This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
'My life consists of books and baking!' admits Sophie in Billy and Me. No wonder I was drawn to this debut novel by Giovanna Fletcher. Now, if only I could get a famous actor to fall in love with me too, then Sophie and I would be identical. (I was actually thinking of a famous actor's name to insert here but couldn't think of one I liked in that way. Except maybe Jimmy Nail, but that's probably a bit weird, right?).
Sophie is working in a cafe in the village where she grew up. She hasn't been to university, has never travelled and there are hints of a painful past. Instead, she found herself a temporary job at the cafe working for Molly. Eight years later, she's still there and enjoying it very much.
One day, after putting money from her own pocket into the till when one of the elderly ladies can't afford to pay for her Victoria sponge, a young man walks into the cafe. He comments on her generous act and strikes up a conversation with Sophie. As a result, she can feel herself becoming interested. Then she finds out who he is. Despite her worries, she decides to get to know him more. What follows next is a complete roller-coaster of emotions…
There are many mentions of cake in this novel; carrot, lemon, chocolate and toffee layer cake plus, of course, the legendary Victoria sponge. I think this is the first contemporary novel I've read with Victoria sponge taking a starring cake role. It's a timeless recipe, but perhaps favoured by an older generation, so I'm overjoyed to find it in Billy and Me. I love Victoria sponge – with or without the cream. It's easy to make (it's one of the first cakes I ever learned to make actually) and forms the basis of many other cakes. Crack this one and you're sorted.
Two round cake tins (I used 18cm) greased and floured. (Wipe the tin with butter, add a little flour, pat the tin so the flour covers the grease on the bottom and the sides, then tip the surplus into the next greased tin and repeat the process.) You can make this in a mixer, with a handheld electric mix or with a bowl and spoon. A spatula and sieve will also be useful.
Note: If your tin is a little larger and you need more mixture, it is easy to make more if you use the oz method of measuring. Just double the number of eggs for the ounces of flour, butter and sugar. A three egg mixture means you need 6oz of everything else, a four egg mixture means you need 8oz.
6oz/170g butter, softened
6oz/170g caster sugar
6oz/170g self raising flour
For the filling
2 tbsp raspberry or strawberry jam
Double cream – about 200ml
Icing sugar for dusting
- Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees fan or 180 regular.
- Add the butter and sugar into a bowl and give it a thorough mix until well combined.
- Crack in the eggs, then add a spoonful of flour (to stop curdling). Give it a very gentle mix.
- Add the rest of the flour, mix, make sure everything is well combined. If using an electric mix, stop and scrape the sides and the bottom with a spatula, then mix again.
- Put equal amounts of the mixture into your prepared tins. Smooth down to the edges to fill all the space.
- Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
- To test if it is done, press your finger on the sponge. If it bounces back, it is cooked. If it doesn't, give it a few more minutes.
- Remove from oven, gently tip out of tins and allow to cool.
- Whisk the cream until plump and it can hold its shape.
- Spread the jam on the bottom layer and the cream on the top. (You can do it the other way around, but I find the jam seeps through the cream when it's on top.)
- Sandwich together, then dust the top with icing sugar using a sieve if you have one.