Vanilla bean sponge

by Juliet Sear

The perfect base for a celebration cake

This is a classic recipe, dead simple, equal quantities of everything. I make it extra gorgeous by adding PLENTY of vanilla bean paste and plenty of vanilla syrup once it’s baked. This also adds extra moistness and prolongs the shelf life of the cake. This recipe can then be scaled up as required.

Having all your ingredients at room temperature makes your cake recipe come together perfectly. If your ingredients are cold, they will not combine well and the eggs may curdle.

This cake made the perfect base for my three-tiered cake for the royal wedding.


For the vanilla soaking syrup:
100ml golden caster sugar
100ml water, just boiled to make it quicker
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped and pod reserved, or 2 tsp vanilla bean paste

For the sponge:
600g soft salted butter, room temperature
600g golden caster sugar
3 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out or 6 tsp of vanilla bean paste
3 tsp good quality vanilla extract
12 medium free-range eggs, lightly beaten
600g self-raising flour

Pastry brush
2 10” cake tins, pre lined 


Start by making the soaking syrup. Add the sugar and water to your microwaveable bowl or pan and stir to start dissolving the sugar. Place in the microwave for 1 min at a time and stir in between until all the sugar granules have dissolved. If you’re doing it on the hob, stir gently over a low heat until all the granules are dissolved and you have a nice syrupy liquid. Don’t boil it.

Leave to cool for a few mins and add your vanilla to infuse the flavour, pod and all if that’s what you are using. This will keep in the fridge for up to a week or can be frozen.

To make the sponge, preheat the oven to 200C. Place the butter, sugar and flavourings into your mixing bowl and combine, then turn up the speed to high (or use a wooden spoon and plenty of elbow grease) and beat until the mixture is very pale, soft and fluffy and the granules of sugar have disappeared.

Add the beaten egg, about a ¼ at a time, mixing slowly until all combined. Add the flour gradually, ¼ at a time, mixing gently on slow until the dry flour has mostly mixed in. Fold with a metal spoon if you are doing this by hand—just take care not to mix or beat vigorously or your sponge can turn out a bit tough if you’ve over processed the gluten.

Now it’s ready for the oven, so fill your cake tins as required. Bake and begin checking the cakes after 20 mins, keeping an eye on them as they may brown on the outside before the inside is totally cooked, in which case turn the oven temp down a little once the cake is fully risen.

The cakes should be a light golden brown, springy to touch and if you want to be sure, test with a sharp knife or metal skewer which should come out clean and free of mixture.

Once they are baked, get them out and brush the tops generously with syrup then turn out and brush over the bottom of the sponges too. It’s ideal to place the syrup in a bowl and use a pastry brush to coat the tops. Leave to cool, then you can decorate as required—see my cake decoration article for details.

ALTERNATIVE: To make it a flavoured syrup, use the juice of ½ lemon or ½ fresh orange in place of the water. You can even add a little liqueur if you wish to add a punch of boozy flavour. You can use this basic mixture to create other flavours by adding fresh zests or flavours. 

Recipe: Juliet Sear
Images: John Holdship