Wednesday, September 28, 2016

We Baked The Cake

My first attempt to bake Victoria Sponge cake

Well, I made it. As you know from my recent post I fell in love with Victoria Sponge during our visit to England this past July. And, if you recall, I found such a variety of recipes it was hard to decide which one to use for baking my own cake.

In the end, I decided to use the ingredients list from Mary Berry's cake recipe, except, I added 1 tsp vanilla to the batter (some recipes use vanilla; others do not). I followed the preparation instructions from a video I watched here; and for the filling I used raspberry jam and made a buttercream. To finish it off, I sprinkled caster sugar on top and surrounded the layer cake with fresh raspberries from my brother-in-law's garden.

It smelled delicious as it baked, all buttery and vanilla-y. When the cakes came out of the oven, I noticed the cakes weren't as high as the recipe pictures. That's when I realized I'd used the two 9" round pans I had in my kitchen; I should have used 7" or 8" pans, which I didn't have, but will soon purchase for next time. For, yes, there will definitely be a next time for this fine cake.

I baked the cake the day before my adult nephew's birthday dinner. It sliced beautifully -- moist and flavorful, but not crumbly. It tasted even better the following day for, yes, we had slices left over from the party. A sit down in the middle of the afternoon, with a sliver of a slice and a cup of tea -- oh yes, it fit the bill perfectly.

Come along inside...
We'll see if tea and (cakes) can make the world a better place.
~ Kenneth Grahame

Wishing you a beautiful day,

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Autumn, The Royal Mail, and Two Famous Favourites

Photographer: Elizabeth Pfeiffer /

 "In the village store someone says, 'I heard the geese go over,'
and there is a moment of silence.
Why this is so moving, I do not know. But we all feel it."
~ Gladys Taber

It's such a beautiful morning. Although the sun is shining and the temperature is quite mild, you can tell Autumn will soon begin her beguiling artistry in earnest. Hubby is working out in the garden digging up roots from old trees we had taken down last year. The birds flit around him as they zig and zag from tree to shrub to fence post. A few bees happily buzz amongst the 'Autumn Joy' sedum stems now in flower, and a peacefulness settles on the neighbourhood.

I should be out there too planting some bulbs for spring -- tulips and daffodils and grape hyacinths. But I'm off to my hairdresser's shortly. Don't want to go there with my fingernails all dark with garden dirt. Not that there's anything wrong with good garden dirt, but you know... . So the bulb planting will wait until tomorrow.

Now onto something I'm a little excited to share with you today ...

While we were in England this past July, I found out Britain's Royal Mail was issuing commemorative stamps this year for two very special women, both of whom I admire greatly: Agatha Christie and Beatrix Potter. So when I got back to Canada I did an online search at their website to see if non-residents can order stamps online. And, yes! we can.

Today I just ordered my set of six commemorative postage stamps marking not just the centenary since Agatha Christie published her first crime novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, but also the 40th anniversary of her death. Released just today, Royal Mail says it's 'a stamp issue that’s full of intrigue'. You can read all about it here. And, if you want to read more about Dame Agatha's debut novel, click here.

"Instinct is a marvelous thing. It can neither be explained nor ignored."
Hercule Poirot, The Mysterious Affair at Styles


I also ordered the Beatrix Potter stamps which were released by Royal Mail earlier this summer to mark the author's 150th anniversary. Helen Beatrix Potter was an English writer, illustrator, natural scientist and conservationist; she was best known for her children's books featuring animals, such as those in The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Aren't these just the cutest stamps? If I lived in England I'd being buying rolls of them, and I'd be sending out cards and letters to everyone I could think of, just so I could use these.

Who's your favourite character?  I loved Mrs. Tiggly Winkle.

"There is something quite delicious about writing the first words of a story.
You never quite know where they will take you."
~ Beatrix Potter  

If you are a follower of Susan Branch you will no doubt be aware that she is hosting a very special BYO picnic in England this coming weekend to celebrate Miss Potter's 150th birthday. She and Joe have been traveling by ship this week and will be landing in Southampton tomorrow.

The picnic is being held at Stourhead, Wiltshire at High Noon, on Sunday, September 18th, near the grass bridge.

 There it is -- the grass bridge where the picnic will be on Sunday
Photo: Susan Branch, Twitter feed

In her recent post, Susan says, "Our picnic is going to be a world thing ~ kindred spirits are coming from everywhere. We’ll be toasting Beatrix Potter’s 150th birthday ~ the invitation was extended through the Beatrix Potter Society’s wonderful (free) online newsletter called Pottering About. And if you can’t make it? That’s what I’m for. Pictures will be here waiting for you."

Are any of her blogging girlfriends going to be there in person? I won't be there in the flesh, but I'll certainly be there in spirit, celebrating along with her and everyone there.


On that note, I'm wishing you a beautiful day.


Thursday, September 08, 2016

Cake Fit For A Queen: Victoria Sponge

It's such a cool and blustery day in our neighbourhood that it's hard to imagine just a few weeks ago we were enjoying a warm summer afternoon in the English countryside. Where we sat in a garden drinking tea and deciding which homemade layer cake to try: Victoria Sponge, Coffee Walnut, or Chocolate Fudge.

They all looked scrumptious, but I finally decided on a slice of Victoria Sponge cake. And, like Queen Victoria herself, I was smitten from the first bite.

