Four layered strawberry shortcake made with polenta and ground almonds, with chantilly cream, jam, strawberries, chocolate spread and edible flowers

This is pretty much a Victoria sponge as the starting point, but has the addition of a little polenta flour and ground almonds. Don’t be fooled by the small amounts of polenta and ground almonds – even a little change with these makes a large difference to the crumb of the cake. I came up with this recipe about a year ago as I wanted a sponge that was a little denser so that layers could be cut more easily and to offset the extra cream or sweetness that I would then fill those extra layers with. The experiment works a treat for this purpose, but I wouldn’t use it for when I wanted a more traditional, lighter sponge texture.

  • This cooks at a lower temperature, for longer to keep the layers as flat as possible.
  • This is a small but high cake; it surprisingly feeds about 8 – 10 as the layers are tall and rich.
  • Scale up the amounts for a larger cake if you prefer (I’d suggest doubling for a 30cm cake tin).
  • Polenta is pretty easy to find in the UK – it will be in the world foods aisle at your local supermarket or an asian store. You may find it labelled as ‘Fine Corn Meal’ rather than polenta – I’ve got some of this from the Natco brand (green 1.5kg packet) which sells in all the main supermarkets in the UK.
Notes on edible flowers

Be careful what you pick – but some flowers you can rely on. Nasturtiums, lavender heads, marigold petals, violas, heartsease (native pansies) and rose petals plus other pansies with the green parts removed are all OK. [‘Heartsease’ is the traditional English name for pansies in the garden centre – these are all edible and can even be found amongst the herb section.] The Royal Horticultural Society has a nice page for more information. And if you’re still unsure – either replace with fresh berries or go check online as there are plenty of edible flower references out there.

  • 2 x 20cm round tins
  • Whisk/mixer and bowls
  • Cooling rack
  • Sharp bread knife
  • A piping bag and large round nozzle if you want to pipe the cream, or a palette knife to spread it
  • Unsalted butter, softened – 166g
  • Caster sugar – 166g
  • Eggs, medium – 3
  • Plain flour – 110g
  • Ground almonds – 20g
  • Polenta – 25g
  • Baking powder – 1 1/2 teaspoons
  • Vanilla extract – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Lemon – finely grated zest of one small lemon (or half a large one)
Ingredients – for filling and decorating
  • Double cream – 300g
  • Icing sugar – 2 tablespoons
  • Vanilla extract – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Strawberry jam – a 350g/ 400g jar (you won’t need quite all of it)
  • Chocolate spread, such as Nutella
  • Strawberries – a large handful
  • Edible flowers (see notes above) – I specifically chose ‘hot’ coloured flowers in reds and yellows to compliment the slightly yellow sponge an make the whole thing very summery
  1. Prepare the two tins – grease and flour or line (you know your tins well and which method they need)
  2. Turn the oven on to 170C fan / 180C conventional
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together
  4. Add all the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl
  5. Add one of the eggs to the butter/sugar mix and a couple of spoons full of the dry mix and incorporate together gently
  6. Repeat with the remaining two eggs and the rest of the dry mix
  7. Add in the vanilla extract and the lemon zest and ensure all the ingredients are evenly incorporated
  8. Evenly distribute the mix between the two tins, weighing the tins if need be
  9. Cook in the bottom of the oven for 30 mins
  10. A skewer or cocktail stick should come out dry
  11. Leave to cool in the tins for 15 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool thoroughly
  12. Once cool, carefully slice each of the cake layers in two – you need four layers
  13. Inspect the two top halves and keep the nicest-looking one for the top of the cake
  14. Place a bottom half on a cake stand or plate and spread over a layer of jam
  15. Whip the double cream with the icing sugar and vanilla, to make Chantilly cream,and spoon into a piping bag, if using
  16. Pipe or spread the double cream over the jam
  17. Place the next layer of sponge on top and coat with the chocolate spread
  18. Slice up a few strawberries and arrange the slices on the chocolate spread
  19. Place the third layer of sponge onto the chocolate and strawberries and then cover that with a layer of strawberry jam and double cream, just like the bottom layer
  20. Finally, place the reserved ‘best’ top layer of sponge onto everything
  21. Decorate with the edible flowers and a few extra strawberries
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