In which I valiantly and unflinchingly confront my spongy vanilla demons.
I'm famous for my yellow sponge cakes!
(I'm infamous for my yellow sponge cakes.)
What they call in Great Britain a "sponge," I've always called yellow cake. I can generally take or leave yellow cake just because I tend to prefer a finely-textured, fluffy, moist white cake that doesn't contain egg yolks. I don't really enjoy what egg yolks do to a cake; I find that egg yolks make cake spongy, and I can sometimes taste the eggs, depending on the recipe. I have a bizarrely sensitive palate for someone who's not a foodie, and I can taste individual ingredients. I don't want to hunker down over a giant piece of cake to eat my feelings and encounter EGGS. No one eats their feelings with eggs.
"My boyfriend just broke up with meeeeeeee!!"
"What can I do to help you feel better, honey? Do you want some ice cream? HEY, let's go get some cookie dough!"
"Nooooooooo . . . I want scrambled eggs!"
That has never happened in the history of women.
I happen to be married to a man who looooooooooves yellow cake with chocolate frosting for his birthday. That's what he wants every year. A simple yellow cake with simple chocolate frosting. He doesn't care if the cake comes from a mix, and he didn't used to care if the frosting came from a can, although he does now. Once a person gets used to homemade frosting of any flavor, it's just about impossible to go back to canned. So, every year, I attempt to bake him a yellow cake. Attempt. Because, like some kind of baking moron instead of someone who has been fairly successfully baking cakes since the age of nine, I always fail.
I decided to make him an extra-special yellow cake by using the recipe in the America's Test Kitchen cookbook. After all, I'd used several of their very specific recipes successfully--why not a simple yellow cake? Except there were approximately 9000 steps and ingredients, including buttermilk, and the end result tasted like very cakey, heavy scrambled eggs.
The picture speaks for itself, except I do need to say that it was a cake mix. I failed spectacularly at making a cake mix, which is a lot like failing at single digit addition or watching television.
2014: Another cake mix. You might notice that it's a wee bit overbaked. Did I suffer from temporary hysterical blindness? Was I distracted by glitter? Did I forget what cake is?
So, you might understand why I felt some amount of trepidation at the thought of Sunday's bake, which was the Victoria sponge recipe from How to Bake.
If it were possible to be scared of baking a cake, I think it's obvious that I would have been scared sh*tless.
I'm going to let the pictures do most of the talking because I took a LOT of pictures. It's like I thought I was going to be blogging for five-year-olds. This turned out to be my favorite picture. It's of parchment paper.
I was pretty careful to line and grease the pans well because I get very nervous about removing cakes from their pans neatly. I've got enough problems; I don't need sponge removal to be dramatic.
I lined the pans and then started dumping the ingredients in the mixing bowl, as Paul's recipe for the Victoria sponge is one that doesn't call for the eggs to be added gradually, but, apparently, the traditional method does call for such and is supposed to result in a lighter sponge. If I try it again in the future, I'll likely use the traditional method, but I want to follow the recipe as prescribed by Paul.
HOWEVER, I realized suddenly that we had only 2/4 eggs! The trauma! The drama! But then Terry volunteered to go buy eggs. Problem solved.
I was careful not to over-mix, but I had to mix it for a couple of minutes in order to turn this:
THEN I MADE A TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE ERROR. When the timer went off, I discovered that they needed a few more minutes, but, instead of making this determination through the oven window with the light on, I opened the oven door. Never, ever, ever open the oven door when a cake is baking. If you do . . . they fall. The horror! The horror!
But, you know, it gets smeared with both piles of jam and piles of fresh whipped cream and then sprinkled with powdered sugar, so, while it's not ideal for the sponges to be unattractive, it's not the end of the world. I would have liked to share spectacular sponges with you here, but that's vanity talking, and we all know that terrible, terrible things happen to me whenever I allow myself to feel even a tiny bit vain.
So, I let the sponges cool completely, and then it was time to assemble the cake. I was weirdly excited to see what the finished product would look like, sort of like when I do my makeup for the first time after a visit to the Clinique counter. (Because I always think that I'm going to be transformed by new foundation. Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about, ladies! Nobody spends $30 on foundation without harboring such realistic and healthy expectations.)
My mom's dear neighbor, Dottie, provided the strawberry jam after she heard that the jam my mom makes wouldn't work well for this cake because Mom's jam is a freezer jam. I needed a canned jam for the cake. Thank you, Miss Dottie!
And I made the whipped cream.
Then it was time to spread them on the cake.
And then . . . the Victoria sponge (or Victoria sandwich cake) was complete!
You might have noticed that I over-sprinkled the powdered sugar. I don't have a powdered sugar sprinkler. I need to get one of those.
So, it looked pretty, but I was still nervous about the actual sponge. Terry generously offered to taste test. He's such a trooper.
It looks pretty good, but it probably could have been taken out of the oven about one minute sooner. Also, it was a bit dense, not unlike my hair, which makes me curious about whether or not the traditional method would result in a lighter sponge.
Fortunately, Terry, with a little help from my mom and a few of her neighbors, was up to the challenge of disposing with such a cake. He finished the last piece this morning for breakfast.