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Looking for recipes for British desserts


My parents are British ex-pats who constantly reminisce about pastries and desserts from their childhood. Their 25th anniversary is coming up, so my siblings and I are planning a menu full of their favorite British foods. I'm in charge of desserts!

I'm on the hunt for two recipes: a proper British sponge cake and a dairy cream cake recipe.

I've tried some genoise recipes, but my mum is adamant that British sponge cake tastes totally different. As for a cream cake, I'm not even sure what that is, but again, my dad says it trumps American buttercream cakes. Picky folks, they are, when it comes to desserts.

I would really appreciate the help!

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  1. Here's a recipe for Victoria Sponge that I found in a British cookbook, don't recall which book and haven't made this cake yet, but it might fit the bill.

    Victoria Sponge
    Serves 6 to 8

    This light cake was named in honor of Queen Victoria. Often referred to as Victoria sandwich, it is based on equal quantities of fat, sugar, eggs and flour. It hjas come to be regarded as the classic English cake and remains a favorite for baking competitions.

    3 large eggs
    Few drops of vanilla extract
    ¾ cup soft butter
    ¾ cup caster (superfine) sugar
    1 ½ cups self-rising flour (6 ounces)
    4 tablespoons jam
    Icing (confectioner’s) sugar, to dust

    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8 inch round cake pans and line the bases of each with baking parchment.
    2. Lightly beat the eggs with the vanilla extract. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the butter with the sugar until the mixture is pale, light, and fluffy.
    3. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Sift the flour over the top and, using a metal spoon, fold in lightly until the mixture is smooth.
    4. Divide the mixture between the prepared pans. Cook for 20 minutes until golden and firm to the touch.
    5. Leave the cakes to cool in the pans for a few minutes, then carefully turn out on to a wire rack. Remove the paper and leave to cool completely.
    6. When the cakes are cold, sandwich the two halves together with plenty of jam. Finally, sift a little icing sugar over the top.

    Variation: Instead of vanilla extract, beat a little finely grated lemon zest into the butter and sugar mixture in step 2. Sandwich the cakes together with lemon curd. Or, for a cream cake, sandwich with a thin layer of strawberry jam and a thick layer of whipped cream topped with sliced fresh strawberries. Decorate the top of the cake with whipped cream and extra strawberries.

    1. Bear in mind that we Brits don't eat cake for dessert, generally speaking.

      Cake is for snacks or a formal "afternoon tea". Victoria sponge is, indeed, probably the most quintessential - certainly the one I ask for when my partner asks what I'd like as a birthday cake. Here's the recipe she uses:
      http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/ty.... It's about as traditional as you can get for the Victoria sponge - you'll see other recipes which include cream, along with the jam layer. Not at all traditional.

      British "cream cakes" are usually small individual cakes (the OPs parents would probably have bought them from the baker, like I do, rather than making their own). Can be pretty much anything that has lots of whipped cream in it. Choux bun, individual sponge, cream horn (using puff pastry), sweet bread - anything like that. And never, ever, use spray foam cream from a can!

      If it's actually British desserts you're after, then there's a very wide spread of things you might go for. Something very light - like a lemon posset. A very heavy steamed pudding - like a Sussex Pond pudding (another lemony one). Pies, of course. This link might help you: http://www.britishlarder.co.uk/recipe.... You might particularly like to look at the recipe for "Artic Roll". This is bound to be something your parents will remember from their younger days - then it was always a dessert that was bought and kept in the freezer to slice portions off. And you can never go wrong with a sherry trifle (lots of recipes online)

      1. On the lighter side, how about Summer Pudding, served with fresh whipped cream (or some creme fraiche)


        On the richer- but- utterly yummy side, old time Treacle Tart...


        Whilst less traditional, I like to use panko for the treacle tart and personally omit the ginger. Also great served with a creamy custard or cold whipped cream

        One more...... Bakewell Tart (Google that one, so many varieties), really delicious iced, or not iced.

        Would love to know what you end up trying and what they liked.

        1. Just spotted this in Harter's reply "And never, ever, use spray foam cream from a can!"-


          1. I had an English stepfather so here goes. A British sponge cake is just like an American sponge cake---one that uses beaten egg for "elevation" rather than baking powder, soda or yeast. If they put two layers of it together with jam they call it a "Victoria Sponge" or "Victoria Sandwich". If they put the layers together with custard filling it's a "Cream Cake". A "Swiss Roll" is what we call a jelly roll. "Dundee Cake" is more or less a pound cake with some raisins, currants, or candied fruit in it. "Seed Cake" is ditto only with caraway seeds in it instead of the fruit. "Cream Buns" we would call "Cream Puffs". Various small cakes and pastries have other names, Eccles Cakes, Butter Tarts, etc---in London I once bought jelly doughnuts that were called Strawberry Tarts; you never know. Right now I am sitting here with "Cooking the British Way" and "The Encyclopaedia of Cookery" (which is English) so if you want any specific recipes let me know. But how could two sponge cakes be different if both are made with egg, sugar, and flour---except that one is flavored (excuse me, flavoured) with a generous amount of NOSTALGIA.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Querencia

              Thank you, thank you(!) for a super helpful post! Now that I know the differences between the cakes, it makes it soo much easier to search for recipes. Btw.. Could you post the authors of the two books you were referencing?

