Victoria Sponge

What better way to celebrate the royal wedding than with a traditional English dessert? I’ve wanted to bake a Victoria sponge for a while now, and yesterday’s Harry-and-Meghan-extravaganza presented the perfect opportunity.

Victoria sponge, also called a Victoria sandwich or Victorian cake, was named for long-reigning British monarch Queen Victoria. This simple cake is an absolutely delicious treat; two layers of cake filled with raspberry jam and whipped cream. The cakes themselves are very easy to make, requiring only butter, sugar, eggs, self-rising flour, and baking powder; no extracts of any kind. You might wonder if they’ll turn out bland, but trust me, they don’t. The tart raspberry jam and sweet whipped cream go a long way to complement the cakes, which are a bit like pound cake. This recipe is adapted from Mary Berry’s Victoria sandwich from BBC Food; I measured all of my ingredients by weight for the cakes, rather than volume, to ensure that my ratios were correct.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces (1 cup) butter, at room temperature, plus more for pans
  • 8 ounces superfine sugar*
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 8 ounces self-rising flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup raspberry jam
  • 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

*To make superfine sugar, place regular granulated sugar in a food processor and pulse to a fine consistency, like sand. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans with butter, then line each with a circle of parchment.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until combined; add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in flour and baking powder.

Divide batter evenly between the two cake pans, leveling the tops with a spatula. Bake for 20 minutes, then check to see if cakes are done; they will be golden brown on top, have pulled away from the sides of the pan, and will spring back when pressed lightly.

Remove from oven and allow to cool in pans for 5 minutes; run a butter knife around the edge of each cake and turn onto a wire rack to cool.

Once cakes are cool, place one layer on a cake plate (handling very gently using a large spatula – my cake cracked easily when I started to move it). Top with raspberry jam.

To prepare whipped cream, place cream and powdered sugar in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip at high speed for a few minutes, until soft peaks form. Be careful not to over-whip your cream, or you’ll end up with butter!

Drop whipped cream in dollops over the jam and gently spread to cover the whole surface. Top with remaining layer of cake; dust the top with powdered sugar if desired. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Most recipes note that Victoria sponge is best eaten within about 12 hours after it’s made.

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Princess Cupcakes

Princesses have come a long way in popular culture. As a kid, I had the classics: Cinderella, Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and the coolest princess ever, Princess Leia. Since my 1980s childhood, we’ve seen many strong female role models emerge in children’s stories. Today’s princesses aren’t lying around waiting for some rich guy to kiss them; they’re going off to battle, undoing spells from witches to save their families, and discovering that what makes them different is actually what makes them awesome. Even Princess Leia became a general, not that I’m surprised.

Princess cake and cookie flavor is a vanilla-citrus-flavored baking emulsion (read: flavoring that is water-based, so it won’t bake out) that you can find at cake stores and specialty baking suppliers like King Arthur Flour. This is the first time I’ve used it, and I’m very pleased with the results. I decided to go the traditional princess route and tinted my frosting pink, then added some pearl sprinkles as well.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon princess cake and cookie flavor
  • 3 tablespoons milk

For the frosting

  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon princess cake and cookie flavor
  • 3-4 teaspoons milk
  • Red food coloring
  • Pearl sprinkles, if desired

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with 6 paper liners.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until very well-blended. Add egg and princess cake and cookie flavor and beat until combined.

Add flour and milk alternatively in two batches, beginning and ending with the flour and beating until completely combined.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter into each cupcake well.

Bake for 16-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and immediately place cupcakes on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting: beat butter in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed for 1 minute. Add powdered sugar all at once and beat on low speed until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter; this will take a few minutes. Once all the sugar is incorporated, beat on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes, then add flavor and 2 teaspoons milk; if frosting is too thick, add remaining milk. Add a few drops of red food coloring to tint frosting pink.

Fit a large pastry bag with a Wilton M1 tip and pipe generous swirls of frosting onto each cupcake. Top with pearl sprinkles.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Makes 6.

Tweed Cakes

What happens when you crush up toffee and stir it into shortbread dough? These amazing tweed cakes, a creation from King Arthur Flour. I sent these along to my dear friend Carrie in State College, Pa. last week, and hope she and her family enjoyed them.

