Best Vanilla Sponge Cake

Making birthday cakes for the children in our family has become somewhat a tradition. I couldn’t very well do this for my siblings’ kids and not continue for my own. And just when I thought I was done, the next family baby arrived! Creating these special cakes for their birthdays with the help of my best friends, way into the night, and watching them come to life, is something I’ll treasure most from my time spent in the kitchen. While I can’t always guarantee I got the design right, my vanilla sponge cake recipe has never let me down – moist and delicious every time!

Here’s what goes in

  • 8 eggs
  • 2 cups of castor sugar
  • 3 and a half cups of cake flour, sifted
  • 4 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 200g of butter or good quality baking margarine
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla essence

How to do it

Pre-heat your oven to 180°C and grease and line the baking tins you’d like to use. Heat the butter and the milk until the butter has melted, without letting it boil. Then set it aside to cool.

In a cake mixer, blend the eggs and sugar together until they are thick and pale yellow in colour. Add the remaining ingredients, including the cooled milk and butter mixture, and mix to combine. This will comfortably bake a large round cake of about 30cm in diameter, plus perhaps even one smaller one, depending on how deep you want them to be. Alternatively, two 22cm square cake tins, or a large rectangular cake tin. These straight forward cake tins are generally easier to grease and line, so bear in mind that if you choose another shaped cake tin, for example a character like Mickey Mouse, you need to grease this really well so that your cake glides out of the tin intact.

Bake the cakes in the middle of the oven for around 40 mins for 2 smaller tins, or for up to an hour if you decide to bake one large rectangle. This is just a guideline as ovens vary and the sizes of the pans will affect your required baking time. Insert a skewer into the middle of the cake to check if it is cooked in the middle. Remember to not open the oven door until you’re at least halfway through your cooking time.

Only begin icing once your cake has completely cooled.

Basic Butter Icing

  • 100g of butter, softened
  • 250g of icing sugar
  • 25ml of milk
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

Place the softened butter (ideally having been left out of the fridge for a few hours) in a mixing bowl and give it a whizz with your hand-held blender until it’s smooth and creamy. Begin adding in the icing sugar, one spoonful at a time, while mixing. Then add the milk and vanilla essence and mix until it’s all blended in.

If you’d like to make a chocolate icing, simply substitute the vanilla with a heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder (or more depending on how dark you want it), or add any other flavour essence and food colouring if required. At this point, your icing should be ready to use. You can set it aside if you’re not icing the cake yet, or refrigerate it in the summer months, but bring it back to room temperature and give it a good stir before you use it.

Here’s a tip: before you start icing, fill a cup with boiled water that you can regularly dip your icing knife or spatula into. The icing just glides off the hot knife and gives your cake a smoother finish.

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