Baking challenge: perfect Victoria sandwich a la Mary Berry

So for part two of my Great British Bake Off challenge, I was still on cake week, but this time tackling the technical challenge. The technical challenge for series one, episode one was Mary Berry’s perfect Victoria sandwich, so I used her recipe as found on the BBC’s website, following it to the letter as per the requirements of the technical challenge. Of course, I had it easier than the bakers themselves, as they are just given a list of ingredients, vague methods and temperatures, having to use their baking knowledge and experience to wing the rest. The Mary Berry recipe used an all-in-one method, where al the ingredients are mixed together, which Mary is quite fond of. I, however, am not, generally, a fan of this way of making cakes: I find that it can sometimes make the cake overwhelmingly eggy. As far as I remember, as well, the bakers used the more conventional creaming method, which is also what I do when following my usual recipe, Nigella Lawson’s from How to be a Domestic Goddess.

Despite my misgivings about the method, this cake turned out to be delicious, buttery and fluffy (I used butter instead of margarine or baking spread as Marry suggests: I’m afraid I just don’t believe in them). I did sort of violate the nature of the technical challenge by not using the suggested filling of raspberry jam and (optional) double cream, when of course the point of the technical challenge is to adhere as closely to the recipe as possible. I made my peace with my errant behaviour by rationalising that I had followed the sponge recipe to the letter (sort of – see below). Inspired by the Hairy Bikers and hankering for some autumnal flavour, I made a cinnamon buttercream (a proper one, given my feelings on normal buttercream!) from a recipe by the soothing and sensible Jane Grigson, and used blackcurrant jam, a quite delicious one from Lidl.

Mary Berry’s Perfect Victoria Sandwich
Adapted as little as possible from her recipe on the BBC. Please note that her ingredients (a bit) and instructions (more so) have been streamlined and adapted below; to do exactly as Mary does, do click through to her recipe.

All right; so I made one adaptation. The original recipe calls for self-raising flour, but I never have that in the house and I couldn’t be bothered to go out and buy it specially. I used a combination of plain flour, extra baking powder and salt instead. (I was interested to note that while Mary had blasted Ryan (season three) for using self-raising flour in addition to extra leavening agents, she does so herself in this recipe. Let he who is without sin, &c…)

  • 4 free-range eggs
  • 225g caster sugar, plus a little extra for dusting the finished cake (I used a teaspoon or so)
  • 225g plain flour
  • 4.25 tsp baking powder
  • Tiny pinch salt
  • 225g soft butter at room temperature, plus a little extra to grease the tins
    1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease two 20cm sandwich tins by using a piece of baking paper to rub a little soft butter around the inside of the tins until the sides and base are lightly coated. Line the bottom of the tins with a circle of baking or silicone paper (to do this, draw around the base of the tin onto the paper and cut out).
    2. Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl, then add the sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and butter. Mix everything together until well combined. The easiest way to do this is with an electric hand mixer, but you can use a wooden spoon. Mary warns that you should be careful not to over-mix, and that as soon as everything is blended you should stop. However, the finished mixture should be of a soft ‘dropping’ consistency – it should fall off a spoon easily, which required me to mix a bit beyond this. The mixture never got to a true dropping consistency but, to be true to the recipe, I chose not to thin with milk as I normally would.
    3. Divide the mixture evenly between the tins. Use a spatula to remove all of the mixture from the bowl and gently smooth the surface of the cakes using a spoon. Place the tins on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
    4. The cakes are done when they’re golden-brown and coming away from the edge of the tins. Press them gently to check – they should be springy to the touch (I also used a cake tester to check!). Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool in their tins for five minutes. Then run a palette or rounded butter knife around the inside edge of the tin and carefully turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely.
    5. To assemble the cake, place one cake, flat side up, onto a plate. Spread it with the cinnamon buttercream (see below) and top with your jam of choice (as I mentioned, I used blackcurrant). I didn’t measure it; I just used a generous amount. Top with the second cake, flat side down. Sprinkle the caster sugar over the top.

Real cinnamon buttercream
Adapted from Jane Grigson’s English Food

Oh, how I agree with Jane Grigson on the subject of buttercream, “that coarse mixture we have the ffrontery to call ‘butter cream’ – a mash of salted butter, or even margarine, and far too much icing sugar.” Her recipe for a proper buttercream based on yolks rather than a meringue is rich, smooth and creamy, though actually much more difficult to get right as it involves cooking sugar to a precise temperature. If, as with my attempt, your sugar mixture actually rises to a higher temperature, do let it cool back down a little! I didn’t and had to strain out bits of crystallised egg yolk. Fortunately there were only two (quite large) bits.

  • 125g caster sugar
  • 60 ml water
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 125g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 2-3 tsps ground cinnamon, or to taste
  1. Place the egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl and set aside. Melt the sugar and water together over a low heat in a small heavy pan. Raise the heat and boil until the syrup reaches 135C (it very easily overshoots this!).
  2. Pour the mixture quickly onto the egg yolks, whisking hard to amalgamate the mixture. When the mixture is tepid, add the butter cube by cube, whisking until completely incorporated after each addition. I did this all using a hand whisk and it was fine. Once all the butter has been added, add the cinnamon, tasting all the while, and mix thoroughly so that it is evenly incporated throughout the buttercream.
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