To crush up my toffee bits, it put them in a zip-top bag, wrapped the bag in a towel, and pounded them with the flat side of my meat tenderizer. A rolling pin would also work, or you could use a food processor if you really wanted to. When you press your dough into your pans, you’ll understand why these are called tweed cakes; they definitely resemble tweed fabric. You’ll notice in the recipe below that I measured my flour and toffee bits by weight, as I always do with King Arthur Flour recipes. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, you can just measure by volume using regular measuring cups.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 10 ounces (2 1/3 cups) flour
  • 7 5/8 ounces (1 1/2 cups) crushed toffee bits

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter, salt, sugar, and vanilla extract. Beat in flour and toffee bits.

Divide dough in half and press into the bottom of each cake pan, using the palm of your hand to create an even surface. Prick all over with a fork.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and gently loosen the sides, then allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Gently flip onto a cutting board and slice into 16 wedges, then place wedges on a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 32.

Confetti Cupcakes

I work with a great group of smart, hilarious women, and there’s a lot to celebrate on our team right now. Cyndy just had a birthday; Melissa is expecting her second baby; Megan got engaged last weekend, and it’s also her birthday later this month. Naturally, this calls for cupcakes.

You’ve probably had funfetti before – at least, I sincerely hope you have. These confetti cupcakes are a scratch-made alternative to Pillsbury’s brilliant sprinkles-in-the-cake idea, made with a fluffy vanilla buttercream and topped with more sprinkles, because is there really such a thing as too many? This recipe is adapted from one I found at Brown Eyed Baker; I cut the recipe down a bit to make a slightly smaller batch of just 18 cupcakes. You could easily double this recipe for a larger crowd.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons cake flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cut into 1-inch cubes, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon rainbow sprinkles

For the frosting

  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • rainbow sprinkles

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cupcake tins with paper liners; my recipe made 18 cupcakes.

Combine milk and vanilla; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine cake flour, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat on low speed for about 1 minute, then slowly add butter, a few cubes at a time, beating on low until the mixture looks like coarse sand. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low and scraping the sides of the bowl after each. Keep beating on low while slowly adding milk/vanilla mixture, then beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until batter is smooth. Stir in sprinkles.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop batter into cupcake wells, filling about two-thirds full.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from pans and cool on a wire rack completely.

To make the frosting, using the whisk attachment on your mixer, whip butter for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of your bowl a few times. Add powdered sugar one-half cup at a time, beating well between each addition to fully incorporate the sugar into the butter. Once all powdered sugar is added, whip for 1-2 minutes on medium-high speed, then add vanilla extract and whip for another 1-2 minutes.

Frost cupcakes and top with sprinkles. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 18.

Almond Tart

A few weeks ago I the flu and spent two days lying on my sofa drinking tea and watching The Great British Baking Show. While I know I can bake, I can’t bake like those contestants…yet.

Once I was able to go out in public without feeling like Typhoid Mary, I ventured to Williams Sonoma for a tart pan. I’m obsessed with tarts now and really wanted to make one for our Easter dessert, so I scoured the web for good ideas. This almond tart is actually a hybrid from Better Homes & Gardens and Williams Sonoma, and it is delicious. While I doubt it would help me win Star Baker, I enjoyed making it very much. Many more tarts to come!

Ingredients

For the pastry

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 8 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 2-3 tablespoons ice water

For the filling

  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 8 ounces almond paste, cut into slices
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup raspberry jam
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds

Preparation

To make the pastry, place flour in a large mixing bowl and cut in butter until the crumbs are pea-sized. Mix egg yolk and 1 tablespoon ice water and drizzle over flour mixture, stirring with a fork to moisten. Add additional tablespoons of water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring to moisten. Gently knead the dough until a ball forms; flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic, then chill for 1 hour.

Position a rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Roll out pastry to about a 12-inch diameter, then carefully transfer to a 9 1/2 inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Carefully press pastry up the sides of the pan, extending dough over the edges. Gently run your rolling pin over the edges of the pan to remove excess dough; reserve your excess dough for another use.

