For this week’s challenge, our bakers took on that most classic of cakes, the Victoria sponge. Staple of every WI bake sale and National Trust tearoom, the Vicky sponge is as quintessentially British as the rain that is usually lashing the sides of the <Bake-Off> marquee. Sponge, cream and jam – easy, right?
As we’re in week seven, it’s safe to say that the wheat has been separated from the chaff at this stage. The tension was palpable as the team gathered around the judging table to hear the results, as photography and specials director Tom Gormer blurted out a sheepish, “We’re so nervous!”
This week we welcomed Claire Ptak from The Violet Bakery as the judge, and she kicked off the proceedings with a heartening, ‘Bravo!’ Having cushioned the blow, it was time to name who would be leaving the competition this week. Unfortunately for picture researcher Nicole Holcroft-Emmess, her Jaffa Cake Sponge didn’t quite fit the brief. Claire declared the bake moist and very tasty, and applauded the truly magnificent decoration – pieces of Jaffa Cake and Kit-Kat, along with segments of Chocolate Orange, all sprinkled liberally with edible glitter – but she felt that it couldn’t be called a Victoria sponge.
Despite a graceful exit, Nicole had set the bar high, and the standard was maintained with a beautifully piped raspberry and lemon cake from features director Lucy Foster, and a chocolate Rich Tea sponge with raspberry cream and honey drizzle from senior sub Lucy Frith (replacing Jenny this week) was also a hit with Claire. Meanwhile, art director Natasha Tomalin scored major points for tapping into the naked cake trend with her “inside out” Victoria Sponge, which was iced sparsely using whipped cream, and topped with real flower embellishment.
The tension having reached fever pitch, second place was announced, and this was to become the week that deputy production editor Amy Adams was dethroned in spectacular style by Tom. Claire was delighted by the Middle Eastern flavours of rose and pistachio running through Amy’s bake, bringing an oriental twist to a British classic, and she received extra credit for having sugared her decorative rose petals. Unfortunately for Amy, however, the pistachio brittle had burnt slightly, leaving a bitter taste that kept her from bagging the top spot once again.
And so Tom was crowned winner, with what was declared ‘definitely a Victoria Sponge’ (no deviating from the brief there then). His bake also featured beautifully candied flowers, and was dusted with a snowdrift of pink sugar – a festive twist that had Claire overcoming her usual aversion to coloured sugar. The sponge was perfectly flavoured, without the usual tell-tale saltiness that betrays bicarbonate of soda, and his use of strawberry jam kept things classic.
So as our bakers pack away their KitchenAids and mixing bowls, here’s next week’s challenge: eclairs. Topped with chocolate and filled with cream. Choux-ely these can’t go wrong?
Remember to keep posting your weekly bakes to the Stylist Cake Off Instagram account tagging @stylistcakeoff and using the hashtag #stylistcakeoff
Tips for making a majestic Victoria Sponge from Claire Ptak at The Violet Bakery
What kind of Victoria Sponge would you have made? I’m a big fan of the naked cake trend, so I probably would have done one of those. And I would keep it classic – (this week’s winner) Tom used jam, which really makes it a Victoria Sponge.
So is flavouring the cream a no go? Definitely flavour the cream! Even though it’s a classic cake, it’s always fun to experiment and tweak it a bit.
Why makes the Victoria Sponge so enduring? Everyone is a fan of the classics – we crave that familiarity, it’s comforting.
Raspberry or strawberry? I personally prefer raspberry. The acidity is a nice balance with the sweetness of the sponge and the richness of the cream.
How can we avoid overbaking? My mantra with Victoria Sponges is ‘low and slow’. You want to keep the oven at about 150-160 degrees Celsius so it doesn’t dome too quickly.
You can purchase The Violet Bakery Cookbook here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Violet-Bakery-Cookbook-Claire-Ptak/dp/0224098500 and check out Claire's lovely blog here http://www.violetcakes.com/blog/ to keep up with news from The Violet Bakery