A Birthday Victoria Sponge

Victoria sponge gluten free the plain kitchen

Cake contains all food groups. I solemnly believe this, and in my search for an excellent gluten-free plain sponge recipe, I came up with this one, and it is pretty fail safe. Luckily Barnaby loves it too- and it was his request for his cake on his birthday. For a child who adores food and is very experimental, his birthday choices surprised me: Victoria Sponge, with jam and cream, and “strawberries, all sitting up straight on the top of the cake on the boundary”. I liked the description- and I could just imagine what he meant. He also chose spaghetti bolognese, one of his best ever meals.

The cake can be whipped up very quickly, with store cupboard staples, and in an airtight container keeps well for up to 4 days. If you fill the middle with cream however, note that it won’t keep as long, unless you store it in the fridge. Please ensure that the butter and eggs are room temperature: if they are cold, it really does affect the consistency and texture; the mixture will almost certainly curdle, and your ingredients will be prevented from emulsifying properly, which will then affect the cake’s raising capabilities. Sounds pedantic, and I suppose it is, but it really does make a difference.

I generally tend to make the cream and jam version of this cake as it is a crowd pleaser, but lemon works well too: I add the zest and juice of one large lemon to the cake mixture, and then I sandwich the layers together with lemon curd and whipped cream, and dust the top with icing sugar.

If you keep the cake, and it’s on its fourth day, warm it up slightly in the oven or microwave: gluten free cakes do well with a blast of warmth.

Makes a double layer 20cm cake

gluten free sponge the plain kitchen
Nerf Gun and Sponge Cake: all that’s needed for a great birthday!


250g butter, at room temperature

250g caster sugar

250g self raising gluten free flour (I use Dove’s)

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp xanthan gum

1 tbsp vanilla paste (or essence: I do however prefer the paste)

4 eggs

½ cup of milk

Jam and whipped cream to fill, strawberries or other berries to decorate, and icing sugar to dust


Preheat the oven to 180C. Line the bottoms of 2 20cm tins with baking parchment and butter the sides of the tins well.

Sift the flour, baking powder and xanthan gum in a bowl together.

In an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until you achieve airing fat foam: this is when the butter and sugar are so well emulsified, that a pillowy, pale airiness has been achieved. Keep scraping the granular buttery bits on the inside of the mixing bowl back into the mixture, to ensure all the sugar is combined properly. This will probably take a while, and a little longer than you’re used to, but makes all the difference. Then add the eggs, one by one, beating gently after each addition to ensure they are well combined. Then add the flour, a spoonful at a time, beating gently after each addition. Add the vanilla and milk, and beat gently for a few seconds. Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins, smooth the surface with a spatula, and bake for approximately 35-40 minutes, until pale brown on top. Always do the skewer test with gluten free cakes, as the flours can differ, hence the cooking times can differ ever so slightly: just give the cake an extra 5 minutes if it needs it. Leave in the tins for about 20 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack, and peel the parchment off carefully. I then wait until they are completely cool, sandwich together with whipped cream and strawberry jam (I often add raspberries or chopped strawberries to the jam before spreading if I have them), then dust with icing sugar and serve.


Almond and Cardamom Cake with Seville Orange Icing

The Plain Kitchen Almond Cardamom Cake

I admit that I tend to make double the amount of syrup needed for this recipe: I use the remainder in a variety of ways: a tablespoon added to chocolate and cream, melted, makes the most delicious, sticky ice cream topping. Add a spoonful to a salad dressing, instead of honey or caster sugar, and you suddenly have the most wondrous, heady flavours. I have also been known to add a spoonful to a small glass of warm milk before bedtime: quite a soporific effect it has too.

Please note that the tins used are 20cm sponge tins: line the bottoms with baking parchment and butter the sides very well. There is cardamom in the syrup, and in the cake too: 5 pods are used in the syrup to lightly flavour it, and then the ground seeds of 10 pods are used in the cake: 10 cardamom pods may seem excessive, but in fact there are so few seeds in each pod, that it really only creates a warm, fragrant flavour to the cake.

