Afternoon high tea dessert is the best thing between lunch and dinner. An excuse to put the kettle on, possibly kick the shoes off, and dig into a slice of sponge cake. You know which cake we’re referring to as well: it’s the classic victoria sponge cake! Light, fluffy, and slightly jam soaked, it’s the perfect accompaniment to that afternoon cup of tea or coffee. Dessert Advisor is taking a closer look at the tradition and customs associated with the afternoon tea.
These high tea desserts gained popularity during the 1840s. They were a tea-drinking ritual to keep the hangry moods at bay before an 8 pm dinner. Afternoon teas back then were a private affair and typically included sliced sandwiches, pastries, and cakes. Like all self-respecting individuals, once Queen Victoria realized there was an opportunity to enjoy a cup of tea and some light cake, she was in. These afternoon teas then suddenly evolved to high tea receptions with as many as 100-200 ladies in attendance.
That’s a lot of teacups. Thankfully, we’ve managed to maintain the tradition but scaled down so we have less washing up. More importantly, we don’t miss out on the most popular afternoon tea guest of all – the sponge cake!
Named after the Queen, the Victoria Sponge Cake, or the Victorian Sandwich Cake, is essentially a layer of either strawberry or raspberry jam that’s topped with freshly whipped cream, sandwiched between two fluffy cakes. For the most traditional version, you’ll notice the delicate dusting of icing sugar which dresses the cake. Other variations can include fillings from custards and other jams that the spongy parts will soak up.
In other corners of the globe like Malaysia and China, they have steamed versions of the cake. Here, they often serve it with icing, chocolate, fresh fruit and, in some cases, even vegetables. Cakes from Vietnam sound wonderful with additions to the batter including fresh mint, lemongrass, or basil. They even have a vibrant pandan flavoured cake that, you guessed it, is delightfully bright green!
In Japan, they sometimes use a basic sponge cake instead of graham crackers as the base of delicately light cheesecakes. The Portuguese flavour theirs with orange and lemon peels. Like the British dessert of trifle (which has jam, canned fruit, jelly, custard, and sherry), the Portuguese use any day-old slices of cake to create other tasty pudding-type desserts that can include liqueurs like brandy.
Before we disappear down the rabbit hole rattling off all of these marvelous versions of the victoria sponge cake, let’s return to other high tea desserts. Common desserts you’ll find at these afternoon teas include scones with jam and fresh cream, fruit tarts, chocolate slices, and tiny petit fours. But this is not the limit; we also have colorful cupcakes, delicate biscuits, light lamingtons, and creamy éclairs… The options are endless, and while they all go quite well with a nice cup of tea, do make sure you save room for a slice of sponge cake.