              1. re: BlackAnemone

                "Cooking the British Way" was written by Joan Clibbon in 1964.

                I presume the Encyclopaedia will be "Odhams Encyclopaedia of Cooking" - it appears to be a compilation from several authors, dating to 1952.

                So, expect very old fashioned sounding dishes which don't really reflect how we cook now. I have a a "Good Housekeeping" book, dating to the early 50s, that belonged to my mother that was written just after we stopped having food rationing. It is very dated and, when we looked at it some months back, there wasnt anything we wanted to cook. You'll need to bear in mind that, in 1952, the Encyclopaedia will have been written when quite a number of foodstuffs remained were still on ration, so there may be some very odd-sounding ingredient substitutes (sugar remained on ration until the autumn of 1953, for example).

            2. Anemone, for the anniversary party---make fruit crisps or cobblers (same here as there) but serve them with "great lashings of" custard sauce made with Bird's Custard Powder (you can buy it online if not locally---it's sort of like our Jello pudding mix only comes out more runny). Serving fruit puddings and pies with custard sauce is not done much in the States but is usual in England.

              Another option is trifle---layers of custard, cake, fruit, whipped cream, maybe a little rum or sherry etc, in a pretty glass dish

              3 Replies
              1. re: Querencia

                Homemade custard is TONS better than Bird's. No comparison.

                1. re: pdxgastro

                  definitely, but for nostalgia's sake they may prefer Bird's.

                  1. re: gembellina

                    Bird's is only flour, sugar and cornstarch and artificial vanilla! Make your own boiled custard on the stove, it'll be cheaper. Better yet if you can score some fresh backyard eggs.

              2. A British sponge cake is made to the 4:4:4:2 ratio, that is 4 oz butter, 4 oz sugar, 4 oz self-raising flour, 2 eggs. Harters' link to the Delia recipe shows this. Much simpler than a genoise!

                Eclairs, filled with whipped cream and topped with chocolate. When I think of cream cakes, I always think of a cream slice which is like a millefeuille, layers of pastry and whipped cream, topped with white icing with dark brown dragged through like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kittywri...
                (don't know who this kitty person is but i assume as she's posted her pics on the internet it's ok for me to link
                )egg custard tarts, sprinkled with nutmeg
                definitely a trifle

                I would seriously recommend using Delia Smith recipes - they're probably what your parents grew up with.

                1. I've inherited a Be-Ro recipe book that's been in my (British) family for over 60 years. My mother may not have been much of a cook but her baking can't be beat and, while living in England, she was a talented baker who made wedding cakes in order to support her family.

                  Be-Ro is still around today and I'm pasting a link to their wonderful website. I'm confident you'll find several recipes here to meet your needs:


                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Breadcrumbs

                    I have had a great deal of luck with the recipes from Jane Garmey's book, available for, like, three bucks (used, why would you need a brand-new, spic n' span COOKbook?) from amazon:


                    My all-time favorite would be Sticky Toffee Pudding, it is everywhere these days, but everyone loves it. I use the Schlafly Tap Room recipe:


                    1. re: tonifi

                      Sticky toffee pudding is generally credited to have been invented by Francis Coulson, then owner of the Sharrow Bay Hotel, in my region of north west England. We've eaten it at the hotel, which still cooks it to Francis' recipe, and it's a superb version. Here's his recipe scaled down for the home cook:


                    2. re: Breadcrumbs

                      Breadcrumbs, I learned to bake from Be-Ro books and I still have my mother's old copy that I still bake from today. They really are fail-safe recipes for the most part and are quintessentially British.

                    3. Check the BBC food website. The Great British Bake-Off and Hairy Bikers Best of British are a particularly rich source for recipes, I think.

                      1. I agree that you can't go wrong with a sherry trifle,(or in my Hastings-born Gram's family tradition, rum flavoring). Plain cake . She used leftover pound cake after the holidays, rahz-b'ry jam and plenty of boiled custard, in layers with softly whipped sweet cream and slivered almonds, point-up, poking out of the cream topping. Best the next day!