Elderberries and Cream

August 21st, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

A little over a month ago I spent a morning picking elderflowers at my friends’ farm in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Last weekend I returned to find one lone cluster of white flowers and an inordinate number of reddish- to blackish-purple berries drooping from the limbs of their elderberry trees. Since my last visit those pert, little flowers had transformed into August’s big bounty, tart and spicy elderberries.

As with all of this summer’s foraged fruit, elderberry collecting is a new undertaking for me. Sure, I’ve been the beneficiary of others’ wild berry gathering, adding elderberries to mini apple pies and boiling them into violet-colored sauces. However, this would be my first venture into harvesting them.

Thankfully, the task turned out to be quite easy. Just look for the darkest fruit, snap off the sprays of berries and shake them into a big bowl. As I said, easy!

Berries picked and shucked, I took my share home and tried to think of creative ways to use two pounds of this fruit. After washing and removing any remaining stems, leaves, green berries and unlucky insects, I placed half in a large freezer bag and popped them into the freezer. At some point I’d include these in a pie or tart. Along with putting them in baked goods, cooks have long made elderberries into jams, jellies, chutneys, cordials and wine. The fruit’s bold, tangy flavor works particularly well in the latter beverage. Because elderberries do possess this strong, rather earthy taste, I like to temper them with mild and sweet or sweetly tart ingredients such as whipped cream, ice cream, yogurt, apples, pears and oranges.

The following dish may call to mind such earlier summer offerings as Blackberry Fool and Coconut Syllabub. Unlike in fools, the fruit in this recipe is not folded into the cream. If you choose to mix the elderberries into the whipped cream, you will technically have the aforementioned British dessert.

Serves 4 to 6

1 pound elderberries, washed, drained and all debris removed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted

Place the elderberries, granulated sugar and water in medium saucepan and bring the ingredients to a boil over medium heat. Cook, uncovered, for 8 minutes.

Remove the pan from the burner and add the Grand Marnier. Stir to combine, return the pan to the heat and bring the ingredients to a boil. Cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and allow the ingredients to cool completely.

To make the whipped cream, using an electric mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Add the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla extract and continue beating until stiff peaks take shape.

To assemble the desserts, spoon equal amounts of elderberries and sauce into 4 to 6 small or juice-sized glasses. Cover the berries with a thick layer of whipped cream. Spoon another layer of elderberries over the whipped cream. Top this with a final layer of whipped cream. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Rockin’ Red Currant Sherbet

August 14th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

This week I’ve got a great farmers’ market find—currants. In season from June to August, these petite relatives of the gooseberry come in three colors and two sizes. The smaller red and white berries possess a moderately sweet and tart taste and bright, glossy skin. The larger black currant is milder in flavor and duller in color but still has a visual and gustatory bite. All are high in pectin, making them rich in fiber and quick to gel.

British cooks often turn red currants into jams, jellies and sauces. Pop a handful of these little guys into your mouth and you’ll see why. As small as they are, these berries are chocked full of seeds. Although I have munched on fresh currants, I find them far more enjoyable after they’ve been cooked, pureed and strained as the British do. Freed from the currants’ crunchy seeds, I’m left with a thick, ruby syrup that can be made into the aforementioned specialities or into a cotton candy pink sherbet, sorbet or ice cream.

What’s the difference between ice cream, sherbet and sorbet? Dairy. Ice creams typically contain cream. Sherbets may or may not contain milk. Sorbets are dairy-free. Yet, this wasn’t always the case. Two centuries ago sherbet and sorbet referred to the same dish, a cold, sweet, fruit juice-based drink. By the 20th century this cold drink had transformed into a frozen juice. Sometimes it contained milk, making it a sherbet. Sometimes it did not, which meant that it was a sorbet or, in some regions of the country, still a sherbet. When it comes to sherbet versus sorbet, there is no ironclad rule.

Before I share this week’s recipe, I have to present a little discourse on spelling. In the UK this fruit is spelled as one word, i.e. redcurrant. In the U.S. you often see it spelled as two words. Since both Merriam-Webster and Oxford Dictionaries opt for the latter, that’s what I’ve chosen to do, too.

Makes about 4 cups

2 tablespoons water
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 pound red currants
Juice of 1 lemon
3 cups whole milk
Handful of blackcurrants or blueberries, optional, for serving

Place the water, sugar, currants and lemon juice in a medium saucepan and bring the ingredients to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the currants have softened and released their juices and the resulting liquid has thickened, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the burner and allow the ingredients to cool slightly.

