Friday, 19 October 2012

Victoria Sponge Taste-off: Homemade VS Marks and Spencer (National Baking Week)

Cake Batter

15 – 21 October is National Baking Week: a period encouraging British folk to get in their kitchens and bake. Home baking is becoming a bit of a lost art in the wake of increasing access to ready-prepared supermarket and convenience foods, speedily taken away in paper bags from McDonalds’ counters, or zapped in the microwave at home.

Our elders have long contended that home cooking is always best when it comes to taste and aesthetics. We thought we would test this theory using the classic English cake: the Victoria sponge. Our team hit the streets of the seaside town of Worthing (West Sussex) with two sponges – one purchased from high-end retailer M&S, and the other homemade.

20 people were asked to give their verdict on both the appearance and taste of each cake (the identity of which was kept a secret from our tasters), to determine if slaving over hot range cookers at home really does produce superior results…


M&S Victoria sponge cake
£2.49 for 410g = approx. 61p per 100g

M&S Victoria Sponge Cake

These are some of the comments our cake-tasters made in regards to the appearance of the M&S Victoria sponge.


“This cake looks a bit bland.”

“The icing sugar looks pretty, but the cracks in the top do give the impression of poor quality.”

“It’s a shame you can’t really see the filling.”

“I like the look of this cake. It’s very simple and its small size means I am not overwhelmed at the thought of eating a slice.”

“This isn’t the most inviting Victoria sponge I have ever seen – the outside rim looks a little dry.”

“I can’t imagine this is good value for money. It’s a bit small for my liking.”

Homemade Victoria sponge
£3.50 for 1kg (approx.) = 35p per 100g

Home Made Sponge Cake

When it came to the appearance of our homemade Victoria sponge cake, our participants had the following to say:


“I love how you can tell real strawberries were used, it’s nice to see them poking out of the sides.”

“The cake is far too large in my opinion – it looks like it should be a three tier cake!”

“This cake looks gorgeous. I love the thick filling spilling out. There is a clear separation between the jam and cream, unlike the other cake.”

“This cake looks really fresh, like something you would see served in a posh tea house.”

“The sponge looks far too thick. My stomach feels daunted just looking at it!”

“This cake looks incredible - real fruit chunks always add to a cake’s appeal.”

RESULT: 16/20 participants preferred the appearance of the homemade cake.


M&S Victoria sponge cake

It surprised our team that a few people actually preferred the taste of the shop-bought Victoria sponge, despite being less than pleased with its appearance…


“For me, the jam filling of this cake is tastier than that of the other cake. The butter cream is heavenly too. It’s a shame the outward appearance does this cake no favours.”

“The filling seems a tad artificial to me. I would have like more fruit involved.”

“I prefer this cake, mainly because there is less sponge, which makes it a lighter treat. The sponge-to-filling ratio is far better in this cake, though I do think the other cake is more pleasing aesthetically.”

“I prefer the sweetness of this cake’s filling. It’s far sweeter.”

“This cake is as dry as it looks!”

“I like the heavy density of the sponge, which seems to make it more flavoursome compared to the other cake.”

Homemade Victoria sponge

It quickly became clear which cake was going to win this taste-off as our participants got their tongues around the homemade sponge…

“This is much nicer than the other cake (though that was tasty also!) It’s lighter and moister, plus the real strawberries are an added bonus.”

“The sponge of this cake is far lighter, and it’s crumbly and moist. Mmmmm!”

“This is just how the butter cream in Victoria sponge cakes should be: fluffy and rich.”

“The generous filling perfectly matches the vast amount of sponge.”

“This tastes like actual fruit and not that awful pseudo-strawberry flavour so many shop-bought cakes are filled with.”

“The sponge of this cake melts in the mouth, while the other is quite dry and plain in my opinion.”

RESULT: 15/20 participants preferred the taste of the homemade cake.

Overall winner

Leftover Crumbs

It should already be obvious, but the homemade Victoria sponge was deemed best, in terms of both appearance and taste, by the majority of our tasters. The picture above shows that while the entire 1KG homemade cake was eaten by those surveyed, some of the far smaller M&S cake did remain.

We fed the comments back to the volunteer who kindly made the homemade sponge for this experiment. She was glad her cake won the taste-off, but agreed in future she should make a less daunting to the stomach, smaller version! I am sure her efforts have inspired many readers to grab their beaters and attempt their very own Victoria sponge – what are you waiting for?

This is an advertorial on behalf of National Baking Week.

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