Masala chai baklava: my first GBBO bake!

Masala chai baklava
I am, of course, a huge fan of the Great British Bake Off. This year’s series featured perhaps my favourite contestant of all – Chetna Makan. I really admired her inventive approach to baking, often combining the classics with some amazing Indian flavours, and I pretty much drooled whenever the camera panned to her creations on screen – including this divine masala chai baklava.

This is actually my first attempt at a recipe from the show. There have been many GBBO recipes over the years that I’ve bookmarked for a later date, but I’ve never quite got round to trying them! Then my boyfriend and I started planning an informal Indian-themed dinner party for some friends a couple of weeks ago, and we thought of this baklava for dessert…

I’ve never made baklava before, but it was pretty simple in the end – and OF COURSE I didn’t make my own filo pastry, you crazy people. If even Mary Berry thinks the idea of making your own filo is a silly one, then I’m never even going to think about attempting it (those poor contestants, though!).

Masala chai baklava
The filling is just cashews, almond and cardamom ground in a food processor. The filling is then wrapped in butter-soaked sheets of filo, rolled up and twisted round to make a spiral shape The whole lot is then baked and soaked with the masala chai syrup, left to stand for a bit and soaked with some more syrup for good measure. As you can see from my pictures, that’s a LOT of syrup! I ended up with a fair bit of the nut filling left over, so I simply decorated the baklavas with it.

I did toy with the idea of deviating from the recipe and using my mum’s tea masala mix in the syrup (see my one attempt to incorporate it into my baking here!), but I’m glad I didn’t, because the flavours of the baklava were absolutely amazing. It’s so easy to go wrong with cardamom, but the recipe has just the right amount and goes so well with the nuts, ginger, tea and bucketloads of sugar.

The baklava went down a storm with our guests, and it was nice to be able to have some leftovers for breakfast the next day (what?). I would very definitely make these again, and soon! Well done, Chetna – you may not have won the series, but you’ve definitely won at baklava!

Masala chai baklava
The recipe

Can be found on the BBC Food website here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/masala_chai_baklava_33678

¡ Churros with chocolate sauce !

Churros
Doughnuts have always scared me. Not the eating of them, but most certainly the making and especially the frying of them. However, I came across this recipe for churros with a chocolate sauce when I was looking for a dessert to go with a Spanish meal, and was pleasantly surprised by how easy it seemed to be.

I’ve had churros a few times, mainly from stalls at food markets and festivals, and absolutely love the combination of cinnamon-coated dough and a rich chocolate dip. I was unsure of how my effort would turn out in comparison, but I needn’t have worried – they were absolutely lovely.

The dough was a doddle to knock up. At first I thought it was a bit too thick for piping, but then I realised that it was actually perfect. Trying to pipe with an overly runny mix is never a good idea! I made the sauce while the dough rested, and that too was a matter of just melting everything in a pan.

Churros dough

Churros dough

After it had rested for a bit, I got my boyfriend to help me with the piping of the dough into the hot oil. I do think this is a two-person job – one person to pipe, the other to snip off the strip of dough – but I expect there are people who a bit better than me at multi-tasking in this way!

The first two churros came out very very fat, because we had to experiment with nozzles to find the perfect one. The rest were a bit more like it.

Next, we coated the cooked churros in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. I should point out that while we halved the recipe, it still made way more cinnamon sugar and chocolate sauce than we needed for the number of churros we had, so I would suggest you adjust the quantities accordingly if you decide to make this recipe.

Then came the best bit – eating the churros! The churros on their own weren’t that sweet (the dough itself didn’t have any sugar in it) but, combined with the chocolate sauce, they were absolutely divine. These are definitely doughnuts to have warm. The sauce should also be warm for optimum results.

I would most certainly make these again, and I might even attempt some traditional doughnuts in the near future!