Puree the currant mixture in a blender and then strain the puree through a sieve or fine mesh strainer, reserving the thickened syrup and discarding the pulp and seeds. Whisk together the syrup and milk and refrigerate the combo for 45 minutes or until chilled.

To make the sherbet, pour the mixture into an ice cream maker. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for making ice cream. Freeze until ready to serve.

Masterminding Moroccan Carrots

August 8th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Think of all the controversial topics that could come up between family and friends. For most people slender, knobby, orange root vegetables wouldn’t be among them. Yet, in my household carrots have long been a source of contention. Until recently, the only way that I could convince my husband to eat these vegetables was if I shredded and made them into a carrot cake. Smart guy, huh?

Rather than rely on cake alone to provide us that burst of Vitamin A, I look for ways to make carrots more palatable to the picky. So far, Moroccan Carrots, which I featured in Fish Market, are the favorite.When teaching a class, holding a talk or just sitting around the dinner table, I’m frequently asked how I and other food writers create recipes. While I can’t speak for my colleagues, I can explain the rationale and process behind Moroccan Carrots.

All dishes begin with the question “What foods go well together?” If I’m working with a versatile ingredient such as a carrot, that’s easy to answer. From a lifetime of eating carrots I know that they pair beautifully with butter, honey, maple syrup, sugar and salt. If you’ve ever had a glazed carrot, you know this, too. They also partner with spicy, savory and tart ingredients, including cinnamon, coriander, ginger, nuts, parsnips, peas, lemon, lime and olive oil.

The next aspect to consider is the cooking method. How well or poorly does an ingredient respond to different forms of heat? With carrots I can boil, bake, braise, roast, saute, steam, stew or stir fry them. Unlike meats and certain produce, they can also be consumed raw.When masterminding Moroccan Carrots, the next concern was personal preferences. Because my husband loves the sweet spiciness of carrot cake and I adore raw carrots, I decided to pair uncooked carrots with such carrot cake mainstays as cinnamon, raisins and nuts. Since we both enjoy Moroccan cuisine, I added a taste of North Africa to the mixture. Hence the use of preserved lemons and cumin. As for the multifaceted allspice and olive oil, the former lends complexity to the dish while the latter binds the ingredients.

From this point onward I test, tinker with and re-test the recipe, determining proportions and adding or subtracting ingredients. Toss all these considerations together and you get Moroccan Carrots. Sweet enough to be a dessert, they are likewise savory and satisfying enough to be a delightful side dish.

From Fish Market (Running Press, 2013)
Serves 6

1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons olive oil
10 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch long and 1/4-inch wide matchsticks
1/3 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1/2 preserved lemon, rinsed and diced

In a small bowl whisk together the honey, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, and olive oil.

In a medium bowl toss together the carrots, raisins, and pine nuts. Pour the dressing over the mixture and toss again. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, 45 minutes or overnight if making a day ahead.

Once the carrots have chilled, add the preserved lemons and toss to combine. Serve cold or at room temperature.

The Blackberry Fool

August 1st, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

This week in the world of seasonal fruit I’ve got a bumper crop of blackberries. The largest of all wild berries, blackberries have long been both treasured and trashed. Give me a bowl of these dazzling, violet-black orbs and I’ll rave about their gorgeous color, plump shape and tartly sweet, purplish juice. Invite me to pick and eat them from a backyard copse and I’ll grumble about their brutally thorny, trailing vines that leave my fingers bloody and their copious seeds that wedge in between every tooth. I’m not the least bit surprised that the British have dubbed this fruit “bramble.” This is one prickly drupe.

In spite of its drawbacks I do adore blackberries. Along with consuming them straight from the stem I like to feature them in a fool. A classic British dessert, a fool is as simple as its name sounds; it consists of mashed raw or cooked fruit folded into homemade whipped cream. Spoon this concoction into delicate, etched glasses or bowls and you have the elegant and ethereal English sweet.
In the UK fools usually contain berries—gooseberries, raspberries or strawberries—or rhubarb or plums. My fruit of choice generally gets reserved for apple and blackberry pie, blackberry jelly or blackberry tea. In the case of the tea it is the plant’s leaves and not the fruit that are used. Nonetheless, I find that the blackberry’s beautiful color and piquant flavor do well in a fool.

Blackberries are in season from June to September. When selecting them, I look for berries possessing a deep, rich color, firm but not hard texture and clean appearance. Highly perishable, they should be consumed immediately. If you refrigerate them, use them within a day.Unlike my previous farm-procured offerings, I plucked my fool’s berries from the produce stand across the street from my Upper West Side apartment. I later braved the thicket at my friends’ Frank and Jane’s farm and collected another cup or so of the fruit. Surprisingly, the differences between cultivated and wild were few. Although larger in size, the commercially produced blackberries possessed the same bright flavor as their wild counterparts.

