Series 1, episode 1. Cake week. So it begins.
To get into the mood of this challenge (which I've just realized will be one year and two weeks long, not including the currently-airing season -- what did I get myself into?), I started by re-watching series 1, episode 1 of The Great British Bake Off. Where it all began. The early days of the show are actually a lot like this cake: simple, unobtrusive, straightforward, easy, sweet, and... not really that interesting. At least on the surface, but there is definitely something special lurking underneath. Something that needs time to understand how amazing it is.
I had never heard of a Victoria Sandwich before the show, and when I learned what it was, I thought "So what? It's two butter cakes sandwiched with some jam? That sounds boring." When I started in on this project and found Mary Berry's original recipe, I also thought, "So what? Four ingredients, all the same quantities, and one bowl? That sounds awful." I thought it would be too buttery, or too sugary, or have a tough texture from over-mixing the flour.
I was wrong.
I woke up this morning, took a shower and popped a couple Advil (what? I was out late last night). Whipping out my kitchen scale and my mixer, and I loaded in the ingredients. Everything in one, big bowl.
When I see a bowl like that, I get nervous. In every baking book, on every baking show, you're advised to add things in one at a time, otherwise the flour will over-beat and leave you with a tough cake, or the fat won't emulsify and the mixture will curdle and separate. But, Mary Berry is Queen Baker, and I wasn't about to argue with her -- not on a technical challenge! So, I threw it all in one bowl, flipped the switch to mix, and trusted in the recipe.
I mixed on low, then medium, then high (because I'm dangerous like that), knowing I was looking for what Mary calls a "drooping" batter. As you can see in the picture above on the right, drooping it was not. It was much stiffer than I was expecting (that's what she said?). I tried to think of what that might do to the cake. Liquids evaporate when cooking, so maybe the thinner the batter, the lighter and fluffier and maybe more moist it is? Was my cake about to come out dense and dry? At this point, I didn't have time to turn to the Internet, so, again, I trusted in the recipe.
25 minutes later, it came out of the oven, golden brown with a springy texture, just as Mary Berry told me it would be. A quick cool and some assembly later, and I completed my very first technical challenge.
And because I'm baking at home, and not on a televised competition show (though, I would be more than happy to--call me?), I got to judge myself. And let me tell you: I had nothing to worry about with the weird ratios and too-easy-to-be-good instructions. It was , in a word, delicious.
First off, the cake was tender. That springiness test in the oven was no lie. The cake was on the drier side, but the raspberry jam counteracted that with perfect balance. The outside was crusty because of the high sugar ratio, and also accentuated by a sprinkling of granulated sugar--do not leave that out, and do not substitute powdered sugar. Regular old sugar is a deceptively simple, but perfectly appropriate topping for this cake.
To be fair, it wasn't perfect. Paul Hollywood most likely would have told me it was too dry, not even enough of a crumb, and a little over-salted. However, I would have given myself Star Baker for the week, absolutely.
Mary Berry's Perfect Victoria Sandwich
makes 1x8" round cake (2 layers)
4 LARGE EGGS
225 grams (8 ounces) (1 cup) GRANULATED SUGAR
225 grams (8 ounces) (1.75 cups) ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
4.75 teaspoons BAKING POWDER
1 teaspoon SALT
225 grams (8 ounces) (1 cup) SOFTENED BUTTER
4-6 tablespoons RASPBERRY JAM
GRANULATED SUGAR, for sprinkling
1. Preheat oven to 350F, prepare two 8" cake pans with parchment paper and butter
2. Break the EGGS into a mixing bowl, add the SUGAR, FLOUR, BAKING POWDER, SALT, and BUTTER
3. Mix everything together until well combined. The finished mixture should be of a soft drooping consistency--it should fall of a spoon easily
4. Divide the mixture evenly between the pans and smooth the surface of the cakes
5. Bake in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes--and don't open the door
6. The cakes are done when they're golden-brown, springy to the touch, and coming away from the edge of the pans
7. Cool the cakes in their pans for 5 minutes, then run a knife along the inside edge and turn the cakes onto the cooling rack and let cool completely
1. Place one cake upside down onto a plate and spread it with 4-6 tablespoons of RASPBERRY JAM
2. Top with second cake, its prettiest side up, and sprinkle with GRANULATED SUGAR
A personal challenge to conquer every technical challenge, and select signature bakes, from The Great British Bake Off
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