24 December 2016

Cakes and all they stand for

It was a workshop at Alston Hall that set me on the road to ruin as far as traditional cakes are concerned. At teatime, Victoria Sponge was on offer - something I've seen lots of but never eaten ("so boring"). This was a revelation. And since then, the notion of making one myself has been in the back of my mind - reinforced by the madly impulsive decision to have a victoria sponge cupcake with my coffee in a cafe recently. A cupcake - shock horror, and not for the purist, but rather good....

Traditionally one takes 4 eggs, weighs them, and uses the same weight of butter, sugar, flour. The mixture goes into two 8" sandwich tins and bakes till golden, then the layers get a filling of jam. Done, dusted (with icing sugar on top). And maybe cream is added to the filling.

My research found an article that compared the "add one ingredient at a time" approach with the more modern "put it all in a bowl and beat it" approach - from which I concluded that easy does it, and got out the hand mixer. The butter had nicely come to room temperature, the eggs also - the recipe called for 4 medium eggs, 200g each of butter, sugar, self-raising flour - and a teaspoon of vanilla. The dough was a bit hard to level in the tins - and only 7" tins were available - but I went ahead, Delia's stern advice about having the proper size of tin niggled a little, and I watched with dismay as the middles rose alarmingly, leaving a flat area round the edge. 

On we bash, though, and once the cakes were cool, on went the jam and then cream and then the top layer, to await the rest of the tea party. 

Unfortunately, when it came to cutting the cake, we noticed that tectonics had been happening - a gentle slithering took the top layer slightly off to one side, and its weight sent the cream cascading off the edges all around the plate. No photo is available of this sad sight. 

I found it rather sweet - and heavy - and next time will try the butterless version.

This recipe makes one, 9" layer; 3 eggs, milk, lemon zest, and oh dear, a "dinnerspoon" of salt - what on earth is a dinnerspoon? Do we need salt at all?

This one uses 3 eggs, 75g sugar, 75g s-r flour for one 7" layer (ie, 6 eggs for the entire cake) - but it suggests whipping single cream, which ain't gonna work too well - you need the fat to hold the stiffness.

This one is vegan-friendly, should a friendly vegan be coming to tea - no eggs, and non-dairy milk is used, as well as a non-dairy buttercream.

"A quick, inexpensive cake that is relatively good for you" - that's the Irish version, according to Irish-American Mum, and here's her photo (the cream looks like it could start its tectonic cascade at any moment...) -


The recipe is given in American measurements, but on this side of the pond we might want to use what her mother used:  4 eggs, 4 ounces of sugar and 4 ounces of flour - easy to remember. Have your eggs at room temperature and beat, beat, beat. You'll want two 9" cake tins, and despite what the blogger says about the joys of using "non-stick spray infused with flour", go ahead and use butter and flour for the tins if you want!

Perhaps another Afternoon Tea, soon, is called for ... once I get some 9" cake tins.

For the record, here are many sponge cake recipes; if you try them all, please report back on your favourite (or what to avoid).

If you have access to catch-up radio, a recent Food Programme on BBC radio is all about the significance and making of cakes. What a heartwarming story about how the Clandestine Cake Club was started by Lynne Hill.

To bring in something seasonal - if it's Christmas cakes you're after - panettone, pandoro, stollen, buche de noel, galette des rois, bolo rei de natal, even japanese christmas cake, as well as english christmas cake and (scottish) Dundee cake - here's where to buy them in London, as well as a bit of their background.

1 comment:

Connie Rose said...

Happy Holidays, you intrepid baker, you!