Serves 8-10

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius


For the Seville Syrup:

Juice of 2 Seville oranges

Rind of 1: slice the rind carefully from the orange, and cut into thin slivers. Try to slice off an equal quantity of rind and pith: ie, not too much white pith in your slivers!

¾ cup Blood Orange Liqueur (I use The Wiltshire Liqueur Company) or Cointreau, if you must

¾ cup caster sugar

5 cardamom pods, slightly bashed: you just want them to release their flavours, not necessarily all of their seeds, into the syrup

For the Cake:

200g salted butter, softened

130g caster sugar

125g ground almonds

125g gluten free self raising flour (I use Dove’s)

½ tsp xanthan gum

1 tsp baking powder

4 eggs

¼ cup groundnut oil

10 cardamom pods, husks discarded and seeds ground in a pestle and mortar

¼ cup of the Seville Orange Syrup

¼ cup full cream milk

For the icing:

200g salted butter, softened

200g icing sugar, sifted

100g cream cheese

1 tsp vanilla paste

¼ cup of the Seville orange syrup

250ml double cream

To decorate:

¼ cup flaked almonds, toasted, to decorate

a handful of candied Seville peels from the syrup


To make the syrup, pop all of the ingredients into a medium sized saucepan. Bring to the boil, boil for a minute or so, and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until a maple syrup consistency has been reached. If you feel it is too runny, simply hike the heat up and boil for a few extra minutes until it is the desired maple syrup consistency. Remove the cardamom pods, discard, and set the syrup aside.

Cream the butter and sugar in a Kitchenaid, or similar appliance, until light and fluffy: you may be surprised at quite how long this takes: it needs to reach the “airing fat foam” stage: that is, when the butter and sugar have incorporated so much air through the beating process that the colour of the combination is almost white, and the consistency very fluffy: this should take about 6-7 minutes. Mix the ground almonds, flour, xanthan gum and baking powder together. Add ¼ of this mix to the butter and sugar, along with an egg, and beat gently. Repeat this process with the eggs and flour mixture until all is mixed in. Add the ground cardamom, oil, Seville syrup and milk and mix gently again, until all is incorporated. Divide the mixture between the two lined and buttered cake tins, level the mixture out with a spatula, and bake in a preheated oven for 35 minutes. Please check the sponges with a skewer to ensure they are properly cooked through.

Allow the sponges to cool for 10 minutes in the tins, before running a knife around the sponges, removing the parchment and carefully placing on wire racks to cool properly.

To make the icing, beat the butter, sifted icing sugar, vanilla paste and cream cheese in a Kitchenaid or similar appliance until smooth. Add ¼ cup of the Seville orange syrup, and beat again. Finally, whip the double cream well, and carefully fold into the icing mixture.

When the sponges have cooled, sandwich the halves together with half of the icing, and spread the other half carefully on top of the cake. Decorate with toasted almond flakes, and the candied Seville rind, if you fancy it.

Almond Cardamom Seville Cake Slice

Almond Honey Cake with Orange Syrup

Almond Honey Cake with Orange Syrup, The Plain Kitchen

When we were on the farm in South Africa, our friends the Nolans were honey farmers. I remember Pat Nolan, the dad, dressed up in his bee gear : I thought he looked like a rather sinister fencing instructor. The whole process of keeping hives, the bees, the yellow combs of honey, and the other-worldly get-up Pat wore was utterly fascinating to me. However, when visiting the Nolans, what we all looked forward to more than anything else was Di Nolan’s Honey Cake with Cream. I don’t have Di’s recipe: but I dream of her cake, warm, and drenched with honey, served with ladlefuls of lightly whipped cream. This recipe uses almonds, orange juice and orange blossom water: it produces a substantial, syruped, scented cake. Great to make at the beginning of the week, as it keeps so well. Try to serve it warm, with lots of cream.

Makes one large loaf cake

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and line a loaf tin with baking parchment. Make sure that the parchment comes up the long sides of the loaf tin, which will make it easier to lift the cake out of the tin after baking.


