Strawberry shortcake

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
Walnut cake with lemon buttercream

Walnut cake with lemon buttercream

This is an amazingly bouncy walnut sponge topped with a lemon buttercream – this is a change to the traditional coffee and walnut combination but goes beautifully together.

Walnut and lemon buttercream cake



For this recipe I’ve used a mix of unsalted butter and baking margarine. I did some experimenting comparing all butter, all margarine and a mix of both on a creaming method sponge mix and I liked the combination for certain cakes. Previously I’d never baked using margarine; always butter only.

Butter has the best mouth feel and taste but can leave a sponge slightly greasy if the temperature isn’t perfect and it’s over-warmed before use, margarine gives a cake rise a lighter texture but the taste isn’t quite so good. Combining the two has given me a good almalgamation of the positives of both for this recipe – however, I didn’t use 50:50, I used a little more butter to margarine. Of course, for specialist patisserie sponges like joconde and the like, only butter can be used and if you’re after very natural ingredients, then butter wins hands down. I have only used Stork so I don’t know if other brands offer different qualities (better or worse).

If you only want to use either butter or margarine, just use 175g of the one ingredient.

A note about pans – this cake can be made in either two 20cm round pans or one 30 x 15-ish loaf pan. The cooking temps and times are slightly different for these but I’ll detail these in the method below


  • Two 20 cm round pans or one 30 x 13 cm (or whatever you have near this) loaf pan
  • Whisk or mixer
  • Bowls
  • Spatula

Ingredients – cake

  • Eggs, medium – 3
  • Caster sugar – 175g
  • Self-raising flour – 175g
  • Margarine – 75g
  • Unsalted butter, softened – 100g
  • Baking powder  – 1 1/2 tspns (7.5ml)
  • Double cream – 25 ml
  • Vanilla extract – 1/2 tspn
  • Almond extract – 1/2 tspn
  • Walnuts – finely chopped – 60g

Ingredients – lemon buttercream

Please note – this is enough for the loaf cake:

  • Butter, softened – 70g
  • Icing sugar – 170g (thereabouts – add in batches and make to your own liking of density)
  • Cream or milk – about 10ml
  • Lemon juice – juice of one lemon or about 2 tblspns if you’re using it from a bottle
  • Extra walnuts for decoration – about 10 (choose the nicest looking ones)

For two cakes (provides a little extra to sandwich in the middle):

  • Butter, softened – 100g
  • Icing sugar – 250g (thereabouts – add in batches and make to your own liking of density)
  • Cream or milk – about 15ml
  • Lemon juice – juice of one lemon or about 2 tblspns if you’re using it from a bottle – this weirdly seems to provide the same taste, even though the other ingredients are greater. Just test it and add a bit more lemon juice if you prefer
  • Extra walnuts for decoration – about 10 (choose the nicest looking ones)

Method – cake

  1. Grease and line the tins – whatever you are using
  2. Preheat to oven to 170C for two round tins or 160C for the large single tin
  3. Cream the butter, margarine and sugar until pale and fluffy
  4. Add in all the other ingredients except the walnuts and mix briefly until all the flour is combined
  5. Mix in the chopped walnuts carefully with a spoon
  6. Dollop the mix into your tins and smooth the top
  7. Pop in the oven – for two tins bake for about 25-30 mins, for one tin bake for about 40-45 mins

One baked, leave to cool in the tin then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely before you ice it

Method – buttercream

  1. Mix all the ingredients together (can I suggest you lightly mix it all together with a spoon first before you start whisking, so you don’t get a cloud of icing sugar!)
  2. Whisk for about 4-5 mins so you get a really creamy mix


  1. When the cake is fully cooled, spread the icing on the cake and ‘lift’ the spatula/knife up all over the top to create a wispy finish
  2. Decorate with the remaining whole walnuts
Esterhazy torte - daquoise layer cake

