Traditionally this is the weekend that most Canadians and Scots look forward to: Victoria Day, celebrating the birthday of Queen Victoria. She was born on May 24, 1819. She reigned for 63 years. May 24th marks her official birthday, but the holiday falls on the last Monday before May 25.
While still proud of our English heritage, this holiday takes on a special meaning marking the changing of the seasons. The fear of frost has almost passed so many will be planting their gardens–which is what I will be doing, an enjoyable and stress releasing activity in 2021 as most of us are still confined to our local communities during COVID-19. In Canada, it is also known as the May Two-Four, the Canadian slang for a case of twenty-four beers (a “two-four”), a drink popular during the long weekend.
Perhaps we shall soon see a holiday dedicated to late Queen Elizabeth.
Celebrated in Canada since 1845
Queen Victoria was the first sovereign queen in Canada. Victoria Day was declared a Canadian holiday by the federal government in 1845. When Queen Victoria died in 1901, Canada’s parliament officially named the holiday Victoria Day. At that time, it was celebrated with picnics, parades, sporting tournaments, fireworks and cannon salutes.
What we Eat
In classic English tradition, you can expect that anglophiles will be tucking into celebratory Afternoon Tea dishes.
Otherwise, you can expect picnic and BBQ foods to dominate food choices this weekend.
I can’t think of a more appropriate dish for this holiday than the Victoria Sandwich. The unfrosted cake was served at tea in Queen Victoria’s court, quickly became a Queen’s favourite, and named after her.
The Best Victoria Sandwich
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (225g) softened
- 1 1/4 cup caster sugar (225g)
- 4 large eggs at room temperature
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour, sifted (225g)
- 4 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp milk at room temperature
- 6 rounded tablespoons good raspberry jam
- 1 whipped cream (optional)
- icing sugar to dust
- Prepare two 8" cake tins by greasing the sides and cutting parchment paper circles to line the bottom of each tin. For mini heart shaped dessert, use four tins.
- Preheat the oven to 350 ° F/180 ° C/gas 4. Put the soft butter into a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon or electric mixer for a minute until very smooth and creamy.
- Gradually beat in the sugar, then keep on beating for 3 to 4 minutes or until the mixture turns almost white and becomes very fluffy in texture; scrape down the bowl from time to time. Break the eggs into a small bowl, add the vanilla and beat lightly with a fork just to break them up. Slowly add to the creamed mixture, a tablespoonful at a time, giving the mixture a good beating after each addition and frequently scraping down the bowl. This will take about 5 minutes. If the mixture looks as if it is about to curdle, add a tablespoon of the sifted flour and then continue adding the last portions of egg.
- Sift the flour again with the baking powder, this time onto the mixture, and add the milk. Gently but thoroughly fold the flour into the egg mixture using a large metal spoon. Do this as lightly as possible so you don’t knock out any of the air you have beaten in.
- Stop folding when there are no streaks of flour visible in the mixture. Check that there isn’t a clump of flour at the very bottom.
- Spoon the mixture into the tins so they are equally filled – you can do this by eye or by weighing the tins as you fill them.
- Spread the mixture evenly in the tins, right to the edges. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a good golden brown and the sponges are springy when gently pressed with your fingertip. They should almost double in size during baking. The mini tins will take around 15 minutes to bake.
- Remove the tins from the oven and leave for a minute – the sponges will contract slightly. Run a round-bladed knife around the inside of each tin to loosen the sponge, then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool.
- Set one sponge upside down on a serving platter and spread over the jam (and whipping cream). Gently set the other sponge, golden crust up, on top. Dust with icing sugar. Store in an airtight container and eat within 5 days.
Tips for creating the Best Victoria Sandwich
- For a creamed sponge, the butter should be soft, rather than cold and hard, or warm and oily, so take it out of the fridge an hour or so in advance. If time is short, soften the butter by cutting it into cubes, putting the cubes into a bowl of lukewarm tap water (approximately 28 ° C), then leaving the cubes for 10 minutes or until a cube can be easily squeezed.
- The best sugar to use for a sponge is caster. Granulated sugar is too coarse and results in a crust speckled with tiny particles after baking. Muscovado sugars are too strong in flavour and colour, and their moist texture would makes the crumb of the cake a bit sticky.
- *My Tip: save a special trip to the grocery store. You can make caster sugar simply by pulsing granulated sugar in your food processor.
- Make sure the eggs are at room temperature. If they are too cold it will be harder for air to be whisked in, which makes it more likely that the mixture might curdle or separate, giving a heavy sponge.
- To avoid the wire cooling rack from marking the sponges, invert them, one at a time, onto a board covered with a sheet of baking paper, then remove the tin and lining paper. Set the upturned rack on the underside of the sponge, turn over together and remove the paper and board.