Vanilla Pillow Cake.

Send her Victorias?

It was my old Ma’s birthday recently. She’s not a needful person so it’s notoriously difficult to organise treats when it comes to her special day. Not just for presents. Though she does make everything you buy seem like it wouldn’t have appeared anywhere on her wish list. Even if she has mentioned a specific gift it somehow manages to turn into a let down. You go out of your way to buy the thing she mentioned but by the time it reaches her it will have fallen short in the excitement department. And she can be just as pernickety about her birthday cake. There is no point pulling out all of the stops to bake a decadent and lavish cake piled high with frosting. Or dripping with ganache. Or elaborately decorated with hearts and flowers. She’s not one for all that fuss and nonsense. She would much rather eat a plain cake. So I figured this year the simplest thing to do would be to revisit that old classic – the Victoria sandwich. I know it’s one of Mum’s favourites. The only trouble is you can’t expect your invited guests to be singing Happy Birthday around a boring old Vicky sponge. I would just have to liven it up a bit. It might have been named after a Queen but it would need to be something a darn sight more special to be a birthday cake fit for a Mum.

For Many Happy Returns.

Jam and Je-rules-alem.

The Women’s Institute are very particular when it comes to the Victoria sandwich. If they are judging at a baking competition – even if it’s just at a little village fete – the specifics of a Victoria sandwich can be really quite strict. Some of the rules attributed to the W.I. that I’ve come across included but were not limited to:

  • The cake should be between 18 and 20cm.
  • There should be no rack marks on the top of the cake. Each layer should be cooled filling side down to avoid them showing (though ideally you should line the cooling rack with a clean cloth to eliminate them altogether).
  • The cake should never be flavoured with vanilla.
  • The jam used to sandwich the cakes together should only ever be raspberry jam so that the raspberry pips will keep the layers from sliding apart.
  • The layers should be uniform in size, shape and colour.
  • And the top of the finished cake may be dusted with caster sugar but never icing sugar.

Thankfully this birthday cake didn’t need to measure up to the exacting standards of competitive baking. It would be a different kind of W.I.nner.

Sandwich Spread.

Pillow talk.

The biggest no-no when making a Victoria sandwich is to add a cream or buttercream filling. It’s jam and jam only. I’ve heard that if a Victoria sandwich is presented in competition with extra filling the judges will point-blank refuse to even taste it. I don’t want to believe that. Imagine going to all that trouble just for some po-faced harridan to dismiss your cake without so much as a nibble. Horrendous. So this cake of mine would not technically be a Victoria sandwich after all. It would be something based on a Victoria sandwich. An upsized Victoria sandwich-esque cake for people who don’t mind breaking the rules. Which was handy because I would be ignoring practically every one of the guidelines set out above. My cake would be a huge vanilla cake with pineapple jam and extra filling. Grid marked and proud. And finished off with a dusting of icing sugar. The sponge layers were so deep and soft and springy they were like big old vanilla cushions. So I decided to call it a pillow cake. Which seems fitting. Because all those stuffy rules and regulations would be enough to send anyone to sleep.

Jam Packed.

A tin to bake it in.

Because this was upscaled to a six egg mixture for a larger sized birthday cake the tins needed to be a bit bigger too. You will need two identical cake tins. Preferably with straight sides. And each tin will need to be 21.5cm and about 7cm deep. That’s just shy of eight and a half inches in old money. It’s a bit of an odd size I grant you. Your best bet is to buy some reasonably good quality spring form tins. I got mine from Sainsbury’s where 21.5cm was the standard size of their spring form tins. The only thing is they were not exactly cheap. Even though they were half-price in the sales they still cost a gasp-inducing £5.50 each. If you are looking for a simple cake for a special occasion then I can tell you this vanilla pillow cake went down a treat. Even my Mum said she loved it. You don’t need to wait for a birthday to tell your Mum how much you care though. Because as the old saying goes – they feed you when you’re hungry and clean up all your mess. So take the time to show your Mum she really is the best. Now here’s that recipe… Enjoy.

21.5cm Spring Form Cake Tin.

Vanilla Pillow Cake.


  • 370g Margarine.
  • 340g Caster Sugar.
  • 6 Eggs.
  • 1tbsp Vanilla Extract.
  • 376g Self Raising Flour (sifted).
  • 224g Jam.
  • 250g Icing Sugar.
  • 50g Unsalted Butter.
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract.
  • 25ml Whole Milk.

    Vanilla Pillow Cake.


  • Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4. Grease and base line two 21.5cm spring form tins.
  • Cream together the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and beat to incorporate.
  • Gently fold in the flour, taking care not to over mix.
  • Divide the mixture equally between the two prepared cake tins.
  • Bake for 30 minutes then cover loosely with tin foil.
  • Bake for a further 15 minutes then remove the foil.
  • Bake for a further 5 minutes if necessary or just until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  • Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before carefully removing to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  • To make the frosting, slowly beat together the icing sugar and butter until the mixture is sandy in texture.
  • Add the vanilla extract and 15ml of the whole milk and beat on a low speed until just combined.
  • Increase the speed to medium and beat until thick and smooth.
  • If the filling is too stiff you can add the extra milk ½ a teaspoon at a time until the right consistency.
  • To assemble the cake: place one layer of cake on a serving plate.
  • Spread with the frosting, leaving a slightly raised lip around the outside edge so that the jam doesn’t run down the sides of the cake.
  • Spoon the jam into the centre and spread out into an even layer over the filling.
  • Finally, top with the second layer of cake.
  • Dust with icing sugar just before serving.

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