The Art and Science of the Perfect Victoria Sponge

A Victoria Sponge is a British classic loved by young and old. Many a competent cook began his or her learning by helping mother or grandmother bake a golden, high-rise cake, just oozing with home made jam, for tea. Like all baking, there is some serious science behind the deliciousness, so this article first offers a simple-to-follow recipe, and then goes on to look at the reasons why it works.

The Recipe


225g (8oz) unsalted butter or margarine

225g (8oz) castor sugar4 large eggs

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 tblsp of milk or water to add if necessary

For the filling:

425ml (3/4 pint) whipped cream (optional) strawberry jam

You will also need: 2 x 20cm (8 inch) sandwich tins


1  Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C/360 degrees F/Gas mark 4.

2  Prepare two 20cm (8inch) sandwich tins by greasing them thoroughly and lining the base with non stick parchment. All the ingredients should be at room temperature.

3  Beat the butter in a mixing bowl until it is soft and pale.Add the sugar and continue beating. It will soon become light and fluffy.

4  Sift the flour and baking powder together.

5  Break the eggs into a separate bowl and beat them lightly.

6  Add the eggs a spoonful at a time to the batter mix, beating in a tablespoonful of the flour to every two or three spoonfuls of egg.Using a large metal spoon, fold in the sieved flour to the egg and butter mixture.

7  The mix is ready if it falls gently off the spoon.  If not, add a tablespoonful of water to loosen it very slightly.

8  Divide the mixture equally between the two prepared tins.

9  Tap the tins down gently to expel any large air pockets and level the cakes.

10 Place into the pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes.

11 When ready, a cocktail stick or bamboo skewer inserted into the middle of the cake will come out clean, and the top will be gently browned. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for 5-10 minutes, then turn out to cool on a wire rack and remove the baking parchment.

12 When completely cool, prepare the filling with the strawberry jam and cream if using and sandwich the two sponges together.

13 Dust the cake with icing or caster sugar.

TV Chef Jamie Oliver has a step-by-step photo guide to producing a Victoria Sponge here

The Science

The Ingredients

The difference between self-raising and plain flour, is the amount of gluten it contains.  Gluten is the stretchy stuff which is developed by kneading when making bread.  We don’t want that here, because it will make our sponge tough, so always use sieved self-raising flour for sponges, and plain for breads.

Butter needs to be softened before using, but soft margarine will work straight from the fridge.  Margarine gives a finer texture, and butter a better flavour, so you can use half and half if you like.

The Method

The reason for beating the sugar and butter together is to incorporate as much air into the mixture as possible.  The mix becomes quite light and fluffy from all the little trapped air bubbles.  We continue to beat the mixture after adding the eggs to trap even more air. But once the flour is introduced we need to treat the mixture gently, because we do not want to activate the gluten.  At this stage we simply fold in the flour gently with the edge of a metal spoon.

The reason for adding the spoonful of flour with the eggs, is to prevent the mixture from separating.  This happens when the balance between the liquid and the solids breaks down, and it causes air to be lost, so a heavier cake.

The rest of the flour is sieved into the bowl and folded gently in with a metal spoon to preserve as much as possible of the trapped air.

The Cooking Process

During the cooking process, there are three ways the cake is made to rise. The chemical raising agents in self-raising flour and baking powder combine to produce carbon dioxide, and the air particles expand, then moisture in the mix turns to steam and expands. The egg in the mixture begins to coagulate and form the structure of the cake by trapping the expanded gases.

Once all the proteins have set, and the outside has browned nicely, the cake can be tested with a cocktail stick or skewer.  When that returns clean from the centre of the cake, it is ready to be turned out.  The sponge will shrink slightly from the edges of the pan as it cools, and be easier to remove from the pan, thus reducing the need for handling the hot cake.

So now you can follow the simple recipe, and you know the science behind why it has to be done the way it is.  But one thing science can’t explain is why licking the uncooked batter from the mixing bowl is such a treat!


Apple Carrot Muffins

Apple Carrot Muffins are ideal for getting your children to eat for fruits and vegetables. This fool proof recipe below will leave your children asking for more.

