Friday, 22 March 2013

Victoria Sponge

I'm back! After celebrating my temporary retirement with a blog reading session, Marlene inspired me with her "healthier take on victoria sponge" (thanks Marlene!) Whilst I admire her healthier treats, I would personally prefer to go all out with fat and sugar content and attempt to eat less of it or go to the gym more (note the use of the word attempt). Don't get me wrong, my mother also used to try and reduce sugar content in cake and I followed suit for years  - until, one day my meringue batches collapsed as there wasn't enough sugar in it.

Since that day, I'm back to full sugar and full fat. I never realised the Victoria Sponge was such a "thing" here until I started noticing them in shops and Marlene / wiki confirmed it was a British thing - seriously I thought it was just a regular sponge cake that my mum made out of the Australian Women's Weekly, and that Mrs J had a real knack for sponge cake. I've been burnt by sponge cake in the past, and my biggest failure in memory is making my own birthday cake as a tweenie. After loads of hand held beating, the batter went flat because I made the rookie error of beating in the melted butter instead of folding. To top it all off, not knowing how to make buttercream properly I later doused the cake in a runny glaze ... you can imagine the results right? Never again. In any case I'd like to think I have improved over time :-)


So I need to make another confession - having tried several Victoria Sponges, and read a number of recipes, I'm not a mega fan of the British way of making the sponge. Its just not fluffy enough for me and in these situations I prefer to go back to my favourite Aussies - Maggie and Simon, Stephanie Alexander, and Mrs J. Yesterday Stephanie Alexander won on the sponge cake base, with a delightfully simple recipe called "Jackie's mum's Genoese sponge cake" which I must say has never failed me or been temperamental, despite huge swings in oven temperature using my unreliable oven.

What you need

Cake: 5 eggs, 3/4c sugar, 150g flour, 60g butter

Filling: Berry jam (usually strawberry or raspberry I think, but can really be whatever you want), whippable cream, vanilla, icing sugar.

Note: the process will be a lot easier if you have a stand mixer.

How to for a 9" round cake tin.

1. Preheat oven to 180 deg and line a cake tin with paper

2. Put 5 whole eggs and 3/4 cup caster sugar into the stand mixer bowl and beat at medium speed for 10min until the texture becomes mousselike.

batter1 battertexture

3. While the stand mixer is doing its work, melt 60g butter in the microwave and cool, and also measure out 150g plain flour.

4. Then gently fold in the flour into the batter.

5. Trickle the butter in the side of the bowl, and fold in as well (make sure it's cool and that you fold in gently - mine is never very thoroughly folded after my tweenie disaster, but it doesn't seem to make much difference).

6. Cook for about 15-20 min until golden on top and skewer comes out clean. Do not open the oven door until at least 15min is up. 


7. Once the cake has cooled, slice in half and fill with whipped cream, jam and strawberries (I like to put icing sugar and vanilla in my whipped cream , if you overwhip do not fear, just add milk and mix it in to soften to a spreadable consistency).


8. Dust the top with icing sugar.

cake2By the way, the Victoria Sponge tastes even better today - think its because the wonderful fruity flavours have sunk into the cake, but the cake hasn't become dense.  The cake has definitely worked its way back into one of my favourites!  Less than 24hrs and its half gone already....

Till next time, happy caking!



Saturday, 9 March 2013

Crufts - the world's largest dog show

I was really happy to discover last year that Miss G is as into dogs as much as I am - today we spent almost our entire train trip discussing Astro (her lab) and Radley (our mini schnauzer). Not surprisingly, this was brought on by our trip to Birmingham to Crufts, which I've been looking forward to since November when we went to the Discover Dogs day to pet our favourite breeds.


I love that people in the UK (except for Londoners it seems) are so into their dogs, cats, horses and animals in general and that there are so many animal charities - of which the RSPCA is but one. The size of the dog show today was incredible - several different halls, a main arena, and more dogs in one place than you could ever expect to see in your life. There was also Discover Dogs section showcasing the breeds - me and Mr T made a beeline for the mini schnauzers and beagles (no surprises there).


Show-wise, my favourite events to watch are flyball and agility; wish Radley was smart enough to do all of those things! I think it did definitely highlight the differences in what we perceive to be intelligence between the breeds - flyball and agility champs all tended to be collies in the large dog class, while the small dogs tended to be poodles and jack russells - there wasn't a beagle or a mini schnauzer in sight for these events!


There was also a gun dog display  which made Miss G particularly happy since there were labs everywhere. It was really interesting to see how the dogs were so well trained that they each did what they were individually told and didn't run off all at once, despite being sat in a group together. Take note of Secret the small black puppy; she did her best to keep up with the other dogs and was super cute.


The guide dog display certainly gave the heartstrings a bit of a tug; if I had the capacity I'd be a puppy walker in a flash (one of those people who raises the puppy until around 14 months before formal training). I was surprised to hear that they receive no government funding despite the work they do which has such tangible and obvious benefits to society - but I suppose this is the case with many charities.


Finally, this was the wonderfully impressive agility display, with the really good dogs were clocking times under 38 seconds. I looked up border collies later but alas they aren't really suitable as a house pet unless they have a lot of mental stimulation as well as exercise, and aren't bred to cope well with noise or change --> I think I'll be sticking with Radley and mini schnauzers (though Mr T is partial to West Highland Terriers and moodles as well....)


All in all, a wonderful day for any animal lover and I think I just fell in love with dogs all over again; can't wait till the day I see my beloved Radley (date unknown at this stage).

Till next time,