Serves 4

2 1/2 cups blackberries
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the blackberries, half of the sugar and lemon juice in a bowl and stir to combine. Allow the berries to sit for at least 15 minutes, stirring periodically, until they have released some of their juices.

Put half of the berries in the bowl of a blender or food processor and puree. Pour the puree over the whole berries and stir the mixture together.

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Add the remaining sugar and vanilla extract and continue beating until stiff peaks take shape. At this point fold in the berries. Because I prefer a dryer fool, I strain off and reserve most of the juice and just add the berries and strained puree to the whipped cream. I later drizzle the juice over the individual servings of fool.

If you’re serving this right away, spoon equal amounts of fool into 4 bowls. Otherwise, cover and refrigerate the fool until ready to serve. Note that, when refrigerated, the fool will keep its shape for 2 to 3 hours. Make and serve accordingly.

What to Do with a Boatload of Bananas? Banana Ice Cream-Banana Date Bread Sandwiches!

July 25th, 2014 § 1 comment § permalink

What can I share about bananas that hasn’t been said a zillion times already? They’re curved, yellow-skinned and white-fleshed with microscopic, black seeds running through their centers. They’re high in potassium and Vitamin B6 and more or less fat-free. They’re also soft, tasty and perishable. But I bet you already knew that.

If you’ve ever eaten one in the tropics, you realize how spectacularly sweet and rich locally grown bananas taste. You likewise understand that this tropical fruit doesn’t come in one color and size only. Red, orange, golden yellow or green-striped, they vary in size from around 2 1/2 to 12 inches.

Bananas originated in Southeast Asia. Perhaps this is why the best bananas I’ve eaten have been along the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. The length of a pen, their diminutiveness belies their powerful, candy-like flavor. As much as I love dessert, I’d happily skip ice cream, cake or pie and cap off my evening meal with one of these little gems.

Why all this talk of bananas? Thanks to over a dozen ripe bananas and only one banana fanatic in my household, I’ve been baking and cooking with this fruit all week. As a result, I’m passing along not one but two banana-rich recipes, Banana Date Bread and Banana Ice Cream with Honey Sauce. You can eat each independent of the other or put them together and enjoy a glorious year-round treat, Banana Ice Cream-Banana Date Bread Sandwiches with Honey Sauce.

Makes 1 9″x5″ loaf

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup chopped dried dates

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan and set aside.

Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sugar and continue beating until fluffy in texture, another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture and beat until blended and crumbly in texture. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat until combined.

With a spatula or spoon fold in the mashed bananas and dates and gently stir until just combined. Evenly spread the batter in the greased loaf pan.

Bake the bread for 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack before removing the bread from the pan and placing it back on the rack. Allow the bread to cool completely before serving.

Makes 3 cups

5 ripe bananas
1 cup skim milk
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, for the sauce
1/4 cup honey, for the sauce

Place the bananas, milk, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. If you have an ice cream maker, pour the mixture into the ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for making ice cream. If not, pour the mixture into a freezer-proof bowl and place it in the freezer, removing periodically to stir the mixture until it resembles the texture of ice cream.

To make the honey sauce for topping the ice cream/ice cream sandwich, melt two tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the honey. Pour over the ice cream.

To assemble the ice cream sandwiches, take one slice of banana bread and cut it in half. Place one scoop of ice cream between the two halves. Repeat for the desired number of ice cream sandwiches. At this point you can either cover and place the sandwiches in the freezer until you’re ready to eat or gobble them right away with a spoonful of honey sauce over top.

What to Do with Wineberries? Wineberry-Orange Gelée!

July 18th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

This seems to be my summer for foraged foods found on my friends Frank and Jane’s farm. First it was elderflowers. Now it’s wineberries. Never heard of wineberries? Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t either. What I had done, though, was nibble on the small, scarlet, raspberry-like fruit on countless walks through the woods.

Introduced to American soil in the 1890s, the prickly wineberry shrub flourishes along roadsides, in forests and fields and any other place with moist soil and moderate sunlight. Hence why I’ve encountered them on hikes and in thickets around Frank and Jane’s farm. The shrub’s firm, juicy berries resemble raspberries in flavor and appearance. They are, in fact, a type of raspberry. Their scientific name, Rubus phoenicolasius, means ‘raspberry with purple hairs,’ undoubtedly a reference to the hairy stems to which the berries cling.

