Thursday, July 30, 2009

Traditional British Food, Part 16: Victorian Baking

I love cake, but I don't make layer cakes very often because they require multiple bowls and a lot of dish washing. I hate dish washing! One of the things that attracted me to the idea of making a Victoria Sandwich was that it only requires one bowl. Also, it's filled with strawberry jam and whipped cream. According to this website, the cake was named after Queen Victoria because it was one of her favorites. I think it's going to become one of my favorites, as well, even though it cost more than the 1s/3d Mrs Beeton cites. It is, however, relatively inexpensive compared to other layer cakes (no frosting).

This recipe is a combination of several others: Nigella Lawson's from How to Be a Domestic Goddess, this recipe from BBC Good Food, and this one as well. As usual, I have converted the recipes from self-rising flour to normal flour. One note, be sure to use cake flour, not all-purpose. It makes for a much lighter cake. Also, plan on making the strawberry filling in advance so it has time to cool.

Victoria Sandwich

1/2 lb (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

6 ounces (approx. 1 cup) strawberries, halved if large
6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) sugar

1 cup heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks

To make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake tins.

Cream together the butter and sugar then mix in the eggs, one at a time, accompanied by 1 tablespoon of the flour each, adding the vanilla extract along with the last egg. Beat in the last of the flour along with the baking powder and salt until just incorporated. Mix in the milk, a tablespoon or two at a time. You may not need all the milk. The batter is ready when it is a "soft dropping consistency."

Divide between the two prepared tins and bake in the middle of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Cool the cakes on a wire rack in their tins for 10 minutes then turn out and leave to cool completely.

To make the filling:
This is basically home-made strawberry jam. If you want to use store-bought jam (just get something decent, please, like Bonne Maman or Tiptree), you'll need approximately 2 cups.

Stirring frequently, heat the strawberries and sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves into the strawberries. When this happens, turn the heat up to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil the mixture without stirring for two minutes then remove the pan from the heat and pour the goo into a pyrex container and refrigerate. It is best to make this before starting on the cake so it has enough time to cool completely. It will set up in the fridge and become strawberry preserves.

When the cake is completely cooled, place one layer on the cake plate and cover with the strawberry preserves. Then, pile on the whipped cream and top with the other layer. You can keep the cake (covered, naturally) in the fridge for a couple of days.

Serves 10-12 (I actually make half a cake with just one layer since it's just the two of us. The other cake will keep in the freezer for up to three months, or you can simply halve the cake recipe.)

I've talked before about the gin and tonic being my favorite drink (besides champagne), so I thought I'd provide a recipe.

Best Gin and Tonic

Serves 2

juice from 1 lime
2 jiggers gin
1 10-ounce bottle tonic water

Fill two highball glasses around 2/3-full with ice. Divide the lime juice evenly between the two glasses then pour 1 jigger of gin into each glass. Top off with the tonic water, divided between the two glasses. Add straws and enjoy.
On the reading front, I finished Ivanhoe. Yes, it's predictable. Yes, it's kind of silly, but it is so very readable. Plus, the copy I have has a great frontispiece.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Traditional British Food, Part 15: Pastry and Prerogative

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see an old lady upon a white horse.
Rings on her fingers, and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes.

I was very lucky and got to spend some time with Rebecca Friday-before-last (I've been absent a while, haven't I?) since she was passing through Wichita. She told me how she's been up to her ears in Bate's Case. Attention, dear reader: it's time to get out your copy of The Stuart Constitution. (It just occured to me that quite a few of my readers probably do have a copy lying around somewhere.) Anyhow, we'll just say it all started with currants. In honor of Rebecca's increased knowledge of import duties and absolutism:

Bate's Case Banbury Cakes**

Yields 8

1 pound puff pastry, thawed
Egg white, beaten
3 tablespoons sugar

For the filling:
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
4 ounces dried currants (3/4 cup)
1/4 cup candied lemon peel, finely chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons mixed spice
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon white rum

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Measure all the filling ingredients into the pan with the cooled butter (I'm trying to save you some dish washing) and stir together. Set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry. It should be so very thin that you're afraid it's going to tear, but not so thin that it actually does tear. Cut out eight 6-inch circles (or something like a circle) and place a heaping tablespoonful of filling in the middle of each circle. Fold the pastry over the filling and seal with the tines of a fork. With a sharp knife, make three slashes in the center of the pastry. Brush each pastry with egg white and sprinkle sugar over the tops.

