Back in 1952, florist Constance Spry and chef Rosemary Hume invented the now-classic Coronation Chicken. The love-it-or-hate-it dish came at a time when food in Britain was still rationed, cash wasn’t exactly abundant and the avocado had not yet put in an appearance on these shores. It is no wonder, then, that this concoction of fruit, curry, chicken and mayonnaise – which purportedly represented the British Empire – was a big hit.
Whizz forward 60 years and again there isn’t much cash around, the Empire is long gone, but food has never been as plentiful or diverse. So why, oh why is every chef, food writer, PR company and food manufacturer desperately trying to create a ‘new Corrie chicken’ – that is, a signature dish or dessert – for the Diamond Jubilee?
Forget it, it isn’t going to happen and furthermore, no one gives a flying fig if your cake has spices carried to these shores on the backs of rare monkeys or if you have painstakingly stuck 2000 diamonds on to a jar of Marmite, because next week, we will have moved on. That’s just the way it is now: ask any winner of BGT.
There is, however, a fondness for some British stuff that never wanes. Think Fawlty Towers, Bruce Forsyth or a Victoria sponge cake. I for one don’t want them hanging around every day but, when they raise their nostalgic heads, I find their presence comforting.
If you do feel the urge to bake this weekend then chuck out the cupcakes and turn to the classic sponge instead. Reports suggest that the Victoria will the most-made cake over the Jubilee. That’s no surprise to me, as it has been the backbone of the British tea table forever.
The Victoria quietly basks in the glory of having no need to change for any fad, fashion or occasion – and its ability to strike fear into the heart of any cake baker. It is considered the benchmark of the art and must be airy, a good colour, well-risen and tasty, with the jam filling fruity and sweet; and cream, if used, whipped into a frenzy of lightness.
The delicate sponge is the stuff of village fêtes and the WI, and fierce competition rages over who can create the lightest and softest. I am not sure where the mystery of making it has come from – WI cake competition judges? – but there is no need to be afraid.
I’ll let you into a secret. It’s not that difficult. With just a few tips and a tried, tested, quick and easy recipe, you are on to a winner. Who knows, you may even be entering yours at the next village show.
See Elaine’s recipe for a classic Victoria Sponge Cake (you will need to log in to high50)