These muffins are great for various times during the day. They can be eaten at breakfast, for children’s lunches, as a snack after school or even after diner.

This recipe yields 12 large muffins. You can also make mini muffins, since they appeal more to children. These muffins can be frozen for later.

What you will need :

–          150 g of plain wholemeal flour

–          50 g of granulated sugar

–          25 g dried skimmed milk powder

–          1 ½ teaspoon of baking powder

–          ½ teaspoon of cinnamon

–          ½ teaspoon of ground ginger

–          ¼ teaspoon of salt

–          125ml of vegetable oil

–          60ml of honey

–          60ml of maple syrup

–          2 eggs, lightly beaten

–          ½ teaspoon of vanilla essence

–          1 large apple

–          75g of carrots

–          75g of raisins

Instructions :

1. Take the large apple and carrots, peel them and grate them. If your child normally doesn’t like apples and carrots, you could use apple and carrot puree with the same weight.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 180C ( 350F/ Gas 4 ).

3. Take a large bowl and mix together the following ingredients: flour, skimmed milk powder, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and ginger.

4. In another bowl, mix together the honey, maple syrup, eggs, vegetable oil and vanilla essence. Beat with a whisk until blended.

5. Add the apple, carrots and raisons to the second bowl and stir until just combined.

6. Combine wet and dry ingredients and fold together gently.

7. Take a muffin tray and fill each cup until two-thirds full.

8. Bake for 20 to 25 minuets, until golden brown.

9. Allow to cool before serving.


4 Reasons I’m FOR the Happy Meal

While I’m not out marching to re-instate the Meal that is Happy I’m also (to my friends’ & readers’ shock & dismay) not out campaigning to spread the ban from San Francisco across the nation.

Allow me to share with you why:

1.       The Happy Meal is a teaching tool.  My child is on the receiving end if myriad NOs! even at the young age of 4 1/2.  That said, each NO she receives is fodder for an age appropriate discussion about why.  We visit our local McDonalds a couple of times a month for some playscape-time & a snack of apples and milk.  I deliberately choose this fast food emporium because of the conversations & opportunities it provides me to parent.  Which leads me to…

 2.       The Happy Meal is only the first of many.  Given my tattoos and quirky clothing choices people often assume I am a permissive parent. Hello cover not indicative of the book!  Sure I’d be all in if we could ban Happy Meals, age inappropriate skimpy clothing, R rated movies viewed by tweens, a few certain trashy pre-teen book series etc etc—-but we cannot.  In my eyes the Happy Meal is only the first of many realizations my child will have that other kids can do things/eat things she cannot.  At the age of 4 ½ she already can carry on her *own* conversation with regards to this:  Why can she have ____ and I can’t? (dramatic pause) I know, Mama. Because she’s not your girl (exceedingly long melodramatic sigh).

3.       One girl’s Happy Meal is another Mom’s Pop-tart.  We may not consume Happy Meals in this family, but we do have our share of junk in the house.  The ban caused me to realize while I scoffed! & was horrified! anyone would choose to feed a child a Happy Meal my affinity for the Pop-tarts (insert your junk food of choice here)  isn’t really all that different.  I wasn’t the most popular mom on the block when I pointed out to friends we don’t always practice the healthy eating we preach and we seem to be doing ok—-but it appears to be true.  Do I eat junk food daily? No.  Do I have me some chocolate brown sugar cinnamon occasionally? I have to say yes.  And I’m still pretty healthy 80% of the time and don’t want my Pop-tarts banned.

4.      (All of the above said I’m painfully aware:) It takes a village.  Of course I want all of our kids to eat healthy, non-hormone laden, organic foods.  Yes I’m all too aware 15% of American children are overweight putting them at risk for developing heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  Yes it breaks my heart that, in some states, childhood obesity is over 30 percent.  I simply do not believe a ban is the answer—I believe education is.  I’m grateful for the access I have to information others may not and spend hours a week writing & filming videos about this stuff for free.  Teaching, in this woman’s opinion, beats the proverbial pants off a ban any day as the more I’m told I cannot have something the more ALLURING that something becomes.  Teach me why I do NOT WANT IT & I’ll make different choices willingly.

