Do you have fond memories of school dinner cake? This simple vanilla sponge traybake topped with icing and sprinkles is a retro classic in the UK that’s loved by so many!
School dinner cake couldn’t be easier to make and it’s a crowd pleaser – the whole family will love it.
For most people, the mention of school dinners can conjure up both good and bad memories, depending on your own personal experience.
I didn’t have school dinners very often. My primary school was just a 5 minute walk away from my house, but on the odd occasion I had to stay at school for lunch.
And let’s not forget lukewarm, thick custard and semolina. In fact, maybe they are best left forgotten (shudder!)
Most people I know have fond memories of the baking at school – like chocolate concrete and this super simple school cake.
what is school dinner cake?
School dinner cake is basically a vanilla sponge cake topped with white glace icing and coloured sprinkles.
It’s also known as retro sprinkle cake, school cake, school sponge, school sprinkle cake or sprinkle traybake.
Just like this chocolate mint cake, it’s baked as a traybake style cake – making it very easy to cut into squares.
The sponge is incredibly fluffy and soft. It was often served with custard in school – yes, even with the icing and sprinkles!
Sometimes the basic vanilla sponge would be topped with jam, sprinkled with coconut and served with custard.
It was the BEST dessert on a cold Winter’s Day! My coconut and raspberry jam loaf cake is based on that pudding.
the perfect cake for birthday parties
This retro vanilla sponge traybake is the perfect easy bake for parties and celebrations – and here’s a quick list of reasons why!
- it uses basic store cupboard ingredients
- The sponge doesn’t take that long to bake
- It’s such an easy cake to decorate you could leave the kids to do it. I let my toddler go nuts with the sprinkles for these photos – and why not?
ingredients for school dinner cake
- Baking margarine. I know I go on about using proper butter all the time, but for sponge cake there really is nothing wrong with using a baking margarine such as Stork. It makes the lightest, fluffiest sponge! I always use margarine in my all in one Victoria sponge cake.
- Caster Sugar will give you a better texture and rise than normal granulated sugar. The finer grains of caster sugar dissolve much quicker into the butter, which is why it’s always a much better choice for baking.
- Eggs – you will need 5 large eggs, at room temperature (not extra large)
- Vanilla extract.
- Self raising flour. You won’t need any extra raising agents for this recipe.
- If you only have plain flour in your cupboard, you could make your own self raising flour by adding 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder. Make sure you sift the flour and baking powder together before using.
- Icing sugar, sifted to remove any lumps
- Water to make the glacé icing.
- Coloured sprinkles of your choice. For that proper 1980’s look, I use the classic “hundred and thousands”. You’ll easily find them in most supermarkets around the UK.
How to make retro school dinner cake
(scroll to the bottom of the post to find printable recipe card with ingredient amounts and detailed instructions)
Step one – make the sponge cake
- Preheat your oven to 180C/160Fan/350F/gas Mark 4.
- Grease and line the base and sides of a 9×13 inch (with a depth of at least 2 inches) baking pan.
- Using an electric mixer or a wooden spoon, beat the butter and sugar together until very light, pale and fluffy.
- If you’re using an electric mixer this will take about 2-3 minutes or a good 5 minutes if you’re creaming by hand.
- Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until they are well incorporated into the mixture.
- Beat in the vanilla extract. Using a large metal spoon, fold in the flour, being careful not to overbeat the batter.
- Half way through folding the mixture, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a plastic scraper.
Step three – Bake the sponge cake
- Carefully scrape the cake batter into the prepared tin.
- Level the top and bake for 40-45 minutes or until the cake is risen, golden and springs back when lightly pressed in the centre.
- Transfer the tin to a wire cooling rack and allow the cake to cool completely in the tin.
Step three – Decorate the cake
- Sieve the icing sugar into a large bowl. Add the water, a little at a time while constantly stirring, until you have a thick but pourable icing.
- Pour the icing over the cold cake. Decorate with the sprinkles – as little or as many as your heart desires!
recipe notes and tips
- Make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature before you start baking.
- This recipe uses the creamed method – you cream the butter and sugar together until very soft, pale and light, then you beat in the eggs and vanilla before folding in the flour.
- When creaming the butter and sugar together, make sure the butter is nice and soft – I use Stork since that’s exactly what the dinner ladies would have used!
- I know some people aren’t crazy about baking margarine, but it really does make a lovely light and fluffy sponge cake.
- Take your time when creaming the butter and sugar – this is key to achieving a lovely light sponge cake.
- Take care when mixing in the rest of the ingredients – if you overbeat the batter, the cake won’t be as soft and fluffy.
How long will school dinner cake keep?
The cake will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight tin, but it never lasts longer than 24 hours in my house!
Why has my sponge cake sunk in the Middle?
A sunken cake is usually due to three main issues. It could be either –
- The cake was removed from the oven before it was fully baked, causing it to sink in the middle
- The batter was overmixed
- The oven temperature was too high. If the oven is too hot, this can cause a cake to rise in the middle too quickly, making it collapse before it has fully baked. An oven thermometer will help you with this problem.
- The oven door was opened while the cake was baking
did you make this recipe?
I really hope you loved it! I would love to hear your thoughts – please a comment below.
If you need any help with this recipe, don’t hesitate to ask. Happy baking!
- 300g soft butter or baking spread (like Stork)
- 300g caster sugar
- 5 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 300g self raising flour, sifted
- 350g icing sugar, sifted
- 3-4 tablespoons water (or enough to make a thick but pourable icing)
- multicoloured sprinkles, to decorate
- Preheat the oven to 180C/160Fan/Gas mark 4. Butter and line a 9x13inch (with a 2 inch depth) traybake tin with baking parchment.
- Using a free standing electric mixer, hand whisk or a wooden spoon and large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the mixture that's sticking to the sides of the bowl.
- Beat in the eggs, one at a time, making sure each one is well incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the vanilla extract. Using a large metal spoon, lightly fold in the flour, taking care not to overbeat the mixture.
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smooth the top and bake for 40-45 minutes or until the cake is springy to touch and golden. A skewer inserted in the middle of the cake should emerge clean. Transfer the cake to a wire rack and leave to cool completely in the tin.
- Mix the sieved icing sugar with enough water to make a thick but pourable icing glaze. Pour over the cold cake (I leave the cake in the tin - it's much easier) and decorate with sprinkles. Leave to set before cutting into squares and serving.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 20 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 306Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 79mgSodium: 294mgCarbohydrates: 44gFiber: 0gSugar: 32gProtein: 3g
Calories and nutritional information are provided by a third party application and should be viewed as indicative figures only.