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Victoria Sponge

I love having morning and afternoon teas. It’s a great way to catch up with friends and I like the fact that I can prepare everything in advance, from cakes to scones to sandwiches.

A big favourite is my Victoria Sponge. It’s a delicious cake, and filled with jam or cream, it’s so more-ish. The recipe is based on one from James and Tom Morton’s “Shetland, Cooking on the Edge of the World”.

James describes in vivid detail his grandmother’s recipe. It really is a tribute to her baking skills and to recipes handed down through the family.

Now Queen Victoria would not be at all amused, as I fill my sponge with cream. Sacrilege I know, but I love the ooze of softly whipped cream on top of jam in between those delicious sponge layers!

Ingredients 

150g salted butter

150g caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 medium free-range eggs

150g self raising flour 

1/2 tsp baking powder

Full fat milk, to loosen mixture

To fill and decorate

Strawberry or raspberry or mixed berry jam, homemade or store bought, 

200 mls cream, whipped 

Icing sugar or caster sugar, for the top of the cake

Fresh and crystallised rose petals 

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C, 160 degrees C fan-forced. Grease 2 18cm (7 inch cake tins with butter, really really well.

Take a large piece baking or parchment paper, fold in half, and draw a circle around one of the tins. With the drawing as a guide, cut out 2 circles.  Line the base of each cake tin with the paper circles. 

Heat the butter in a microwave or in a saucepan on the stove top, to the point where half the butter is just melted, and the rest is soft. Put the butter, sugar, vanilla and eggs into a mixing bowl, or stand mixer with a whisk attachment, and whisk on medium speed until the mixture is very pale and thick, almost mousse like.

Sieve the flour and baking powder, and fold these in gently using a metal spoon, being careful not to overmix. When the mixture is nearly smooth, add a little milk, a dash at a time, to loosen the mixture “until it falls from the spoon in a swift wave”.

Spoon the mixture into the tins, gently smoothing flat. Put the cakes into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown on top and the cakes bounce back when gently pressed.

Take out of the oven, and cool in the tins for 10 minutes. Run a butter or palette knife around the edge of the tins to free the sides. Carefully turn the cakes onto a wire cooling rack. Peel off the baking/parchment paper. Leave to completely cool.

Place one cake, upside down on the plate or cake stand you intend to serve the cake on. Spread with the jam, and then spoon or pipe on the whipped cream. Place the other cake on top. 

Dust with icing or caster sugar, sieved over the cake. I like to serve the cake with fresh and crystallised rose petals.

For the crystallised rose petals:

Take one lovely rose, hopefully growing in your garden, and gently wash and dry each petal. Lightly beat an egg white, with a few drops of rosewater, in a small shallow bowl. Dip each petal in the beaten egg white, shaking off any excess. Put 75g caster sugar on a large plate. Dip each petal in the caster sugar, again shaking off the excess. Place the petals on baking paper on a tray, to dry, in a warm place. 

The petals are quite fragile, but will last a couple of days. They are very useful for decorating cakes, biscuits and tarts. And adding the rosewater intensifies the rose flavour!


Berry Cheesecake Trifle

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Berry Cheesecake Trifle was my in between Christmas and New year pudding for a family and friends lunchtime gathering. Technically it was still Christmas – the 29 December – if you do the Twelve Days of Christmas thing. The day was super hot – 38 degrees C! Luckily most of the fare was cold, and this cheesecake trifle, while quite filling, was refreshing with its large quantities of cool and fragrant berries.

The recipe is adapted from a recipe created by Queen Vanilla products and Dr Oetker products. I liked the idea of the cheesecake filling instead of custard and cream. The recipe also created some green chocolate bark, which I thought pretty festive too.

Ingredients

Cake and berries:

4 x 250g  punnets berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or any others you fancy). Frozen berries are fine too, I used a mixture of both.

A good slosh of an orange liqueur (Cointreau, Grand Marnier)

A little caster sugar to taste if the berries are too sharp in flavour

2 sponge cake layers (bought is fine here as it’s only going to be dowsed in liqueur and berry juice)

Cheesecake filling:

280g cream cheese

90g unsalted butter

2 2/3 cups icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

450 mls cream

Green chocolate bark:

150g original Oreos roughly blitzed in the food processor – you should have some bigger bits and some crumbs

300g white chocolate

A few drops green food colouring

Method

Combine all the berries in bowl, leaving a good handful for decorating the top of the trifle. You should cut the strawberries in halves unless they are tiny. Splosh on some orange liqueur, and add a little caster sugar to taste if the berries need sweetening. Leave for a few hours to allow the berries to release their juices.

Cut up the sponge into squares about 5 cms 0r 2 inches. It really doesn’t matter too much – they just need to be able to fit into your trifle bowl. You will also need to cut some odd shapes to fill in the gaps. Make a layer of sponge on the bottom of the bowl.  Add a decent layer of berries, making sure you spoon some of the liquid over the cake so that it turns red.

To make the cheesecake filling, beat cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Add icing sugar gradually, beating till the mixture is well combined. Add the vanilla bean paste. Whip the cream in separate bowl until just thickened, then fold into the cheesecake mixture.

Add layer of cheesecake mixture to the berries layer in the trifle bowl.

Repeat the layering –  sponge, berries and juices and cheesecake mixture, ending with a berry layer. The number of layers you get will depend on the size of your bowl and your generosity in layering. As you can see from the photo I got 3 layers of sponge and berries and 2 of cheesecake mixture.  You should leave enough of the cheesecake mixture to decorate the top (3 tablespoons or so should do it). Refrigerate until ready to finish the decorations and serve.

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To make green chocolate bark, heat the white chocolate in small pieces in a microwave safe bowl on medium power in 30 second intervals, stirring in between each interval, until the chocolate is completely melted. Add the green food colouring and chopped Oreos. Spread the mixture onto a baking tray lined with baking paper.  Refrigerate until set.

To finish the trifle, pile the remaining cheesecake mixture on the top of the trifle. Scatter the left over berries on the top of the “snowy” mixture. I used only fresh raspberries for the top, as they looked the most elegant.  Break up the green chocolate bark and place as artistically – or in my case rustically – as you please. You don’t need to use all the bark – the recipe makes quite a large quantity. On the other hand if there are small children around they will love the white (now green) chocolate and you could use the whole lot on the pudding!

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Cherry Sponge

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This sponge cake recipe is really simple – an all in one food processor mix – my favourite form of cooking!
The recipe derives from the wonderful English food writer Mary Berry. I have been addicted lately to The Great British Bakeoff television series: http://www.thegreatbritishbakeoff.co.uk/about.php
                                                      Mary Berry and co-host Paul Hollywod are utterly charming and fabulous cooks in their own right.
I added Morello cherries to the sponge mixture before baking which makes the sponge a little like a clafoutis.

Ingredients
100 gms butter
100 gms caster sugar
2 free range eggs
100 gms self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
50 gms ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
2 tsp milk
A good handful of bottled or tinned Morello cherries
1 tsp flour
1tbl icing sugar for dusting
Method
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.  Grease a 20 cm round cake tin.

Process the butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder and ground almonds in a food processor until smooth, slightly lighter in colour and glossy looking.

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Stir in the vanilla extract and milk. Dust the cherries with a little flour to prevent them sticking and add to the mixture.

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Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is well risen, springy to the touch and has shrunk slightly from the sides of the tin.

Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then loosen the cake from the sides with a round bladed knife, turn it out and finish cooling on a wire rack.

Dust the top with icing sugar –  I use a sugar shaker and dust from a height.

Serve with fresh cherries, cream or just on its own.

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