise when I thought of it, so I left it naked). And it is filled with lemon and lime ‘buttercream’ with fresh raspberries and blueberries – who could turn their nose up at that?
Robin’s granddaughter is allergic to eggs and milk in a really serious way and she mentioned recently that she would really love to be able to eat a sponge cake, so I’ve been working on it over the last few weeks. The numerous incarnations have had varying degrees of success – too soggy, not cooked in the middle, too cooked in the middle, too crumbly, too dense – you name it, we’ve been there. But our brave building team have struggled manfully on and demolished every crumb, soggy or not.
The final version has something between the texture of a sponge and a Madeira cake – it does tend to be a bit crumbly, so make sure it is completely cold before you cut it and fill it, and handle it gently. I strongly suggest you put the bottom layer onto your serving plate before filling it – once filled, it is devilishly difficult to get the whole thing onto your plate without the entire thing falling to pieces (I know because that is exactly what I did).
Three important things to note: 1) it is simply not possible to produce an exact replica of a Victoria sponge without using eggs, as they give it both its rise and soft texture; 2) I have reduced the sugar as much as I can, but if you reduce it any more, there just won’t be sufficient ‘bulk’ in the cake, and 3) you must ensure that your oven is at the correct temperature and your tin prepared before you add the final batch of flour containing the baking powder and soda. The baking soda will react immediately with the acid in the lemon juice and you will see bubbles appearing before you’ve even finished scraping the mix into the tin. If you don’t get it into the oven PDQ, the raising agents will conk out and you’ll end up with a giant biscuit.
If you wanted to make a vanilla-flavoured cake, simply omit the lemon zest and juice, and replace with two teaspoons of rice or apple cider vinegar and a generous hit of really good vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste. Other possibilities would be orange or coffee – you could make a ‘buttercream’ for grown ups by adding a little Grand Marnier or Cointreau with the orange, or some Kahlua or Tia Maria with the coffee. In fact, now we are on the subject, a splash of Limencello in the filling for this lemon cake wouldn’t go amiss either.
If you make this cake, I would love to know how you get on – feel free to leave your comments below.
Lemon berry celebration sponge (egg-free, dairy-free, vegan)
Serves 8 -10
You will need a 20cm round baking tin, base lined with baking parchment
120g very soft dairy-free margarine (I use Flora Freedom)
120ml milk replacer (I used cashew, but almond, rice, oat or soya would all be fine)
230g self-raising flour
1 lemon, zest and juice
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
A little extra sugar for sprinkling
For the ‘buttercream’ frosting:
75g very soft dairy-free margarine
175g icing sugar
Zest of a lemon or lime, plus a squeeze of juice
Pre-heat the oven to 170°C.
Grease your baking tin with a little oil and line the base with non-stick baking parchment, also brushed with oil.
Whisk together the margarine and sugar until fluffy and creamy, then add the lemon zest and juice. Stir in two tablespoons of the flour (this helps to stop the mix curdling when you add the milk).
Then whisk in the milk until it is well incorporated. If the mix curdles, don’t worry at all – it will smooth out when you add the rest of the flour.
When you are sure your oven is at the right temperature and your tin is prepared, sieve in the self-raising flour and the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Fold in using a rubber spatula or metal spoon.
Scrape the mixture into your prepared tin, smooth the top and sprinkle with a little extra sugar.
Bake for around 50 minutes – the cake will slightly shrink away from the tin when it is cooked. Check after 30 minutes and turn the cake around if it is colouring more on one side than the other. If you think the top is getting too brown, cover very loosely with foil for the rest of the baking time.
Remove the cake from the oven (pierce with a skewer to check if the centre is cooked if you wish – or use the non-business end of the whisk from the electric mixer if you don’t have a skewer, then you can have a giant hole in the middle of your cake, just like mine). Allow the cake to cool for 20 minutes in the tin before turning out onto a cooling rack.
To make the frosting:
Put the margarine, icing sugar, zest of the lemon or lime and a squeeze of juice into a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly – I find a table fork the best implement for this. If it is too stiff, add a few more drops of juice – if it is too runny, add a little more icing sugar. It should be spreadable but not runny.
To assemble the cake:
Slice the cake horizontally, using a serrated knife (a bread knife is perfect). Put the bottom layer of the cake onto your serving plate and spread the buttercream over the top. Cover with berries of your choice, halved if large.
Cover with the top layer of the cake and dust with icing sugar if you wish.