Mary Berry, face of the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) and most polite judge in the history of reality television, picked up a slice of spongecake and went in for the taste. She chewed slowly, squinted her piercing blue eyes, and swallowed.
“That,” she paused “is a lovely sponge.”
Every time she did it I was reminded of Speedy, my childhood pet turtle, and the way he’d move his neck as he went in for the first bite of a garden grub or roly-poly (that’s what we called pill bugs as children; the British use the same word to refer to a sweet dough with filling… and I’m already grossed out by this post, which is exactly the opposite of what I was going for). Anyway, I don’t say that to insult Mary Berry. She’s a total queen. It’s just that sometimes her bites are a bit reptilian.
My sister’s birthday was last week so I decided to grab Mary’s Victoria Sponge recipe and surprise her with a cake. Today I’m sharing my process and the final results.
Disclaimer: I’m neither a baker nor a food blogger. I’d barely touched an oven before I hosted a Thanksgiving abroad in 2013 (against my will and with severe anxiety that I might accidentally poison everyone). I’ve hosted three more since then (voluntarily and with great enthusiasm), learned how to make pie crust, made one chocolate cake, a few batches of brownies, and an apple pie that didn’t impress the Spaniards very much. It was a great pie so I went ahead and blamed “cultural differences” and tried not to roll onto the floor when it was suggested that cabello de angel should be added to the filling.
So. I hope this helps.
Find Mary Berry’s Victoria Sponge recipe on the internet. Print it out. Get in a brief argument with your mother about how to properly convert UK measurements to US. Yell, in your fake Long Island accent, “I have experience with this!” Ask “How many cups of feathers do you think there are in a pound?” and let her answer. Then ask “How many cups of iron do you think there are in a pound?” and let her laugh. Then say: “I am a tea-cher.”
I’m sure you figured those conversions out but if you didn’t there are some easy solutions. Buy a nice electronic baking scale or look for a spongecake recipe from a US website.
Now, go ahead and follow Mary’s steps. They are well written and simple. When you have your dry ingredients together just go on and find the nearest chair, stand on it, channel the spirit of an overly-excited lifestyle goddess, and have someone take a photo of you:
Keep following the directions. Seriously, they’re really easy. Make sure your oven is fully pre-heated before you put the sponge mix in though, ’cause like… the internet told me that they’re really sensitive about that sort of thing. Take them out no sooner and no later than the exact moment in which they turn a golden brown. Set them on a cooling rack or an upside down perforated pizza pan or whatever cold metal thing with holes in is nearest to your body.
Repeat steps 2 and 3 to make two more sponges. You don’t know if a four layer spongecake is actually “a thing” but you’re gonna do it anyway. You may be breaking all the rules of British baking and Queen Victoria may be gasping in her grave but you’re taking risks, dammit!
Let those sponges cool for a good long while. In the meantime, find a Raspberry Jam recipe on the web and just go for it. What could go wrong? Just be sure to half that recipe.
Once you’ve boiled your raspberries and sugar to the point that the mixture forms thick drops, turn off the heat. It should take about five minutes and occur shortly after the moment in which you exclaim “WHERE THE EFF ARE ALL THESE BUBBLES COMING FROM?”
Set the jam aside to cool.
Optional: Whisk in a pinch of gelatin because you’re scared you did this whole thing wrong and hey, it won’t hurt, right?
Triple Mary’s buttercream icing recipe. Yes, I said triple. Be sure to throw the confectioner’s sugar absolutely everywhere. It’s Christmas in July!
Hang out and dance to “Bad Girls” while you wait for everything to cool. Don’t get hasty now. Patience is a virtue.
Great job! You’re ready to start filling and decorating.
First, decide on your flavors. I chose raspberry jam (made in Step 5) and lemon curd (from the fridge, of unidentified origin). I ignored the dollops of buttercream in the traditional Victoria Sponge recipe in favor of icing the hell out of the outside. Spread your fillings evenly and carefully in the order you choose, constructing your layers according to their unique slopes (baking in a slanted oven builds character).
Go back to that big bowl of icing you made earlier and set about one cup aside for decorating later. Use food coloring to dye the rest of the icing a pale purple or whatever color your beautiful heart desires. Later you will learn that food dye gel is better for this purpose, as liquid can change the consistency “quite dramatically.” Cover the outside of the cake in that pale purple icing to the best of your ability and then pop it in the fridge to set.
Step 10 is a fun step. This is the step in which you start trying to dye your extra icing a classy pink in hopes that you’ll be able to pipe out some roses. You will of course end up with something that looks a lot like Pepto Bismol. That’s fine. Mistakes happen. Frantically whip up some more icing because your sister will be arriving soon.
After that, realize that you’ve forgotten a key piece of the piping set you bought. Tape a piping bag to a tip instead and load that bag with white icing. Pipe some dollops onto the base and top of the cake, again to the best of your ability. You’ve never done this before and some of them will look a hot mess but that’s okay because, as Kelly Clarkson once sang, it’s a beautiful disaster.
Once you’re finished piping, ask your brother for a yellow flower from the garden*. Place the aforementioned flower in the center of the cake and surround it with tiny, deep purple garden phlox florets. Your sister is here now and she’s been instructed to stay out of the kitchen. This is perfect because now the mood is exactly like the last five minutes of every showstopper challenge on GBBO. Have your decorating assistant delicately press purple petals into the side of the cake for the final touch:
*Technical name: Heliopsis helianthoides, or: False Sunflower, or, according to the gardener: “A f*cking phony”
Pop that baby into the fridge to set! You’re done! Your sister is suspicious of something, but when she asks what all that white shit on your dress is and your mother offers “It’s toothpaste,” she believes it. Later you will ask her if she was just being polite and pretending to believe it and she will tell you no, she wasn’t. She will tell you that she thought you were just having one of those days you have sometimes. This will tell you a lot about the sort of person you are.