The recipe

Can be found on the BBC Good Food website here: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2459641/churros-with-chocolate-dipping-sauce

Raisin spice cake

Raisin spice cake
I’m hell-bent on going about my life as if it was proper autumn, rather than this strange sort-of-autumn-but-actually-still-a-bit-summer we’ve been having. This includes baking, and this raisin spice cake really is a rather lovely autumnal bake perfect for a chilly evening with a nice cup of tea.

I’ve made this cake once before, but I didn’t have a ring tin at the time, so I just made it in a standard round tin. I think it looks much nicer as a ring cake, even if it is a bit more of a faff to get out of the tin!

The recipe is very straightforward – make the topping and place it at the bottom of the tin (I used a bundt tin), then put the cake mix on top and bake.

Raisin spice cake topping

Raisin spice cake topping, pre-baking

The topping is a rather lovely combination of chopped hazelnuts, spices and demerara sugar, and there’s a good amount of it, so you’ll definitely appreciate it when the cake is out of the oven and ready to eat.

The cake itself has yet more spices and raisins plumped up with a bit of orange juice, which makes for a lovely flavour that propels the bake above your average fruit cake.

Raisin spice cake
Oddly for me and my temperamental oven, the cake was perfectly cooked in the time stated in the recipe, which was nice as I had to miss 10 seconds of the Great British Bake Off quarter-final to take it out of the oven!

As mentioned, it didn’t come out of the tin without bits of it coming away with the tin, which was disappointing. I did, however, make sure those bits didn’t go to waste *ahem*.

The cake seemed massive when it was baked, but my boyfriend and I managed to polish it off alarmingly quickly. It really is a wonderful cake and just the thing for autumn, if it ever gets here!

Raisin spice cake
The recipe

This is in BBC Good Food 101 Cakes and Bakes, but it isn’t on the website. It seems to be accessible via Google Books, though.

Autumn berry cake with lemon and honey icing

Autumn berry cake
I was rather excited a few days ago when I discovered that Luis Troyano, one of the contestants on the current series of Great British Bake Off and one of my favourites to win, has a website that he updates with his own rather fantastic recipes. The first thing I saw, this autumn berry cake with lemon and honey icing, immediately zoomed straight to the top of my to-bake list – which meant I ended up baking it for the office’s Jeans for Genes bake sale.

Autumn berry cake
The cake was pretty easy to make – it’s basically a lemon cake that reminds me a lot of the madeira cake I like to make topped with a delicious lemon and honey icing and a pile of blackberries and raspberries. The berries also make it into the cake itself.

Autumn berry cake
The cake mix was simple enough to concoct – you make the batter, put half in the tin and top with some of the berries, then put the other half in with more berries to finish, with the aim of having the berries distributed evenly throughout the cake.

However, I was a little worried when I had to replace the 4 medium eggs called for in the recipe with 2 medium and 2 extra large from the rather fantastic Levenshulme Market. I added some extra flour to compensate, which seemed to work okay. I did have a stressful time of it when I checked the baking cake after 45 minutes and found the middle was still pretty much raw! I just left it in for something like 20-25 extra minutes and covered the top with foil to prevent it from going too dark.

Autumn berry cake

Autumn berry cake, pre-icing

When the cake was completely cool, I roughly piped the lemon and honey icing over the top and plonked some berries on top. I left the icing to set overnight and hoped against hope that the middle would be cooked when I sliced it up in the morning – which, thankfully, it was!

Autumn berry cake
The only disappointment, if you can call it that, is that the berries in the mix sank to the bottom of the cake, which seems to have happened with Luis’s own cake as well. I think I would coat the berries in flour first next time to see if that makes a difference. However, the sinking of the berries certainly didn’t detract from the overall flavour – the cake was beautifully moist and lemony, with the berries adding a nice sharpness and the icing offering further interest, especially with the flavoursome honey.

This is a really beautiful cake that would be a lovely centrepiece for afternoon tea – I’ll definitely make it again, and perhaps try some different berries next time, depending on the season! It went down well at the bake sale and we raised a nice amount of cash for Jeans for Genes altogether, which was certainly the icing on the cake (boom boom) (sorry).

