life on a smallholding

not quite a business, but more than a hobby

My take on the Bake Off — Friday, 23rd August

My take on the Bake Off

My idea of a perfect sandwich cake
My idea of a perfect sandwich cake, filled with mascarpone and blackcurrant jam

This week saw the eagerly anticipated return of the Great British Bake Off, now in its fourth series.  I love that programme, a bunch of home bakers working their way through a number of challenges, some triumphing and others ending up with egg on their faces.  The tension is incredible when their cakes go into the oven, will it rise, won’t it?  They are often on their knees watching through the glass oven door.   The judges are firm but fair, none of this nasty sarcasm and the presenters add a much-needed touch of humour to the proceedings.

No fancy plates full of minuscule meals, just good robust baking.

I almost felt tempted to apply myself.

However, after watching this time, I couldn’t help but be disappointed.  The format was the same, so were the presenters and then there were the judges.  With all the recent scandal in the papers surrounding one of them, it was difficult to take him seriously.  But worse, the bakers themselves were no longer the dedicated home dabblers that I’ve come to know and love, they seemed like a bunch of semi-pros.

The first challenge was a simple sandwich cake, any flavour.  One person attempted, unsuccessfully to carve his cake into the shape of a lemon and another baked hers in a sandwich shaped mould and wrapped it in a sheet of fondant icing to resemble a paper bag.

What happened to the simple sandwich cake?

The technical challenge was as good as ever.  They couldn’t do anything lavish, just follow the recipe for an angel food cake.  It’s amazing how many variations you can get from the same sheet of paper.

Then finally there was the fancy chocolate cake.  Most of them were well over the top with hidden squirrels inside the sponge, bears made out of modelling chocolate (who even knew that existed) and elaborate chocolate collars around the cake.

Some looked very professional, others were just a mess.

Personally I’m not a fan of all this over the top icing and decoration, it makes them difficult to eat, which after all, is the point of a cake.  I think they just need to be pleasing to the eye, but more importantly, taste good.

I shall be watching the rest of the series, couldn’t miss it, but after that show-stopping start, it makes you wonder where it can go from here.

Bring back simple home baking, please!

After watching the show I just had to bake a sandwich cake and lately I’ve been very impressed with the recipes of Dan Lepard in the Guardian.  Years ago I bought my first ever bread book written by him, The Handmade Loaf.  Not only does he create brilliant bread, but his other concoctions are fabulous too.

This recipe for a Victoria sandwich is based on his, although the quantities are more what you would expect in a typical sponge cake.  What is unique, is that it uses a rather diverse method, beating some of the flour in with the butter, before adding the eggs.  It certainly makes a difference to the sponge and it is quite literally the best sandwich cake I have ever made or tasted.

I think Dan may be Mary and Paul all rolled into one.

Simple sandwich cake

This is the best ever recipe for a Victoria sandwich
  • 225g butter, softened
  • 225g vanilla caster sugar
  • Zest of a lemon, finely grated
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • Jam and mascarpone or cream
  • Icing sugar for decoration
  1. Grease and line the base of two 20cm cake tins with greaseproof paper.
  2. Beat the softened butter in a food mixer until pale, light and fluffy.
  3. Add the sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla paste, then beat well until pale and fluffy.
  4. Beat in a third of the flour and baking powder until smooth, then beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  5. Add in the remaining flour and baking powder and ensure it’s well combined.
  6. Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake at 170C for about 35‑40 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean and the sponges are just starting to come away from the edge of the tins.
  7. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 mins then turn out onto a cooling rack.
  8. Remove the paper from the bottoms.
  9. When cold, fill with jam and/or cream and assemble the sandwich.
  10. Dust with icing sugar to serve.
Notes: I filled my sandwich cake with two home made mascarpone and blackcurrant jam

Baking and the weather — Wednesday, 26th September

Baking and the weather

American apple and apricot cake
American apple and apricot cake


At the beginning of the week the news was full of weather warnings and indeed, England did seem to be suffering with vast amounts of rainfall resulting in flooding.

The forecast said that it was heading our way and would be accompanied by gale force winds with gusts up to 72mph.

Apple tree
Scotch Dumpling apples firmly fixed to the tree

On Monday night it was getting a bit breezy so Himself ventured outside to batten down the hatches and Tuesday morning arrived with a blast.  Some guttering blew down but we didn’t suffer any real damage.  The sheds stood up to it and thank goodness we no longer have tiles on the steading roof to get blown away.

One thing that did concern me was the apple trees, some of which had been laden with fruit.

