Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

Bake-Off Sea Sponge recipe!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

  Okay, as promised in my Observer column today (which may be worth reading as a preamble to what follows), here is the recipe for my delicious CHOCOLATE SEA SPONGE! (The recipe for bloody mary muffins is in the column itself. Extra tip when making muffins: do not overmix! Mix gently, only just enough, because over-mixing will ruin it.)

  Now, viewers of the The Great Sport Relief Bake-Off (or readers of my column) will know Mary Berry thought the sea sponge was pretty revolting. And Paul said: “Victoria let herself down with that cake”. But I genuinely think it’s really nice! It isn’t that salty! It’s a bit salty! Some of us like salt! If you have a go at this (or the muffins, from the recipe in the column), do let us know in the comments on this blog how you liked them.


Ingredients for the cake:
500g soft, lightly salted butter
500g caster sugar
350g self-raising flour
170g cocoa powder
8 eggs whisked with a splash of milk
Maldon sea salt

Ingredients for the icing:
240g caster sugar
125ml double cream
300g soft butter
400g icing sugar
Vanilla essence (optional)
Maldon sea salt

Ingredients for decorating:
(Obviously if you just want to find out what the cake tastes like then you don’t need to decorate it, but the combination of look and taste is kind of the fun bit)
Blue food colouring
Green food colouring
White “writing icing”
Grey modelling icing
Jelly tots
Rice paper
Choc Olé biscuits, or Matchmaker chocolates

Prepare four medium-size cake tins (as this is a layer cake). But you only need three if you’re not making a boat for the top. I prepare cake tins by greasing them and then lining them with baking paper. Mary and Paul told me it was not necessary to do both. But what do they know?

Put the oven onto about 170C if it’s a fan oven and 190 (or 375 Fahrenheit) if it’s not.

Start with the ingredients for the cake itself. Cream together the 500g each of butter and sugar (easiest done in a food mixer). In a separate bowl or jug, sieve the cocoa powder, flour and a pinch of sea salt (don’t go nuts, it is just a generous pinch). Now you want to add the whisked eggs and milk (see ingredients list!), and the cocoa-flour-salt powder, gradually into your butter and sugar cream. The aim is to create a batter which is thick but not lumpy. Start with the egg & milk mixture: just pour a bit into the butter and sugar cream, mixing as you go. Then add some of the dry mixture – and keep going, alternating the two mixtures, adding egg and milk then adding dry mixture, until you’ve put it all the cake ingredients together. Now divide your batter between the four cake tins. You should have enough to comfortably cover the bottom of each tin – if you don’t, just use three of the tins. Mary and Paul said we had to have at least three layers. But they presumably won’t standing in your kitchen, so do what you like.
  Bake the cakes for about 25 minutes – more if needed - until they feel springy to the touch (swap their position in the oven halfway through, to even things up). Then take them out and let them cool in the tins for a few minutes, then turn them out to cool on wire racks. An hour’s cooling time is ideal – more is fine, and you can probably get away with half an hour if you’re short of time.

For the icing, first you’re going to caramelise the sugar in water. If you don’t know what that means: put the 240g of caster sugar in a pan with six tablespoons of water, then switch on a gentle heat. Let the sugar melt slowly, swirling the pan around every so often (don’t stir it, just kind of swirl it around). Once it’s melted, turn the heat up a bit for a few minutes (maybe 3-5 minutes). Keep swirling the pan occasionally and what should happen is your clear liquid becomes a bit thicker and darker. That means it has caramelised.
Once it seems like a caramel, take it off the heat and gradually pour/stir in the cream. Add two or three drops of vanilla essence if you like the taste of vanilla (which I don’t). Then add about four teaspoons of sea salt. I say “about” because what you really want to do is add salt gradually and taste as you go. If you’re happy the taste is a bit salty and enough for you at three spoons, stop. But if you want to recreate my exact Mary-and-Paul-shocking cake, make it four teaspoons. That’s seasoning to MY taste. This mixture is your salted caramel.

Now cream the 300g soft butter together with the 400g icing sugar. Then pour the caramel into this mixture and blend them together: this is your icing. Divide it into four bowls: one medium-size bowl that you leave alone (which will be cream-coloured), one large bowl that you mix with blue food colouring, one smaller bowl with green food colouring, and another smaller bowl that you mix with yellow food colouring (or whatever colour you want your boat to be). Now refrigerate the bowls for 15 minutes or so. (If you’re short of fridge space, obviously you can refrigerate the initial batch and THEN divide and colour).

Assuming the sponge cakes and the icing have now cooled down, start by spreading the cream-coloured icing thickly on the top of two of the sponges. Then sandwich them together and put a third sponge on top. Then spread the blue icing thickly over the entire top and sides of your three-layer cake (with a piping bag or a palette knife if you’re good at these things; with a basic kitchen knife if you’re me).

