June 14 is designated as “National Strawberry Shortcake Day,” but let’s face it: the entire month of June seems to be worth celebrating those delectable berries that are so good in so many recipes. According to Driscoll’s, a California company with over 100 years of growing berries, “The first printed shortcake recipe appeared in an English cookbook in 1588. In the 1850s, Americans added strawberries to traditional shortcakes and celebrated the start of summer with ‘strawberry shortcake parties.’ Influenced by French chefs, whipped cream became a key ingredient in strawberry shortcake around 1910, and in the 1950s, homemakers turned to Bisquick to make easy drop style shortcakes.”
Farm stands and markets across America are brimming with locally-grown, luscious, versatile, and delicious berries, and for teatime, especially in Ireland and the United Kingdom, serving a traditional Victoria Sponge is one of the most popular ways to feature them. Some say the cake, which consists of jam and whipped cream sandwiched between two sponge cakes, is the “quintessential tea time sweet.” The top of the cake is generally not iced or decorated except for a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar, sometimes over a doily to create a lacy pattern, but it’s often garnished with fresh berries. The cake is named in honor of Queen Victoria, who spent time at her residence on the Isle of Wight following the death of Prince Albert in 1861. In order to inspire the monarch to get back into the swing of civic duties, she was encouraged to host tea parties, at which a sponge cake like this was served. “Victoria Sponges” became fashionable throughout the U.K. and Ireland and also became the measure of the home-baker. This recipe is from the tea room at Belleek, Ireland’s oldest working fine china company, established in 1857 in the village of Belleek, County Fermanagh.
Serves 8 to 10
For the cake
6 ounces butter
3/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
2 cups self-rising flour
For the filling
1/2 cup strawberry or raspberry jam
2/3 cup heavy cream, whipped
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Fresh strawberries, for garnish (optional)
1. Make cake. Preheat oven to 325° F. Coat two 8-inch round pans with nonstick baking spray with flour.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat butter and sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
3. In a small bowl, whisk eggs. Gradually beat them into butter mixture; fold in flour until fully incorporated. Transfer mixture to prepared pans.
4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until top is golden and springs back when gently pressed with your fingers. Remove cakes from oven; let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove cakes from pans; let cool completely.
5. Spread one cake layer with jam; spread whipped cream on second layer. Sandwich cakes together.
6. Place an 8-inch doily on top of cake; lightly sift confectioners’ sugar over it. Carefully remove doily, leaving a lacy pattern on cake. Cover and refrigerate cake until serving time. Garnish with fresh strawberries, if desired.