175g butter, at room temperature

90g honey

80g soft light brown sugar

150g Plain flour (I use Dove’s gluten free)

140g ground almonds

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp xanthan gum

Zest of one large orange

3 eggs

100ml natural yoghurt

For the syrup:

3 tablespoons honey

Juice of one large orange

1 and ½ teaspoons orange blossom water


In an electric mixer, beat the butter, honey, zest and sugar for about 5 minutes. Sift the flour, baking powder, xanthan gum and bicarb, and then gently stir through the almonds. Add the almond and flour mixture to the electric mixer, a few spoons at a time, alternating with the eggs. Finally, add the yoghurt and beat gently just to incorporate it all. Pour into a loaf tin, flatten with a spatula, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes- or until a skewer comes out clean.

Remove from the oven, and let cool for about 10 minutes. While the cake is cooling, warm the honey, orange juice and orange blossom water over a low heat until it is runny and well mixed. Make holes all over the top of the loaf, while it is still in the tin, and pour the syrup over the cake. Leave in the tin for a further 10 minutes, and then gently, using the sides of the parchment, lift the cake out. Serve while still warm, with the cream.

The cake will keep well in a tin for about 4 days.

Andy’s Pancakes

The plain kitchen gluten free pancakes

We have a sort of weekend ritual in our house: every Saturday morning, Andy will make pancakes: he began doing this when Barnaby was about 3 years old, and it’s a lovely little pattern to stick to: if we don’t have to rush off anywhere, it helps us ease into the morning gently, and at least gives me a bit of a break from the constant cooking that goes on week after week. Andy provided me with the recipe for today’s pancakes: and admitted he adapts it from Delia’s: well, who wouldn’t? I cannot make them the way he does: I think it is his innate patience and timing: I often rush them, and never quite get the precise pancakes he manages to achieve.

So, here they are, and just in time for the weekend too. We keep a jar of ready mixed caster sugar and cinnamon in the cupboard: each pancake sprinkled with the mix, and served with fresh lemon juice, is the best way to start the weekend.

Makes about 10


110g plain gluten free flour (we use Plain, not self raising)

pinch of table salt

2 eggs

200ml full fat milk mixed with 75 ml water

50g butter


Place the flour in a large bowl, and add the eggs. Don’t whisk just yet.

Melt the 50g butter in a non-stick frying pan, until the butter is just melted, not frothing. Add this melted butter to the egg and flour mix, and whisk well, until there are no lumps in the mixture: this should take about a minute.

Add the milk and water mix, and whisk again for a minute or so.

Heat the same pan that you melted the butter in, and ladle in just enough mixture to cover the pan base.

Each side should take about 40 seconds to cook: check, by lifting a side of the pancake to see if it is properly browned, and then flip once done for 40 seconds on the other side.

Keep whisking the mixture left in the bowl in between frying the pancakes- this will stop the flour from settling, and will ensure your pancakes cook evenly.

Apple and Ginger Crumble

The Plain Kitchen Apple and Ginger gluten free crumble

This is an unashamedly rich and sweet crumble: the addition of the ginger syrup and pieces of ginger also provide a warming addition to the spiced cinnamon sweetness. Serve with cream, or vanilla ice cream. Or of course, as usually happens generally in our house: “A bit of both”.

Serves 6

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius


500-600g apples, peeled and chopped

200g plain gluten free flour (I use Dove’s)

60g ground almonds

150g butter

110 g soft brown sugar

50g granulated brown sugar

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tbs ginger syrup (I use the syrup from a jar of stem ginger)

2 tbsp chopped stem ginger pieces


Place the chopped apples into an oven proof dish. Add the ginger, vanilla, ginger pieces, ginger pieces and cinnamon, and massage this mixture into the apple mix.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, almonds, sugars and 100g of the butter: do as you would for scones, mixing the butter into the flour mixture with the tips of your fingers, until all the butter has been absorbed. Pour this mixture over the apples. Dot the crumble with the other 40g of butter, which you have chopped up into little pieces.

Bake at 180 degrees for 40 minutes.

Gluten Free apple and ginger crumble