A Pillow Book

I wanted a blog to reflect my life and, as with most people, I do and am many things, decided to create a Pillow Book. It will have thoughts, ideas, observations and little snippets of my day to day life. So, thank you Empress Consort Teishi....... I bow to you and your great work and hope, in some small way, mine might be great too.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Mary Berry, I love you......

Please do not be shocked by my admission, I am in no  doubt that there are many out there who feel as I do, and they too love Mary Berry....
I have slowly but surely over the past 27 years been teaching myself to cook, I am, although I say so myself, pretty good these days. It is a bit of a passion of mine, I have cook books stacked by my bed and shelves groaning with them. I watch many cookery programmes, have folders full of cuttings from newspapers and magazines, just a little bit of an addiction you might say. I can now put together a pretty tasty supper without need of a recipe, pasta, chicken, curries and soups, I am a throw it in the pot kind of girl. Baking, however, is a whole different thing. I have learnt, at personal cost, that baking  has a few rules you must adhere to, do so and you can't really go wrong...well not often!
Firstly:- make sure you have time, baking and speed really don't go together, if you rush then disaster may well follow.
Secondly:- use good ingredients, real butter, free-range eggs, proper vanilla essence. IT DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
Thirdly:- (thirdly?? is that a word?) Invest in digital scales. Baking really is alchemy, from all that I have read there is, I know, a right and wrong way to do things. Now  dear reader you will say "but my granny made a sponge by eye and it was always perfect". That is all well and good but remember, by the time you watched her bake she was your Granny....so most likely she had been baking for years and years and years, you were not around to see her early mistakes. My own darling  gran made a lovely sponge, 2 eggs, 4oz of Spry, 4oz of sugar etc. Her only method of measurement a very old and battered Tala cone, everything was put in a bowl and beaten together with a wooden spoon and always perfect. But believe me when I say accuracy is going to produce greater consistency.
Fourthly:-(I am saying nothing) Everything should be at room temperature.
Fifthly:-sift flour twice.
Sixthly:- (I am regretting this now)line pans with baking paper. There is nothing worse than half your cake sticking to the bottom of the tin...
Seventhly:-...(please God) Don't over beat the mixture once the flour is added...it makes for a tough cake!
Eighthly:- Weigh everything out before you start, I am really bad at doing this, and do not practise what I preach. When starting out it is a good idea, so you don't miss out any ingredient (yes I have missed out many things on many occasions) please learn from my mistakes..Because children come and talk to you, the phone goes, it starts to rain on your washing...(American readers...we dry, or mostly don't, our washing on lines in the garden, necessitating on much dashing in and out to stop it getting wetter, it is a quaint old fashioned quirky custom us Brits have)
Ninthly:- (just going with it now) always set a timer because any of the above can happen and you will forget what time you put it in the oven! I have burned many cakes due to chatting on the phone.
Tenthly:- For surefire success use a Mary Berry recipe!
She knows all there is to know about baking, she advises and guides and if you follow her recipe/advice they just work.
I don't know when I first became aware of her, she has just been there all my cooking life. She is like a beloved mother who is no nonsense but fun and you can trust her fully. Now I have not been lucky enough to have a mother who taught me to cook, and my memories of  school domestic science lessons and cooking leaks in a white sauce really put me off for a very long time...but to Mary I have turned again and again. As do many of my friends, a recent chocolate cake brought into work by a colleague, quite perfect..a Mary recipe...
I won't gush because somehow I don't think she would care for it...but having recently listened to her on Desert Island Discs and this week watched the BBC documentary on her life, all I hoped seems to be true. Not an easy life, pain and loss, but fun and love and many friendships, much cooking and passion, hard work but most of all a close family a mum and wife....So Mary, if I might be so bold, thank you for being there for me over the years and if you should ever think you would like another daughter, might I put myself forward....I promise always to do the washing up!
So here is the Mary's recipe for Victoria Sandwich, it has been one of those cakes that I have always had a lot of hits and misses with, but one afternoon this week after work I followed Mary step by step and perfection was achieved.... my only change to her recipe was apricot jam, it was all that I had, but somehow I don't think Mary would mind...and it has made me determined to make jam this summer....now what is Mary's recipe for that?????
How to make the perfect VICTORIA SANDWICH
For the sponge
225g unsalted butter softened (if your butter is cold cut into cubes and sit in a bowl of warm, not hot, water for a few minutes)
225g caster sugar
4 large free-range eggs at room temperature (see I told you..)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
225g self-raising flour sifted
1 tablespoon milk at room temperature
For the filling
6 rounded tablespoons of raspberry jam
To finish
caster or icing sugar
2 x 20.5cm sandwich tins buttered and lined
Preheat the oven to 180deg C/350deg F/Gas 4 Fan 160 deg C
1. Put the butter in a bowl and beat until smooth and creamy.
2. Gradually beat in the sugar, then keep on beating for 3/4 minutes until the mixture becomes very light and fluffy or until the mixture is almost white and very fluffy in texture, you will need to scrape down frequently.
3.Break the eggs into a bowl add the vanilla and lightly fork just to break them up. Slowly add to the creamed mixture a tablespoon at a time. Giving the mixture a good beating after each addition, scrape down the bowl. This will take about 5 minutes. If the mixture looks as though it is about to curdle add a spoonful of the sifted flour before adding the rest of the eggs.
5. Sift the flour again, this time onto the mixture, add the milk and gently fold the flour into the egg mixture using a large metal spoon. Do this as lightly as possible to make sure you keep in as much air as possible. Stop when there are no streaks of flour visible.
6. Divide the mixture equally between the two prepared tins, spreading evenly to the edges.
7. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and springy when gently pressed.
8. Remove the tins from the oven and leave for a few minutes. Run a blade around the inside of each tin t loosen the sponge, then turn our onto a wire rack.
9. Once cool put one cake onto a plate, spread over the jam, top with the second cake and lightly sprinkle with sugar. Store in an airtight container and eat withing 5 days (a guttural chuckle here because does anyone ever  think a cake would possibly be around for five days???? Not in THIS house!)
Happy baking......

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