Autumn berry cake
The recipe

Can be found on Luis Troyano’s website here.

Death by chocolate muffins

Death by chocolate muffins Question: how do you make the most decadent, chocolaty muffins ever even more tempting? Answer: by filling the middles with a dollop of chocolate fudge cream cheese! Or so I found out when I adapted a recipe I use quite a lot to make these ‘death by chocolate’ muffins for the office charity sale.

I’ve had a tub of Asda Chocolate Fudge soft cheese in the fridge for a while. I bought it on a whim when doing my online grocery shop, but couldn’t decide what to do with it until I was trying to choose what to bake for work. My triple chocolate muffins (technically quadruple chocolate, because there’s cocoa powder as well as milk, dark and white chocolate) always go down a treat, and I’ve previously adapted the recipe to incorporate a caramel filling.

So, I thought the other day, why not do the same with this oh-so-lovely soft cheese?

Asda Chocolate Fudge Soft Cheese I made the muffins by whipping up the dry and wet mixes separately, then folding the wet mix into the dry one until just incorporated. Then I half filled the muffin cases with the mix, added a spoonful of the chocolate fudge cheese to the middles, and spooned the rest of the muffin mix on top, making sure that it covered the cheese entirely to prevent leakage.

Death by chocolate muffins

Death by chocolate muffins, halfway through assembly

Then it was just a case of baking them for 20 minutes. You have to be careful when taking the muffins out of the oven, as the chocolate chunks in the mix melt and sometimes ooze out of the muffin cases, so it’s best to leave them to cool in the tin for a while before attempting to transfer them to a wire rack.

Death by chocolate muffins Et voila! A batch of muffins that will surely satiate appetite of the most ardent chocoholic (which I most certainly am). They went down extremely well in the office – I’m glad I managed to save one for myself beforehand, otherwise I wouldn’t have got a look in!

Death by chocolate muffins Some people warmed the muffins for a few seconds in the microwave to re-gooey-fy (that’s a technical term) the chocolate, which is a nice idea – especially if you want to serve them as dessert with cream or similar.

Death by chocolate muffins However, the cheese centre is more than enough in terms of gooey loveliness, so the muffins are absolutely great cold. I will definitely make these again soon, but perhaps not for the office… :o)

Death by chocolate muffins

The recipe

Adapted from a recipe for triple chocolate muffins in BBC Good Food 101 Cakes & Bakes

Makes 12 muffins

  • 250g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 0.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g dark chocolate chunks
  • 100g milk chocolate chunks
  • 100g white chocolate chunks
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 300ml soured cream
  • 85g golden caster sugar
  • 85g butter, melted
  • 200g tub chocolate fudge soft cheese (I got mine from Asda, but you can also use Philadelphia’s chocolate cream cheese or similar)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6/180C fan. Place 12 muffin cases into a muffin tin.
  2. Mix together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and chocolate in a large bowl.
  3. In another bowl, mix together the eggs, soured cream, sugar and butter.
  4. Fold the wet mix into the dry mix until just combined (don’t over-stir!).
  5. Divide half of the mix between the 12 muffin cases.
  6. Place a teaspoon of the soft cheese on top of the mix in each of the cases, placing it squarely in the middle.
  7. Spoon the rest of the muffin mix over the top of the cheese, making sure that it covers the cheese completely.
  8. Bake the muffins for 20 minutes, until well risen. Remove them from the oven and leave them to cool in the tin for about 20 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely (or eat them warm!).

Honey and coconut flapjacks

Honey and coconut flapjacks

It’s an odd time of year at the moment – not quite summer, not quite autumn, at least weather-wise! These honey and coconut flapjacks I made a couple of days ago are quite a nice expression of this seasonal limbo, with the oats being decidedly autumnal/wintery and the coconut and honey adding a splash of sunshine.

It was a very easy recipe to make, which is just what I wanted after a long day at work. It was just a case of melting the honey, sugar and butter together, then stirring in the remaining ingredients. I didn’t have quite as much as demerara sugar as called for in the recipe, so I used half demerara and half golden granulated sugar.

