Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Jan 31, 2012 07:18 PM

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!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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: 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: 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).