The Editor’s Review:

Not all parents are as awesome as you are with knowing, teaching, balancing.

The laws are not banning Happy Meals, just the practicing of giving a toy with meals marketed to kids that don’t meet certain (minimal) nutrition guidelines. I see that as an extension of the FCC rules that prevent the marketing of junk food using kids cartoon characters.

I am not a junk-food vigilante, but I have learned about nutrition over the years. My kids are past Happy Meal stage. When they were younger I had no clue about nutrition and regularly bought them Happy Meals. I teased my son that he wasn’t really “mine” because he didn’t like the fries. My teenage son left me a grocery list note: “If my [sister] gets Toaster Strudel, I get Pop Tarts.” Now, my daughter calls me from college to ask for her favorite Cooking Light recipes. I just had a Fudgy Pumpkin Brownie for breakfast – but it was a healthy fitblog recipe and the cocoa is a good source of anti-oxidants. 😉

I generally support these laws. The food industry is like the tobacco industry with their insidious ways of getting us to eat cr@p (adding salt, sugar, fat, etc. to foods where we least expect it because our bodies are hard-wired to want those foods). They resist providing nutrition information, and don’t make it easily accessible (I’ve had to email McDs to get info on their oatmeal and smoothies- its not on their websites).

They price unhealthy choices much cheaper than the healthy ones. (A Happy Meal is cheaper than a grilled chicken sandwich or salad.) They actively market unhealthy food to kids!

If only getting a toy when you get a meal with milk and apple slices/carrots instead of soda and fries encourages parents to think twice about what they are ordering for their kids, I don’t see the harm. Yes, it is Big Brother-ish, but given the manipulative ways of the food industry, I guess I am willing to put up with the government intrusion to help with the imbalance of power/information.

Hhhm, would I support a law that bans giving a toy inside sugary cereal boxes? Probably.

Lithium Toxicity Symptoms

How to Prevent Lithium Toxicity

Lithium is a prescription medication that is used in the treatment of bipolar disorder type I and type II.  The specific FDA approved indications for lithium includes its use as a maintenance treatment of mania in people with bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depression) in order to prevent or diminish the intensity of future manic episodes.

Additionally, there are “off label” investigational uses of lithium which include using lithium for it’s potential to augment the effects of antidepressants, as well as the use of lithium in the treatment of aggression, post-traumatic stress disorder and conduct disorder in children.

There are numerous brand names for lithium in the United States and Canada.  It is crucial that an individual who is on a brand name formulation understand that their medication poses the same inherent risks as generic lithium.  There is one brand name of lithium in the United States, Lithobid®, and there are numerous Canadian brand names including: Apo-Lithium® Carbonate; Apo-Lithium® Carbonate SR; Carbolith™; Duralith®; Euro-Lithium; Lithane™; PMS-Lithium Carbonate; and PMS-Lithium Citrate.

Lithium has the potential to be very toxic at relatively low levels.  A drug with this potential is said to have a low therapeutic index.  With all medications, but particularly those with a low therapeutic index, patients should follow the dosage instructions precisely and take their medication exactly as directed.  Individuals on lithium should never increase or decrease their dosage without first consulting their physician.

The extended release tablets or capsules of lithium should not be crushed or chewed.  Damaging the lithium pills in this way will alter the delivery of the medication and can easily result in toxic levels of lithium.

In order to avoid lithium side effects, it is essential for lithium users to stay adequately hydrated, particularly in the summer when insensible losses of body water are increased from sweating.  Likewise, people taking lithium should avoid sudden changes in the sodium content of their diet.  The amount of sodium an individual consumes directly affects the amount of water their body retains.  A low sodium diet, while useful for lowering blood pressure, can be dangerous in lithium users by increasing lithium toxicity.

It is also important for patients on lithium to limit their intake of caffeine via coffee, teas and energy drinks.  Caffeine induces diuresis (fluid loss from the kidneys) which can increase the toxicity of lithium.  On a similar note, individuals who are being treated for hypertension with diuretic medications should make sure that their physician is aware that they are on lithium.