Honey and coconut flapjacks

Oddly enough for me, I refrained from adding more coconut than specified. I KNOW. I felt that this would overwhelm the honey flavour somewhat, so I managed to hold myself back.

I used a slightly smaller tin than the recipe asked for and you can see this from the height of the flapjacks. They were definitely done within the specified cooking time, though.

I really like these flapjacks – the honey flavour is fairly delicate but definitely there, while the coconut is, of course, a lovely addition. The original recipe says you can use dried fruit or nuts in place of the coconut, and I can imagine this would work well too.

The recipe

Adapted from this recipe on BBC Food.

Makes 15

  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 100g demerara sugar
  • 100g golden granulated sugar
  • 200g honey
  • 400g porridge oats
  • 50g dessicated coconut

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease and line a 8 inch x 12 inch tin (I used a 7 inch x 11 inch tin and it was still fine).
  2. Melt the butter, sugars and honey in a very large saucepan, stirring frequently.
  3. Stir in the oats and coconut and mix well. If your saucepan isn’t very big, transfer the melted butter mix to a large bowl before adding the other ingredients, as there are a lot of oats to stir!
  4. Spoon the mix into the tin and flatten the surface, making sure it’s relatively even.
  5. Bake the flapjacks for 15-20 minutes. They should be golden around the edges but still pale and a bit soft in the middle.
  6. Cool the flapjacks in the tin then cut into 15 squares.

Soured cream and walnut brownies

Soured cream and walnut brownies

We held a bake sale at work to celebrate the start of the Great British Bake Off a few weeks ago (any excuse, eh?). I probably should have planned something elaborate from the show, but instead I faffed for a bit and then decided to rustle up some completely unrelated soured cream and walnut brownies at the last minute. To be fair, brownies have popped up on the show before!

The brownies are pretty simple – they’re basically chocolate and walnut brownies with a moreish frosting made from melted chocolate and soured cream.

As always, I adapted the recipe I had quite a lot to accommodate the ingredients I actually had in the cupboard. There was a worrying shortage of dark chocolate, but I had more than enough of my lovely Milka chocolate and some white chocolate to make up the difference.

Apologies for the lack of pictures and very short post, but I only just remembered to take the single photo above seconds before my hungry colleagues descended on the table! Rest assured that these are some seriously amazing brownies – definitely a treat for adults to keep hidden from sugar-starved little ones…

The recipe

Makes 16

For the brownies:

  • 55g butter
  • 115g plain chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 175g soft brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp strong coffee, cooled (I used good quality instant, if there is such a thing)
  • 85g plain flour
  • 0.5 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 30g walnuts, chopped
  • 50g white chocolate, roughly chopped
  • grated white chocolate, to decorate

For the frosting:

  • 115g milk chocolate (or plain if you prefer!), broken into pieces
  • 150ml soured cream

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to gas 4/180C. Grease and line a square 20cm brownie tin.
  2. For the brownies, melt the plain chocolate and butter in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, being careful not to let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Set aside to cool.
  3. Beat the sugar and eggs together until pale and thick. Fold in the chocolate and butter mixture and the coffee, and mix well.
  4. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt, and fold in.
  5. Fold in the walnuts and white chocolate.
  6. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 20-25 minutes, until set. Leave the brownies to cool in the tin.
  7. Make the frosting by melting the chocolate and beating in the soured cream until thoroughly combined.
  8. Spread the frosting over the cooled brownies and grate some white chocolate over the top to decorate.
  9. Leave to set in a cool place (half an hour in the fridge should do!) and cut into squares.

Chapattis, or how I finally defeated my nemesis

Chickpea curry and chapattis

Up until fairly recently, I had a love-hate relationship with chapattis (or chapatis). I absolutely LOVE eating them, especially when they’re freshly made by my mum, but I used to hate trying to make them myself.