Esterházy torte – nut dacquoise layer cake

Esterhazy cake

Esterházy cake is a dacquoise layer torte originating in Budapest in the late 1800s. It was created (as many famous/regional speciality cakes are) by a confectioner keen to impress one of the great houses of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire and one of its members in particular, Prince Paul III Anton Esterházy de Galántha. Its longevity as a popular recipe proves the Prince (or at least those around him who ate the cake) must have designated it a success. Some of the essential features of this torte are the fondant glaze with spider’s web pattern, the chopped (or slivered) nuts pressed into the edges of the cake, the number of layers separated by a French nut buttercream. Recipes vary in the number of layers and, as the recipe for the cake travelled and got more popular throughout mid-eastern Europe it naturally altered, as these things do due to taste and availability. Some variants are all hazelnut, some almond, some walnut and some a mixture.


The only thing I have altered was that I could only get ground almonds. I had wanted to use half and half almonds and hazelnuts, but as I don’t have anything that can successfully grind nuts or spices down without turning them into a mush, I had no option but to purchase pre-ground. Ground almonds are easy to get hold of, but ground hazelnuts proved trickier and I could only find them online (and I didn’t think they’d turn up in time so I bypassed them). I have used chopped hazelnuts on the outside of the cake though, so I think this balanced the flavour back out a little at least. Some recipes include alcohol (usually cognac) and some don’t; I’ve kept without it because there would be children eating it too and I’m not a massive fan of boozy cakes anyway. One last thing, this is me being pedantic but I piped the layers. Most recipes just say to spoon or spread the meringue sponge. I fully admit I’m OCD in the kitchen with trying to get my bakes (especially any patisserie) as exact as possible so there was no way I’d do anything else than use a piping bag and round nozzle. I piped the meringue sponge onto a pre-drawn circle (underneath side of baking paper) starting in the middle and spiralling outwards – this is a typical method to make large single macarons. You can please yourself – it doesn’t alter the flavour or texture and the top layer gets covered in fondant anyway. It’s just I knew it was there… 🙂 Don’t panic at the length of the recipe – it’s not as tricky as some might have you believe, it just has quite a few stages to it. The only tricky thing is piping the chocolate spiral. I did make this cake over two days, not because you really can’t make it all in one go, but that I started at about 8pm one night (after a full day’s work and the usual tidying and preparing dinner after getting home) and frankly ran out of steam to complete it that evening. This recipe was submitted for a Daring Bakers Esterházy cake challenge, hosted by Jelena from A Kingdom for a Cake.


  • Baking paper/parchment
  • Round template about 5cm (6 in) – a pan lid, plate or cake tin
  • Piping bag and large, round plain nozzle (about 8mm or 3/8in diameter) and another (or a plastic piping bag with the end snipped) with a small, plain nozzle (about 1mm / fine)
  • Saucepan and heatproof bowl for bain marie (or a double boiler if you’re posh/well equiped)
  • Bowls and stand mixer/handheld mixer
  • Stand mixer or handheld mixer (you can do the meringue by hand but it’ll be laborious)
  • Baking trays
  • Smaller items: pastry brush, palette knife or cake lifter, rubber spatula, marker or pencil

Ingredients – nut meringues / dacquoise

  • Egg whites – 6 large
  • Icing sugar – 180g
  • Caster sugar – 20g
  • Ground almonds – 200g (or 100g and ground hazelnuts 100g)
  • Plain flour – 60g
  • Vanilla extract – 1/2 tspn