People taking lithium should contact a health care provider without delay if they experience unresolved diarrhea, sudden changes in weight, muscular tremors or lack of coordination, fever, or any noticeable changes in their urinary volume.  Lithium has significant potential for harmful toxic effects.  However, patients on lithium can minimize their risk by following the guidelines above.

Causes and Symptoms of Lithium toxicity: Act For Libraries
Introduce of Lithium:


When to see a Doctor for Cough

You need not be alarmed at every little cough, but you need to understand a cough happens for a reason. It is a symptom that something is interfering with you respiratory system. If you smoke there a good chance you will have a chronic cough; although you probably already know and this and have accepted it; otherwise you would have stopped smoking. In most cases when one stops smoking the cough will gradually cease, and, in time, system will repair itself, somewhat.

Exactly what is a cough? It is a noisy sound produced when by the trachea, (commonly known as the windpipe) or the lungs, attempt to dislodge a foreign object or to react against an irritation. A cough is to the mouth what a sneeze is to the nose. The difference is a sneeze reacts to invading irritations from outside the nostrils; while a cough is a reaction from some internal affliction.

Although objects destined for the stomach such as food can lodge in the trachea. Coughing is a natural means of dislodging the foreign object and clearing the air passageways. (The very effective Heimlich maneuver has saved many lives by the intervention of quick actions by another person. If you are unaware of this maneuver, learn more about it.)

What causes coughs and when should you see a doctor?

If you have the first symptoms of a cold, you probably will also have at the onset, or will in a few days, develop a cough. There is nothing to be alarmed at here as long as the cough subsides along with the other symptoms of the cold. The cough, in most cases, will be the last cold symptom to disappear; the reasoning being the bronchial congestion takes a little longer to dissipate. The mucous you bring up with the lingering cough after a chest cold, will be a pale yellow in color.

If, however, you suddenly start chilling and running a temperature and if you cough up yellowish green mucus, see your doctor. Your cold has evolved into a bronchitis and is in danger of becoming a more serious pneumonia. When this happens you should not delay in getting help and some much needed antibiotics.

If while coughing your are short of breath and your mucous is frothy and pinkish in color, you could be having pulmonary edema, or more commonly known as fluid in the lungs. See your doctor.

If while coughing you wheeze, and you are short of breath, see your doctor. Asthma is a serious condition that needs to be treated by a professional and delaying treatment is not recommended. It is possible this is only associated with this one cold or illness, but don’t count on it. It could be the triggering agent causing a chronic asthma.

If you have heart problems, swelling of the feet and legs and are short of breath, see your doctor. The diagnosis could be congestive heart failure. This is a chronic condition that needs treatment. There will be fluid in the lungs and in fact all your body will be somewhat edematous. This will not get better on its own. You need immediate attention.

With sharp chest pains, shortness of breath, a speed-ed up heart rate while coughing up blood, suspect a pulmonary embolus. Get to the emergency room of the nearest hospital quickly. This means you have blood clot that broke away from elsewhere in your body and is now attempting to circulate through your body. It is blocking your airways.

Tuberculosis also has a cough often with bloody sputum. With this pulmonary condition, however, there are a couple of distinguishing symptoms that are nearly always present: Night sweats and chills. There is usually chest pain when coughing. There is an effective treatment for this now, unlike olden times when nearly all wasted away’ in a few years. In fact, it is a law that all diagnosed tubercular cases be treated.

Cancer too causes coughing and along with it a gradual weight loss. The coughing is caused by the carcinoma interfering with how the pulmonary functions. Of course you will see your doctor if you should expect this. Hopefully the cough will alert to this danger in time for effective treatment.

Coughing, pain, dizziness, burning sensations, etc., are all symptoms telling us something is not right in our bodies. Seen in this way they are messages telling our physicians what is going on in our bodies. We too can learn to decipher these tell-tale signs of our bodies. We do this so we can better describe our symptoms to our health care professionals, not that we are diagnosing our illness, or worse, trying some home remedy. Effective health care is three-fold; doctors and patients, and pharmaceutical companies all work together for the health of all.