I think every home baker should have a solid vanilla sponge recipe. A quick search on Google will give you an infinite amount of slight variations on this much loved classic, each one accompanied with suitable hyperbole claiming to be ‘The BEST Ever’. Discussions cover everything from whether to use whole eggs or just the whites, butter or oil, and the creaming method vs all in one. After much trawling through comment sections to see what worked for others and testing out some for myself, I’ve come to accept that what might be perfect for one person, just doesn’t cut it for someone else.
So, I've developed a recipe that works for me and it has become my go-to vanilla cake. Just the right amount of vanilla, not sickly sweet and with a soft, tender crumb. A good vanilla sponge presents itself as a beautiful canvas to embellish as freely as you fancy or leave as is. It should have enough flavour to hold its own, but also be able to take a backseat and let the fillings steal the show.
I use the reverse creaming method in this cake which I first came across in the cookbook Cake Days by Hummingbird Bakery. Instead of creaming the butter and sugar together, the reverse creaming method mixes together the dry ingredients with butter. The flour gets coated with fat which minimises any gluten formation before adding our liquids. I find this method super easy as it makes over beating batter a lot less likely and produces a moist cake that is still sturdy enough to be stacked.
Star of the show in a vanilla cake is the vanilla. You’ve got plenty of options ranging from the most commonly used extracts to the more expensive vanilla beans. My personal favourite has to be vanilla bean paste which you can get in most supermarkets. It gives a great vanilla flavour without it tasting artificial.
With this cake, I’ve gone for a peaches and cream vibe. The weather has been beyond beautiful over the past few weeks and I wanted that to be reflected in this bake. I found some gorgeous fat, juicy peaches and I’ve cooked them down with fresh rosemary to make a sweet and fragrant filling. I really enjoy incorporating herbs into my baking, like my Lemon and Thyme Cake, I think it adds a lovely subtle complexity.
I’ve baked this in three 6 inch tins. Most of the cakes I make are this size and it's definitely a favourite as it makes it easier to get more height. It might be worth investing in a couple of these but you could also use the more standard 9 inch tin and just bake it in two layers.
R E C I P E
360g Plain Flour
380g Caster Sugar
1 ½ tablespoon Baking Powder
120g Unsalted Butter, softened
½ tsp Salt
380ml Whole milk, room temp
½ tablespoon Vanilla Bean Paste
Peach + Rosemary Filling
3 tbsp Caster Sugar
2 tbsp Water
Squeeze of Lemon
2-3 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary
1/2 tsp Cornflour
240g Unsalted Butter
180g icing Sugar
½ tsp Vanilla Bean Paste
80ml Double Cream
80g White Chocolate Chips
100g White Chocolate
Sliced White Peaches, Crushed Pistachios, Fresh Flowers to decorate
M E T H O D
Grease and line three 6 inch tins. Preheat Oven to Gas Mark 5/190C
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add in the sugar and butter and mix in a stand mixer for 2-3 minutes until the mixture looks like fine sand.
In a separate jug, beat together the milk, eggs and vanilla bean paste. With the mixer on low, pour in half of the milk mixture until combined. Pour in the rest and turn up the speed to medium. Beat for another 30 seconds until you have a smooth batter.
Divide equally between the 3 tins and bake for 30-35 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Leave to cool for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Beat the butter and vanilla for 4-6 minutes until pale and creamy. Add in the icing sugar and pinch of salt in 3 stages beating for 2 minutes after each addition. Pour in the cream and beat until it’s fully combined and completely smooth.
Peach +Rosemary Filling
Peel the peaches and chop them roughly. Place them in a medium saucepan with the sugar,lemon, rosemary and water. Cook for 8-10 minutes until the peaches are softened. Add in the cornflour and cook for a further 2 minutes until the peaches have thickened.
Mash any large chunks with a fork before removing the rosemary sprigs and transferring to a bowl. Let it cool before placing in the fridge until needed.
Level each cake with a sharp serrated knife. Add a spoonful of buttercream and even it out with a palette knife. Add a little extra buttercream around the edges to make a little dam for the peaches. This will help stop any filling leaking out.
Spoon on a dollop of the peach puree and sprinkle on some white chocolate chips. Repeat with the next layer and finish by placing the last cake on upside down to ensure you have a completely flat top.
Apply a thin layer of buttercream over the whole cake and place in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up.
Add another layer of buttercream and smooth with a bench scraper or palette knife. If you don’t want that semi naked effect, add more buttercream to cover the whole cake.
Melt the white chocolate in the microwave and let it cool. Pour carefully on top of the cake. Use a teaspoon to help push the chocolate over the edges to create a drip effect.
Decorate with crushed pistachios, sliced white peaches and fresh flowers.