It may be anxiety or a new habit, but the recent short and sharp lockdown again brought out the baker in all of us. My local supermarket was restricting bags of flour and sugar to two per customer within an hour of the announcement that we were going to be at home for at least 72 hours, so I can only presume that we were all thinking about that great New Zealand pastime, baking.
Since H. E. Shacklock introduced the first electric stove to our kitchens in 1925, with its reliable temperature settings, our cooks have taken pride in baking to fill the tins with slices, biscuits and cakes. It’s no accident that the Edmonds Cookbook continues to be on our bestseller list.
Recently, however, it is noticeable that there’s a great kitchen divide between cooks and bakers. Most of us have a penchant for delicious sweet treats for special occasions, but baking requires patience and exactness, while a good cook can cheerfully whip up a meal at a moment’s notice, without having to resort to recipes and clear direction. I love baking, but must admit that I am happiest when cooking a wholesome meal of savoury food for family and friends.
The golden rule for baking is always to follow the recipe exactly as baking is a true science with well tested formulas. There’s no room for flinging in a little bit more of any ingredient than has been specified, or even substituting something that may cause an interesting result – it’s bound to end in tears. A real baker knows that ingredients must be measured right down to the last gram, and the instructions to whip, or beat or fold need to be followed for best results.
Storage of ingredients is important and it will pay to check the use-by-date on the packets in your pantry. Flour, a mainstay of any baking recipe, should be fresh, especially if it is self-raising flour as it is like baking powder, which loses its strength when old.
This week’s recipe is the gold standard for a sponge-like cake and one that harks back to my Cordon Bleu training in London many years ago. We baked every Wednesday on both of the three-month-long courses I took, and there was always a lovely treat or two to take home for my flatmates. The buttery Victoria Sponge is an English classic, and it really should be called The Royal Victoria Sponge, as its name harks back to Queen Victoria, who was said to enjoy a slice of this delicious cake every day with her traditional English afternoon tea. It is also referred to as the Victoria Sandwich, no doubt a reference to the filled nature of the two sponges. As it is a buttery cake, it will keep several days, and is most often filled with jam and cream.
My little addition to this cake is purely decorative. Taking advantage of the seasonal fruits available right now, I arranged a very finely sliced nectarine on top of one of the cakes for a lovely effect. If you slice the fruit too thickly, the slices will sink into the cake as it bakes. And the fresh passionfruit adds amazing flavour to this wonderful cake.