I then added dollops of the green icing here and there all over the cake, to be… I guess algae. Delicious algae. Leftover bits of the cream icing are good for waves, topped with the white “writing icing” which is very good for being the tops of breakers.

The fourth sponge is the one you carve into the shape of a boat’s hull, then coat with the yellow icing. I made a sail by threading a triangle of rice paper through a Choc Olé biscuit (which is perfect for a mast), but a Matchmaker would do. For the final touches, stud the jellytots all over the cake to be yummy jellyfish and carve the grey modelling icing into shark fins.

Then cut in, take a large bite and let us know if you survive.


Facebook Google Digg Reddit Yahoo! StembleUpon Newsbine LiveJournal BlinkList

Add Comment


Shazz at 9:42 am on February 7th, 2016

“Mary and Paul told me it was not necessary to do both. But what do they know?” - I always grease AND line. Some bakers say don’t line because wrinkles in the paper translate into wrinkles in the baked cake. 1) If you’re covering with frosting, who cares? 2) Plenty of tips out there for wrinkle-free paper linings. You continue doing both if you want, VC-M!

Tom at 9:58 am on February 7th, 2016

Good effort, and well done for keeping it fun and original. I think if you’d retreated into bucolic kitsch I’d have fallen off my chair.

Rachael at 10:22 am on February 7th, 2016

I think I’d feel cheated and heartbroken if you didn’t write a cook book Vicky. You’re hilarious. It’s YOU i want to be my kitchen confidante.

Red at 11:50 am on February 7th, 2016

Thanks for the recipe and you deserved a much better reaction! Can’t believe ‘expert’ bakers can’t contemplate a salted sweet cake, the combination is always a winner. People could be a bit more adventurous than just salted caramel. A joy to watch you as always and see you bring your own style to proceedings.

TO at 1:59 pm on February 7th, 2016

It’s the basic flaw in any cooking show.  It tries to deny the fact that what tastes good is personal, which is a pretty basic and pretty hard to argue point, yet for the purposes of having some kind of competition we have to ignore it or argue it away.

Renee at 2:16 pm on February 7th, 2016

I will try this cake such is my extreme delight to see you back writing in the Observer! I roared with laughter & will now catch the programme on iplayer ( though I usually avoid it like the plague). Hurrah for your return: Only Connect was not enough!

mick at 2:12 am on February 12th, 2016

is that a cake or a hat ?
good to see that you are settling in to domestic life. Spent or your poker winnings yet ?

Rupert kirby at 3:43 pm on February 14th, 2016

Have just this morning made your Bloody Mary Muffins will be making them over and over again - Bloody Genius.Fan bloody tastic.

Randy at 8:03 pm on June 25th, 2016

I have a few questions about Victoria’s Bloody Mary Muffins #1. Does anyone know why Victoria adds 1/2 a teaspoon of bicarbonate after originally adding 4 teaspoons of baking powder. Here in the colonies (the United States) most of our baking powder is double action. It contains bicarbonate and an acid. So I’m not quite sure why Victoria added the extra bicarbonate.

2. Sunblush tomatoes aren’t regularly available here. Would Sundried tomatoes work?

3. Victoria didn’t mention what temperature she baked the muffins at. 

Victoria Coren M at 8:54 am on July 10th, 2016

My goodness, you’re right! I never put the temperature! You’d think the subs at the paper might have pointed that out, but mea culpa. I can’t remember now, but I bake pretty much everything at about 175. I’ve got a fan oven though, you might want it at 180-190 if yours isn’t.

More important, though, is to check after a bit whether they’re done. If you do that, it probably doesn’t matter if the temperature is a bit wrong.

PS - I think sundried tomatoes would be fine if you can’t get blush.

Jessica at 4:40 am on September 28th, 2017

I’m late to the party, but just wanted to let you know I just tried the recipe. It’s definitely nice enough that I had to eat a lot of it in the process to work out whether it’s nice or not. I just did it simply - a single-layer cake and a batch of fairy cakes - might add chocolate buttons just to make sure.
By the way, your books are pure joy, despite the fact that I still have no idea what the rules of poker are (or of porn, for that matter). My background is reminiscent of your Southgate crowd, except that my folks more or less stuck with the religious stuff and now I live in Israel with a headscarf on. So for me it’s also a glimpse of a parallel universe scenario. I take my headscarf off to you for your blend of gumption and kindness and excellent writing; I think you’re great.

Victoria Coren

News: September 2017

September 7th is a big day!

Click here to read more »

Switch Theme

Click here to change colour scheme

RSS Feed

Subscribe to the RSS feed here