 “Just close your eyes—and think of England (and cake).”
 ~ Queen Victoria

The cake was a sponge cake in two layers. Not too sweet, but with a filling of raspberry preserves and, I think, butter cream; it was so satisfying and delicious. For the rest of our trip, I was ever on the look out for Victoria Sponge at the tea shops. Truth be told, none met the mark -- some were too dry, some too sweet and jammy, and others bland in flavour. You'd think I was a judge for The Great British Bake Off.

A google search revealed there are many recipes out there with as many variations. But according to blog author Abigail Young at Picture Britain...
"Victoria sandwiches, or sponges, were soon all the rage, and eventually became the measuring stick by which the home baker was judged. And this is no laughing matter! The Women’s Institute apparently has strict guidelines on the “correct” way to make this cake, and it involves raspberry preserves and caster (not icing) sugar, and no buttercream."
Rats about the buttercream ... to my way of thinking, the layer of buttercream in the piece I ate added a taste and a texture that was quite lovely.

By the way, if you're wondering what castor sugar is: it is actually just a superfine granulated sugar, but not powdery like icing sugar. Apparently bartenders will use castor sugar in some cocktails instead of a simple syrup.

Some of the other recipes I looked at use fresh whipped cream and fresh berries for the filling, but then that becomes more of a Victoria Sponge dessert. It would have been a bit of a trick for the Queen to hold her cake plate on her lap and safely maneuver a forkful of cake, cream, and berries into her mouth without something landing on her person. Let's just say, she would not have been amused.

Referring back to Abigail's post, she includes some interesting background info, as well as the recipe and a short video on how to make a Victoria Sponge cake, dessert style. It looks easy enough, but there is a bit of technique. Click HERE for the post and video.

Photo: from Mary Berry's website

 “Cakes are healthy too, you just eat a small slice.”
~ Mary Berry

And, since we already mentioned The Great British Bake Off TV series, I'm also including a link to Mary Berry's website, where you will find her recipe for Victoria Sponge cake. Not to mention lots of other nice recipes to make your mouth water. 

Aside: if you need a recipe using cups and teaspoons rather than measurements in weight, here's one at


I have yet to try one of these recipes but there are a few September birthdays coming soon, so I'll have the perfect reason to spend a morning trying my hand at it and then sharing the results with family and friends for afternoon tea.

Whether you decide to make a true Victoria Sponge or one of its variations, they all look scrumptious. Why not pick one and try it out?

“Mma Ramotswe sighed. 'We are all tempted, Mma. We are all tempted when it comes to cake.'

That is true,' said Mma Potokwane sadly. 'There are many temptations in this life, but cake is probably one of the biggest of them.”

~ Alexander McCall Smith, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

On that note, I'm wishing you a beautiful day. Hopefully there's a little cake in your pantry to sweeten your afternoon tea.


Sunday, September 04, 2016

A Chill In The Air Means Raisin Spice Cake In The Oven

It's a chilly afternoon and the air has a decided nip to it. Which means it's a great day to bake something warm and comforting like Raisin Spice Cake.

When we think of this simple cake, we immediately think of an old family recipe. My sister now has the handwritten copy from our grandmother’s cookbook, who originally got it from her sister-in-law, Julia. My mom also had the recipe and made it often when we were kids. It came to be known as Aunty Julie’s Cake. If you look closely at the recipe, you'll see Grandma's side note: "It's good." And we all agree, yes, it is good.

Photo: Kathy Hillacre

Now there's a bit of a funny story that goes with this particular recipe. One day when Sis and I were youngsters we decided to surprise our mom with some baking. I might have been about ten or eleven, my sister three years younger. After deciding what to make, we went in search of Mom's recipe, which had been copied down, minus the most needful ingredient, the flour.

The two of us, being new bakers, didn't know that flour is always a key ingredient in any baking venture. Maybe we were denser than some kids, but we took all recipes at face value. We creamed the butter and sugar, we added the milk, spices, and raisins.

It doesn't look the way a batter should look, we mused, peering into the bowl with anxious eyes. We went over the ingredient list again, and yes, we had added everything it said, so, alright then, into the oven it went. Fingers crossed, we hoped for a 'miracle' in there.

Thirty minutes later the pan, now out of the oven, indeed looked strange. There was this hard sugary mess sprinkled with plump burned raisins. We called Grandma -- she would know what went wrong. She asked me to read off the ingredients. "But, you didn't add any flour." We wailed, "But the recipe didn't say."

That's the day we found out that every cake needs flour, whether the recipe says so or not. That incident is now a part of our family folklore and we've had many a good laugh over it. Sister thinks we fed the burned mess to the chickens, and Grandma no doubt enjoyed a good chuckle when she got off the phone that day.

Here is the recipe below, flour amount assuredly included.

Great Aunty Julia's Raisin Spice Cake

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar (can be reduced to 1 cup)

2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

1 2/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg or allspice

1 cup buttermilk (or milk soured with 1 tsp vinegar)
1 cup raisins

Cream butter and brown sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well.
In separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and spices.
Alternate additions of flour and buttermilk to creamed butter until all is incorporated.
Gently fold in raisins.

Pour into greased and floured 9" x 9" cake pan.
Bake 350F for about 30 minutes.
Cool for 5-7 minutes. Then turn out of pan onto rack to finish cooling.

We sometimes eat it with ice cream and lemon sauce,
or we frost it with either a cream cheese or butter icing.

Also makes about 24 cupcakes using medium size paper liners.

“This is my invariable advice to people:
Learn how to cook -- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes,
be fearless, and above all have fun!”

  “ one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”
~ Julia Child, My Life in France


On that note, I'm wishing you a blissful day...

With hugs,