Method for the dacquoise/nut meringues

  1. Mark out five circles on your baking paper using your circular template/lid etc
  2. Turn on the oven to 150 C
  3. Whip up the egg whites to stiff-ish peaks using a fast speed
  4. Slow the mixer a little to medium speed and slowly tip in the caster sugar and incorporate, then the icing sugar (a little at a time or in a slow stream – just don’t plonk it all in at once)
  5. Ensure the meringue is glossy and fully incorporates the sugar and remove the bowl from the mixer
  6. Mix in the ground nuts (about a third at a time) and the vanilla extract slowly with the rubber spatula in a figure of eight motion. Be gentle but do make sure all the ground nuts are spread evenly throughout the mixture
  7. Using a blob of the mix on your finger, fix down the baking paper (with the marked out circles on the underside) onto the baking trays – this will keep them fixed in place as you pipe or spread
  8. If you’re piping: place the mix in the piping bag with the large plain nozzle (you’ll have to refill) and start in the middle of the circle and pipe in a tight spiral round and outwards until you have a disc. It is better to overlap the spiral rather than have gaps, as you can spread out the mix afterwards. (spreading out the mix when there’s gaps will thin out the layer too much). You can smooth the discs a little with a palette knife
  1. If you’re spreading, spoon the mix onto the sheets and smooth it out to the edges of the circle. You’re aiming for just under 1 cm in height
  2. If you have a bit left over, pipe or spoon a small circle so you can test ‘doneness’ at the end of the cooking
  3. When you’ve done all five pop them in the oven for about 16 mins. Do NOT let them go brown, you want just under but definitely cooked. Judging this is fairly tricky, and they will carry on cooking slightly from the residual heat for a few minutes after you remove them anyway. If you were able to pipe a smaller circle you can test this – if you think it’s underdone, pop them all back in for another 2 minutes
  4. Take out and leave to cool on the baking sheets – don’t move them until you have to as the meringues are slightly fragile

French nut buttercream

  • Egg yolks, large – 6
  • Caster sugar – 125g
  • Unsalted butter, softened slightly – 150g
  • Ground almonds/hazelnuts – 75g
  • (Plus a little whipped double cream to lighten if you prefer)

French buttercream – recipe

  1. Made in a bain marie (a bowl over a saucepan with a few centimetres of water, although do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl, or use a double boiler, if you have one)
  2. Bring the water to a gentle boil, put the yolks and sugar in the bowl on top and whisk while heating until smooth and thickened
  3. Leave to cool
  4. In a separate bowl, whip up the butter until fluffy and then beat in the yolks and the ground nuts until smooth and fully incorporated
  5. Just one note – to lighten the buttercream if you prefer fold in some whipped double cream (I know this doesn’t exactly lighten the calorie load but it can create a lighter feel and taste on the palette, as some people find buttercream too cloying). Should you wish to add a spoonful of cognac or other liquer, you could do that now

Assembling the layers

  1. For this don’t use all the buttercream – you’ll need enough kept aside for the sides and one teaspoon to add to the chocolate to thin it for piping
  2. Alternate the dacquoise layers with buttercream and build the torte – two things though: put the top layer on upside down (so it is flat at the top) and do not put any butter cream on the top

Apricot glaze method

  1. Warm the apricot jam and a teaspoon of water in a microwave or a saucepan
  2. Brush it over the top layer of the torte – let it cool/resolidify before you attempt to pour on the fondant icing

Icing method

  1. Mix together the icing sugar, a little lemon juice and a little water – you want it to get to only just starting to slip off the back of the spoon. It’s better to add the water a tiny drop at a time, as it’s so easy to make it too runny and you’ll need a lot of icing sugar to bring it back. As a guide for a cake this size you’ll need about 100ml in total
  2. Before you start pouring it on, ready the chocolate (see below) so it is to hand as soon as the icing is smooth
  3. Pour on the icing and smooth it out with a palette knife – if you’ve got a cranked one that’s easiest

Chocolate spiral method

  1. Melt the chocolate (in a microwave is easiest – zap it in 10 second intervals until it’s malleable) then stir in a teaspoon of the creme you’ve prepared
  2. Put it in the second piping bag with a small nozzle (or a new bag with the corner snipped off)
  3. Start in the middle of the cake, squeeze evenly and spiral the piped line of chocolate round and outwards, until you’ve got a nice spiral that meets the edge of the cake
  4. To ‘draw’ the spider lines you’ll be using a skewer or toothpick to alternate between dragging over the lines from the middle to the edge, then from the edge to the middle. Imagine a bike wheel – you’re drawing the spokes and it’s easiest to do an even number of lines so you can mentally divide the cake up easier to match the lines up.

Finishing the cake

  1. Using a palette knife spread the remainder of the creme round the edge of the cake and then gently press the chopped hazelnuts into the creme