Thunder rolls and rain falls on the tent as the bakers enter for day two of baking. It is time for the first Showstopper Challenge of the season. Prior to learning of our challenge, Paul informs us of who is sitting pretty on top - Nancy, Chetna, and Martha - and who is needing to step it up today - Claire, Enwezor, Jordan and maybe even Iain.
Mel and Sue saunter in with Mary and Paul to explain today's challenge. The bakers have three and a half hours to make 36 miniature British cakes. British cake seems to be a rather broad term as we see several different cakes going on under the tent like Jaffa, Genoise, and Lemon Drizzle. I have decided on what I believe to be a true classic and something a British, or rather Bham baker, should know how to make with your eyes closed: the Victoria Sponge.
A Victoria Sponge is a light and airy sponge cake that is traditionally sandwiched around jam and a light buttercream. Pulling a recipe from BBC.co.uk that is one of Mary Berry's own, I set to work.
I have made many a cake and icing, but I have never made my own homemade jam. The recipe for Mary Berry's raspberry jam called 7oz of fresh raspberries and 9oz of jam sugar. Jam sugar is just another thing to add to my growing list of things I do not regularly stock in my kitchen, but I have watched enough Food Network and heard enough about jam to know this much; jam needs pectin to create that congealed texture we all recognize as jam (are you impressed?! I swear I didn't even Google to check my facts! I just knew! Ok fine, I did make sure before posting, but still). Feeling assured that I could actually purchase jam sugar at the store, but quite frankly not wanting to, I adjusted the recipe. A half pint of raspberries, a cup of granulated sugar, and a healthy squeeze of lemon juice was added to my pot and simmered away for 4 minutes before being poured in a pie pan to cool and set.
The cake portion of my Victoria Sponge has a grand total of 5 ingredients, which some may think, "Excellent! This will be easy!" and to which I say, "This thing better be $%#% perfect because we have no room for error." As per the instructions, I put everything in a bowl and mixed it together...wait that's it? No special order in adding everything to my bowl, no sacrifice to the baking gods or ceremonial chant to be uttered over my bowl of humble ingredients? No, just add it in and mix it up. Ok.
While my cake bakes, I whip together my butter, powdered sugar, and milk to create my buttercream, spoon into my piping bag (ahem, I mean my Ziploc baggie), and put in the fridge to wait until it was time to assemble my cake.
I knew I did not have the patience or the time to make these cakes pretty so I simply halved my sheet cake and cut each half to 36 little rectangles to at least meet that criteria of the challenge. Time to assemble! Pulling my buttercream out of the firdge, I noticed it had hardened up. No worries and nothing a quick zap in the microwave won't fix! Oh, it softened alright. In fact, it outright melted into a gloopy, doopy mess. After a bit, I gathered together all 72 of my rectangles, my jam, and my 2nd batch of buttercream and started assembling.
Overall, I think the bakers sailed through this challenge with relative ease. Kate and Chetna both produced gorgeous Victoria sponges that put mine to shame. And one of my favorite GBBO moments occurred during this episode where Mel and Sue chase each other with Diana's chocolate mousse.
Star baker is awarded to Nancy in this episode as it certainly should have been. Her orange Jaffa cakes looked downright professional - dang those straight lines and perfect guillotined cuts! Claire was chosen to be eliminated this week. She had some real trouble with her Chocolate Cherry cakes in the Showstopper and the judges were not convinced on the flavors of her Chocolate Orange Swiss Roll during the Signature Challenge. You hate to see someone go - fair thee well, Claire. We hardly got the chance to know you at all.
Back to my mini Brit cakes: I layered my now set raspberry jam, a squeeze of buttercream, and topped it with another half of sponge. These were not the looker, but how was the taste? Let me start by saying the jam was outstanding. It set perfectly and tasted amazing. I was so happy I had leftovers and my husband and I really enjoyed snacking on this with crackers and adding to peanut butter sandwiches. The cakes tasted fine, but the texture was a little bread-y. I think I figured out my problem: I just threw all my ingredients together and mixed away (as Ms. Berry's instruction said!), but this cake needs to be super light and fluffy. Re watching this episode again, Kate explains how the egg needs to be added to the Victoria sponge mixture a little at the time to obtain maximum fluffiness. Notes for next time - add everything together except the egg and mix thoroughly with an electric beater. Beat together eggs and pour a little at a time into cake mixture with beaters running. Should you want to attempt this recipe, try that technique and let me know how it goes!
I've now completed my first episode of challenges and I have to say that Cake kicked my butt. It's not like I have never made a cake from scratch before, but I have come to realize that American cake recipes that I am used to making do rely a lot on oil to bring moisture to the party, while European baking uses butter. I am no expert but this is simply my observation. I enjoyed Cake and I do feel like I learned a lot, but I am so ready to move on.
Did you enjoy reading about my cake attempts? Have any tips, tricks, or stories of your own? Please send them my way!
Adapted from BBC.co.uk
For the Sponge
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup self-raising flour
- 1 level tsp baking powder
- 1 cup softened unsalted butter
for the jam
- 1 half pint raspberries
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- juice from half a lemon
For the Buttercream
- 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
- approx 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tbsp milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9x13 baking pan.
For the jam, put the raspberries in a small deep-sided saucepan and crush them with a masher. Add the sugar and lemon and bring to the boil over a low heat until the sugar has melted. Increase the heat and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully pour into a shallow container such as a pie pan and leave to cool and set.
For the cake, break the eggs into a bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the sugar, flour, baking powder, and butter into a mixing bowl and mix well with an electric mixer. With the mixer going, slowly add the eggs a little at a time, stopping to let fully combine before adding more. Pour into prepared dish and bake for 25 minutes or until a skewer is inserted and comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then remove to cool completely on a wire rack.
For the buttercream, beat butter in a bowl until soft. Add half the powdered sugar and beat until smooth, then add the remaining and 1 tbsp milk and beat until smooth. Add remaining tbsp of milk if needed to thin out the buttercream. Spoon into a piping bag.
Cut cooled cake in half length-ways using a serrated knife. Cut each half into desired number of cake pieces, paying attention to make each piece identical in size. Assemble by spreading jam out on the bottom piece, piping buttercream, and topping off with the corresponding top piece.