Carefully transfer the pastries to a baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for twenty minutes. Check the heat after ten minutes and turn the heat down (or even off), if necessary, to prevent the pastry from over-browning. When the pastry has browned and the sugar has formed a crisp coating, the Banbury Cakes are finished and just need to be cooled on a wire rack before enjoying.

I've finished The Portrait of a Lady and I don't know whether I liked it or not. I was reading like a crazy woman for the first few chapters and then I lost interest for a bit and had to make myself read and then I finished up the last dozen chapters in record time because I wanted to know what would happen. I thought the book would have gone in a very different direction than it did. There was also a space of time while I was reading the middle portion of the book that I didn't care about a single character. That being said, I was really struck with the enormous, and yet petty, cruelty of two of the main characters (I won't name names, just in case you haven't read it). I'm glad I read the book, I just don't think I'll ever want to read it again.

I've moved on to reading Ivanhoe. At the risk of losing any remaining literary credibility, I must admit to really liking Sir Walter Scott. Sometimes it's nice to read something easy and entertaining. Plus, I can't read any more Jane Austen at present. Out of the complete works, I got through Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice and then gave up (oh and I read Northanger Abbey last summer). I read part of Mansfield Park and just didn't want to go on. I wasn't interested in any of the characters or the plot or anything. Aside from Pride and Prejudice, I haven't been that impressed. So, that's why you haven't heard anything more about the book club that I was supposed to attend. That, and I was afraid of becoming an unfortunate-looking, obese, lonely, crazy-cat-lady-trying-to-find-Mr.-Darcy like a good number of the other participants. It was just too bleak.

*Blanche Fisher Wright, The Real Mother Goose (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1992), 20.

**Yes, it is very strange that something that is so obviously a pastry should be called a cake. In Good Things in England, the 1615 recipe for Banbury Cakes is very similar to Hot Cross Buns, but the 1929 recipe ("A Modern Recipe") is almost exactly the same as the one from Jane Grigson's British Cookery, upon which my recipe is based. I'd love to know how Banbury Cakes evolved from buns to pies.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Today's weather is absolutely disgusting. It feels like the inside of a botanical garden. Needless to say, it has ceased to be the weather for pot pies and roasts. I always turn to Italian food in warmer weather, so that's what I have for you, dear reader, today. You'll recall I have a copy of TimeLife's The Cooking of the British Isles. I got recipes for the following dishes from The Cooking of Italy.

First, we have Ragu Bolognese, which, unlike most bologneses here in America, is not tomato sauce-based and doesn't have any garlic in it. I started out with a saute of ham, onions, celery, and carrots, then added browned ground beef and pork. This combination is simmered in beef stock with a couple tablespoons of tomato paste. Finally, about ten minutes before the end of the cooking time, I put in chopped, sauteed chicken livers, which make the bolognese very very rich. I'm not quite sure why people are so squeamish about chicken livers. In the near future, they'll probably start breeding chickens that don't have any livers or gizzards--just huge boneless, skinless breasts and nothing else. Forget people being squeamish of livers! Why are people so afraid of dark meat and crackly skin and everything that tastes so good?

At the same time we were working on the bolognese, Paul and I made thirty-two meatballs, most of which went into the freezer, along with a majority of the bolognese and the tomato sauce (We made double recipes of bolognese and meatballs and a triple recipe of tomato sauce.) The only thing I changed in the meatball recipe was to use ground pork instead of Italian sausage. I don't really like Italian sausage--I think it's all that fennel. I dislike pretty much anything that is redolent of licorice (anyone want three-quarters of a bottle of Pernod?). Anyhow, the meatballs turned out really well and they weren't at all difficult to make.

In other news, I picked up another Back Bay edition of Evelyn Waugh at Book-a-Holic. I love the covers for the Back Bay editions. (You can look at the covers online, here. My copies below.)

To overcome the mediocrity of the 2008 Brideshead Revisited, I had to rent the 1981 miniseries again. Much better. Speaking of Granada television productions, it took me two weeks but I finished the 5-disc Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (mostly while walking on the treadmill, have to have some reason to exercise). I also saw a preview for the Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes that's coming out in December. I remain skeptical.

Trailer for Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes:

Trailer for Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes:

Why is he so dingy? And what's up with the designer stubble?