Line tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights – I use dry beans. Bake for 20 minutes, then lift the foil; if the crust is a pale golden color all over, it’s ready. If not, continue baking for a few more minutes at a time, checking often, until crust is pale golden all over.

Remove crust from oven and place on a wire rack while you prepare the filling; lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and place the rack in the center.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until completely smooth. Add almond paste one slice at a time, mixing very well between each addition until the filling becomes completely smooth. Note: I flattened out my slices of almond paste so they’d blend into the butter easier. With the mixer running on low, slowly add the sugar, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Stir in flour.

Spread raspberry jam over the bottom of the crust, then carefully top with dollops of almond filling and spread filling to form an even layer; the jam may travel up the sides of the crust a bit, and that’s okay. Top with sliced almonds in an even layer.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the center is completely set. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool; I used an inverted 6-inch cake pan on my cooling rack and remove the side of the tart pan. Cool completely; serve at room temperature and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Makes 8 servings.

Lemon Curd Muffins with Poppy Seeds

Yesterday I made my first batch of macarons, for which I only needed egg whites. More on the macarons later – despite having feet, they didn’t turn out as they should have. Such is life in baking: sometimes your recipe works exactly as you want it to, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Anyway, the macarons left me with three egg yolks. I refuse to waste ingredients, so I made them into lemon curd. And then of course, I had to figure out what to do with my lemon curd. So I baked it into muffins using a make-it-mine recipe from my awesome Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. While they have a lovely texture, I should have included lemon zest in my batter to ramp up the lemon flavor. Again, such is life in baking. The good news is that you always have the chance to try again, to take what you’ve learned an apply it in future recipes.

Ingredients

For the muffins

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup lemon curd*
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds

*You can easily cut this full recipe in half if you only have 3 yolks, as I did. 

For the icing

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • zest of 1 medium lemon

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two muffin tins with paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large 4-cup measuring cup, combine eggs, lemon curd, milk, and vegetable oil; beat with a fork until smooth, then add all at once to the flour mixture. Stir until just combined, then fold in poppy seeds. Batter will be lumpy; this is what you want, so don’t be tempted to over-mix.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter into prepared muffin tins, filling about 2/3 full.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, until tops are light golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and immediate remove muffins from tins; place on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, combine powdered sugar and lemon zest. Add lemon juice 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring well, to reach a consistency that’s easy to drizzle, like honey. Drizzle over muffins and allow to set; store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Makes 24 muffins.

Irish Soda Bread

My mom’s maiden name is O’Donnell, and she’s quite proud of her Irish heritage. I, however, identify much more with the Eastern European cultural traditions I learned from my Hungarian grandma and Slovak grandpap, who lived just five doors down from my childhood home. So while I’ve got fair skin and freckles, my Irishness has always been much more in theory than it has ever been in practice.

Until today, I’d never made Irish soda bread, and I have to admit that I felt like a total amateur. This recipe comes from my friend Ciara, a woman whose knowledge of Irish culture could certainly put mine to shame. She was Miss Smiling Irish Eyes Pittsburgh a few years back, and this recipe is one she and her mom make each year. You could add raisins if you like, but I chose to leave mine plain.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups bread flour*
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 eggs plus buttermilk, enough to equal 2 total cups of liquid**
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces and softened

*You could use regular or gluten-free flour for this recipe as well. 

**Place your eggs in a measuring cup, then pour in enough buttermilk to yield 2 total cups of liquid. I lightly beat my egg/buttermilk mixture before pouring it into the dry mixture. 

Preparation 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour a 9-inch round cake pan or cast iron skillet.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.

Add egg/buttermilk mixture and stir to combine, then add butter and stir as best you can; while you’re not supposed to knead Irish soda bread very much, I kneaded my dough to distribute the lumps of butter more evenly throughout the mixture. Next time, I might cut my butter into my flour before adding the wet ingredients.

Shape into a ball and place in prepared cake pan; cut a cross shape into the top using a very sharp knife.

Bake for 1 hour; remove from oven and cake pan and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before serving.