For one, I could never get the dough right because my mum is rubbish at giving proper weights and measures for anything food-related (“Add one spoonful of oil.” “But how big is the spoon?” *shrug*). Secondly, I was TERRIBLE at making them come out completely round. You might think it’s a bit stereotypical, but the scenario with the daughter of Indian immigrants struggling to obtain her mum’s approval due to an ever so slightly wonky chapatti – or something resembling a map of India, in my case – is very much real, folks.

So, what changed? Well, it seems all I had to do was move out of my mum’s house, put together a recipe that made actual sense, and practice, practice, practice.

Chapatti dough

Chapatti dough

First, the dreaded dough. Neither I nor my mum think you can get away with just chapatti flour (or atta, as it’s also called) and water, although this is fairly traditional thinking. The secret to the perfect chapatti is almost certainly the little bit of fat that you add to the dough – a bit of sunflower oil and some sunflower spread rubbed in.

(My mum’s top tip for buying chapatti flour, by the way, is to look for anything with ‘Gold’ in the name, e.g. East End Gold Chapati Atta, to ensure a quality atta. Seriously. I LOVE MY MUM.)

The other key to getting the dough right is to not in any circumstances add too much water. Always, always go slowly when adding it, otherwise you’ll end up with a soggy dough and the vicious circle that is adding flour to counteract the sogginess, then adding water because it’s too dry again, etc etc.

Chickpea curry

Chickpea curry

Once you’ve given the dough a good knead, cover the bowl and leave it to rest while you prepare the curry to eat with your chapattis (assuming you’re going to make a quick vegetarian curry as I usually do, rather than spend hours on a luscious lamb curry). I made my favourite, chickpea curry, when I took these pictures and you can find the recipe for that below along with the chapatti recipe.

Then it’s time to roll out and cook the chapattis while the curry is simmering. The trick is to use plenty of flour in the rolling out process so that the chapatti turns by itself while you’re rolling it out, and to keep adding more flour as soon as it starts to stick. This is something my mum neglected to explain to me, hence my complete inability to turn out anything vaguely round when I was a teenager. It also helps to have a chapatti rolling pin that’s tapered at each end, although it’s not essential.

Chapatti tava

Chapatti tava

Now for the cooking. Again, it helps to have a special chapatti pan called a tava or tawa, but you can get away with a frying pan just fine. Luckily, my mum gave me loads of kitchen equipment when I bought my house, but you can buy Asian equipment at pretty much any large Indian grocer or cash and carry.

First, lay the rolled-out dough on the hot tava…

Chapattis

…then wait until it’s nicely puffed up…

Chapattis

…before flipping it over. The underside should have brown patches, like so:

Chapattis 4

Then all you do is leave to cook for a bit longer before transferring it to a plate:

Chapattis

And that’s it! Smear some butter on the warm chapatis and you’re good to go as soon as you’ve put the finishing touches to your curry.

It seems so simple now but believe me when I say the above pictures are the result of years of struggling to get it right. Luckily, now I’ve found out how to do it you can skip straight to the nice, round chapattis with your curry without the pain!

As it just so happens to be bread week on the Great British Bake Off, I’m submitting this to the Great Blogger Bake Off organised by Laura at I Love Crafty. I expect to be fully upstaged by both the other participating bloggers and the contestants’ amazing bakes on the show tonight!

The recipe – chapattis

Makes 4 (to serve 2 people) – easily doubled

  • 125g chapatti flour, plus extra for rolling out
  • 0.25 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 60-70ml warm water
  • 1 tsp sunflower spread (I use Vitalite)
  • butter, to serve

Method:

  1. Stir the salt into the flour, then add the oil and 60ml of the water.
  2. Mix everything together until you get a fairly soft dough. Add more water if needed, but do this a few drops at a time.
  3. Rub the sunflower spread into the dough and knead for a couple of minutes until soft and smooth. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to stand for 15-20 minutes, ideally while you make the curry.
  4. Put the tava or frying pan over a medium-high heat to get very hot.
  5. Split the dough into four equal pieces and roll each one into a ball. Gently flatten each one between your hands to create fat ‘discs’.
  6. Liberally sprinkle the surface with flour and roll the first disc out into a circle, always making sure there’s enough flour to keep it turning by itself under the rolling pin. Make sure the rolled-out dough is evenly thin – you’re looking for a thickness of around 2mm maximum.
  7. Cook the dough circle by placing it on the hot tava, making sure there are no bumps or wrinkles. Leave to cook for 1-2 minutes (roll out another chapatti while you’re at it!) until the top puffs up quite considerably and the underside has brown patches, then flip it over and cook for another minute.
  8. Transfer the chapatti to a plate, place the next dough circle on the tava to cook, and roll out another circle while it’s cooking. Repeat until all the chapattis are done. Spread a little butter over the top of each chapatti and serve with a piping hot curry.

The recipe – chickpea curry

Chickpea curry and chapattis

Serves 2 (easily doubled)

  • 1-2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 0.5 tsp cumin seeds
  • 0.5 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 small white or red onion, chopped
  • 1 bird’s eye chilli, finely chopped (note: I like my curries very hot so you might be better off with half a chilli if you don’t!)
  • a 1-inch cube of ginger, finely grated
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped
  • 0.25 tsp red chilli powder
  • 0.5 tsp ground turmeric
  • half a tin of chopped or peeled plum tomatoes (if using the latter, squish them with your fingers to break them up a bit)
  • 0.5 tsp solid jaggery goor (unrefined cane sugar) or 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 400g tinned chickpeas (or red kidney beans or butter beans, or even parboiled chopped potatoes and some frozen peas)
  • a splash of lemon juice
  • 0.5 tsp garam masala
  • a handful of fresh coriander, chopped
  • salt, to taste

Method:

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds.
  2. When the mustard seeds start to pop, add the chopped onion and fry gently for a couple of minutes, being careful to not let the seeds burn.
  3. Add the bird’s eye chilli, ginger, garlic, red chilli powder and turmeric and cook – still very gently – for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.
  4. Add the tomatoes and jaggery or brown sugar, and simmer for another couple of minutes before adding the chickpeas and covering the pan. Keep on a low simmer while you roll out and cook the chapattis (about 10-15 minutes), stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the lemon juice and garam masala, stir and then turn off the heat.
  6. Stir in the coriander, season with salt as you see fit, and serve with your nice, round chapattis.

Anzac biscuits

Anzac biscuits

I realised after watching this week’s excellent episode of Great British Bake Off that it’s been a long time since I last made biscuits. I thought I might try a fancy biscuit involving pistachios, but after nearly fainting at the price of a bag of pistachios in my local supermarket, I decided to make do with what I already had in and bake these delightful Anzac biscuits.

Anzac biscuits

Anzac biscuits are so-called because they were made by the wives and girlfriends of Australian and New Zealand troops going off to fight abroad during World War I. Any food sent to the army at that time had to be sturdy enough to withstand the journey while also being able to keep for a long time without spoiling. Add to that the fact that key baking ingredients like eggs were in short supply and you can imagine the conundrum facing the soldiers’ other halves!

Anzac biscuits

Luckily, they came up with this easy recipe for Anzac biscuits, which consists of oats, dessicated coconut, flour, butter, sugar, golden syrup and bicarbonate of soda mixed with a little boiling water. It looks like the recipe I used is pretty much exactly the same as the one that was used during the war, which surprised me as it really is a lovely biscuit and I tend to imagine soldiers’ food as being pretty grim (I’m reading Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks at the moment and the soldiers in the war don’t exactly get well fed).

Anzac biscuits

The method involved mixing together the dry ingredients, stirring the syrup into melted butter, then stirring the bicarbonate of soda and water mixture into the butter and adding the whole lot to the dry mix. Easy! I found that the biscuits were definitely done after 9 minutes on the top shelf of my gas oven. Like most biscuits, they seem quite soft to begin with, but harden once cooled on a wire rack.