This morning I pulled on my waterproof trousers, as it’s the only safe way to walk through the fruit garden with all those killer stinging nettles, donned some gauntlets up to my elbows and ventured out there to collect the windfalls.

I was stunned to find all the apples still firmly attached to the trees, especially since they were directly in the path of the gales.   They obviously can’t be ripe just yet.  Rather than retrieving them from the ground, I picked a few from the tree and came inside to make this week’s cake for the  Weekly Bake Off.  Taken from Mary Berry’s 100 Cakes and Bakes. it was the American Apple and Apricot cake (the recipe can be found here) or as I’ve decided to call it, the Triple A Cake.

A slice of my Triple A cake
A slice of my Triple A cake

I had a problem with the loose bottomed cake tin as some of the mixture leaked out all over the oven.  Perhaps I should invest in some better baking tins but overall the cake turned out nicely.  Maybe it was the slightly unripe apples but it wasn’t a very sweet cake.

And now for the verdict from Himself.  As soon as he cut into it and spotted fruit, he was immediately on the lookout for stodge but in fact it was a good bake, although the top was rather uneven so it scored only 8/10.

Back to the bake-off — Sunday, 24th June

Back to the bake-off

Chocolate and vanilla marble loaf
Chocolate and vanilla marble loaf

It’s been a few weeks now since I’ve entered the Weekly Bake Off from Mary Berry’s 100 Cakes and Bakes.  The challenge was a Chocolate and vanilla marble loaf and the recipe and instructions can be found HERE.  I’ve been out of synch with my cake making but this week it just so happened that we were in need of cake and I had the correct ingredients.

It’s an easy enough cake to make although I did end up smothered in cake mix probably the result of having two separate bowls of the stuff.  I have to say the chocolate batter was absolutely delicious raw and it reminded me of when I was a child, baking with my mother.  I always wanted to eat the uncooked chocolate cake mix but of course I wasn’t allowed.  I vowed that when I grew up I would make the mix and eat it straight from the bowl.  Can’t say I’ve ever done it but I was tempted by this one.

When the cake rose in the oven it looked like the rocky mountains and just when I thought it was cooked, it erupted like Vesuvius and ended up more uneven.  I tried slicing the top before icing but settled for hiding the worst of it under a chocolate layer.

The first batch of white chocolate I tried to melt for the decoration went thick and lumpy so I had to start that again but in the end it didn’t look too bad, although I wouldn’t enter it in any competitions, except this one of course where I have the option of selective photography!

When I cut into it, I was quite pleased with the two-tone effect – not quite up to Mary’s perfect horseshoes but not bad.

And now for the verdict.  Himself gave it 8/10.  I was expecting gasps when I revealed the chocolate and vanilla marbling but he seemed underwhelmed by it.  Said it was a nice bake although bordering on the dry side but it hasn’t stopped him eating it even though dark chocolate is not his favourite.

Full view of cake
Nowhere to hide – here it is in all it’s uneven glory
Cherry on the cake — Sunday, 27th May

Cherry on the cake

A classic cherry cake
A classic cherry cake

This week’s cake from Mary Berry’s 100 Cakes and Bakes was a simple cherry cake.  I couldn’t find this recipe anywhere on the internet but I came across a similar one HERE.  There weren’t any extraordinary ingredients but strangely it once again contained ground almonds and I had used up most of my supply in last week’s Madeira cake.

I was putting together an online order for Tesco and added a 200g packet of ground almonds at £1.99.  When I looked more closely, I realised that if I bought 2 x 100g packets of the same it cost just £1.98 – it must surely cost more to produce 2 smaller packets than one large one.  Shame on you Tesco for trying to squeeze an extra penny from your unsuspecting customers!

Quartered cherries
Quartered cherries

The glacé cherries had to be quartered which was a shame as I love big chunks of fruit in my cake and in an effort to prevent all the cherries sinking to the bottom, Mary suggested that they should be rinsed and dried thoroughly on kitchen paper.

I was very careful and followed these instructions to the letter as I didn’t want a bottom heavy cake and I was hopeful as the mixture was so thick I thought it would hold them all up.

However, it didn’t.  The little red jewels all headed straight down and there was a huge area of boring fruitless sponge in the top half.

The verdict – Himself is not a lover of glacé cherries so he wasn’t beside himself with excitement when I unveiled the cake.  But, as always, he cut a huge wedge for the tasting and declared it was a good bake, no stodge, just a shame about the sinking cherries but it did deserve an 8/10.  He did come up a suggestion that wasn’t half bad – perhaps I should just scatter the cherries over the top of the raw cake then they may not have a chance to get all the way to the bottom before it was baked.

Come and join in!