Anzac biscuits

The biscuits are extremely delicious thanks to the heavenly combination of oats, coconut and golden syrup. I can imagine that these would have sustained the Anzac troops rather well! In peacetime, the biscuits are lovely as a mid-morning or afternoon treat with a good, strong cup of tea.

The recipe

Can be found on the BBC Good Website here: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/3803/anzac-biscuits

Ultimate Victoria sponge AKA why the WI is wrong

Victoria sponge with fresh strawberries

I’m the kind of person who easily gets a bee in her bonnet about seemingly small things. People walking slightly too slowly in front of me, misplaced apostrophes, sales assistants who place my change directly on top of the receipt before handing it to me instead of giving me the change and receipt separately… they all annoy me. However, I’m sure we can all agree that cake is NOT a small thing. Especially the matter of how to make a Victoria sponge ‘properly’.

I’ve always made it in what I firmly believe to be the only way you should – two airy sponges sandwiched with something creamy and something fruity (ideally buttercream and strawberry jam respectively, but anything else that’s creamy and fruity is fine). So I was aghast when I learned that the Women’s Institute, that veritable paragon of ‘proper’ baking, tells impressionable bakers who may not know any better to forgo the ‘something creamy’.

I hasten to add that they do this as standard in their recipe, but then add a note saying to use cream on a “special luxurious occasion”. My response to this is…. NO. A Victoria sponge without a lovely layer of creaminess isn’t worth having, special occasion or not. What on earth is meant to offset the airy sponge and sweet fruit if not something creamy? Where’s the FUN?

Victoria sponge with fresh strawberries

Butter. Cream.

I’m not the only one who feels this way – I was heartened to read that Felicity Cloake of the Guardian also agrees with me (and in fact she pretty much sticks her tongue out at the WI by adding double cream to her buttercream), as does Great British Bake Off series 2 winner Edd Kimber. Unfortunately, the unofficial patron saint of British bakers Mary Berry confuses things by posting a cream-free recipe on her website along with a photo of a cake bursting quite rudely with cream.

If anyone has an argument for doing it the WI way, other than the frankly rubbish argument that you consume fewer calories, I’m all ears. But I’ll still do it the right way.

Victoria sponge with fresh strawberries

JUST LOOK AT THE CREAMY JOY

Now that I have my rant out of the way, here’s a Victoria sponge I made recently. I gave it a little twist by adding sliced fresh strawberries to the filling of buttercream and not as much strawberry jam as usual, and it was bloody lovely, even if I do say so myself. It’s just the perfect summer cake and one that’s quite timely if you’re planning to bake it in the next few days, as it just so happens to be National Afternoon Tea Week. That obviously doesn’t matter if you don’t need an excuse to take afternoon tea, like the Queen, who has it daily. And why the hell not?

The recipe

Adapted from this BBC Good Food recipe.

Makes 1 cake that can be cut into 8 or 10 pieces

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 200g butter, softened
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp milk

For the buttercream filling (or use whipped double cream):

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 110g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1-2 drops vanilla extract

For the fruit:

  • handful of sliced strawberries (or any other summer berries)
  • 1 tbsp strawberry jam (or any other berry jam)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to gas 5/190C/fan 170C. Grease and line the bases of two 20cm round cake tins.
  2. Put all of the cake ingredients into a big bowl and beat until smooth. That’s it!
  3. Divide the mixture between the two tins and level the tops.
  4. Bake the cakes on the same shelf of the oven, if possible, for 20 minutes or until golden and springy to the touch. Cool the cakes on a wire rack.
  5. Make the buttercream (if using) by beating the icing sugar into the butter a bit at a time, before stirring in the vanilla extract.
  6. Spread half of the buttercream on one side of one of the cooled sponges and press the sliced strawberries into the buttercream.
  7. Spread one side of the other sponge with the jam and top with the remaining buttercream.
  8. Sandwich the two cakes together so that the filling is all in the middle. Sift icing sugar over the top to decorate.