Bestowed with a bowl of these little berries, I wanted to use them in a dish that would show off their beautiful color and compact size. Putting them in a cake, pie, crumble or ice cream would just turn them to mush. A gelée, however, wouldn’t interfere with their pert shape and ruby redness.

A French, gelatin-based specialty, gelée often features champagne or fortified wine as an ingredient. The following recipe for Wineberry-Orange Gelée does not. This makes it more family-friendly but also more of a gelatin than a true gelée. When craving authenticity, I’d replace the water with champagne.

If you don’t have access to wineberries, you can substitute raspberries or blackberries in this recipe.

Serves 6

1 1/4 cup fresh wineberries, rinsed
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 (.25 ounce) envelopes of gelatin
1 cup water, divided
Juice of 6 oranges (about 2 cups)
Grated zest of 2 oranges
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Whipped cream, optional, for serving

Place the washed berries in a bowl with the sugar and lemon juice and toss to combine. Allow the wineberries to macerate for 30 minutes.

Pour half of the water into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over top. Let the two steep for 5 minutes.

Place the orange juice, sugar, juice of 1 lemon and remaining water in a large saucepan. Bring the ingredients to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and add the gelatin mixture. Stir again until the gelatin has dissolved.

Strain the liquid from the berries and add this to the pan. Stir to combine.

Pour equal amounts of gelatin into six decorative glasses or bowls. Spoon an equal number of wineberries into each glass. Refrigerate for a minimum of 3 hours or maximum of 2 days. Before serving, decorate each with the optional whipped cream and orange zest.

Oh-So-Elegant Elderflower Granita

July 10th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

At one time, when I heard “elderflower cordial,” I imagined garden parties in the English countryside where formally attired guests sipped pale yellow drinks from elegant crystal goblets. In reality not once in my half dozen trips to England has anyone ever invited me to or mentioned attending such a soiree. Been offered a glass of chilled elderflower cordial? Nope. That hasn’t happened either.

Until a few weeks ago I hadn’t thought much about consuming or even picking elderflowers. Then two old friends mentioned that they were making elderflower cordial from their farm’s elderberry trees. With that my visions of genteel garden parties and fancy drinks returned and I became intrigued by the flower’s culinary possibilities.

Found throughout Europe, North America and Western Asia, elderberry trees bear clusters of tiny, edible, white flowers and small, blackish-purple berries. The latter get made into chutneys, jams, jellies, sauces, soups and wine while the former show up in cordials, teas, jellies, baked goods and, oddly enough, fritters. As you might expect, elderflowers impart a pleasant floral flavor to these foods.

When mixed with boiling water and sugar and allowed to steep for at least 24 hours, elderflowers transform into elderflower syrup. Add citrus juice and zest and seltzer or water to the syrup and you have the sweetly tart and flowery drink known as elderflower cordial. That is all it takes to create my romanticized drink.

Yearning to try this idealized beverage, I made a weekend trip to my friends’ farm and collected enough flowers for a batch of cordial. On the way home I started thinking about what else I could do with these little gems. Why stop at a cordial when I could stir up an exquisite elderflower granita?

Makes 4 cups

If you cannot find fresh elderflowers, you can use commercially produced elderflower cordial. IKEA, among others, carries this. If you do use fresh flowers, be sure to rinse them thoroughly and remove any bugs or debris from them.

For a refreshing summertime drink, add the leftover cordial to water, plain seltzer, white wine or vodka.

for the cordial:
2 cups water
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 cups fresh elderflowers, well-rinsed and drained
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 orange, sliced

for the granita:
2 cups elderflower cordial
2 cups water
Juice of 1 lime
Fresh mint, optional, for garnish
Fresh blueberries or black raspberries, optional, for garnish

To make the cordial, place the water and sugar in a medium saucepan and, over medium heat, bring the ingredients to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Add the elderflowers, stir to combine and remove the pan from the heat. Pour the liquid into a large glass bowl and cool slightly.

Add lemon juice and zest and orange slices and stir the ingredients together. Loosely cover the bowl and place it in a cool spot. Periodically stirring the mixture, allow it to steep for 24 to 36 hours.

When the cordial has reached its desired strength, strain it through a fine mesh or cheesecloth-lined colander and into a pitcher. Discard the flowers, orange slices and lemon zest. Using a funnel, pour the cordial into lidded jars or bottles. Refrigerate until you’re ready to make the granita.

To make the elderflower granita, pour 2 cups cordial, 2 cups cold water and the lime juice into a shallow pan or bowl and stir to combine. Place the pan in the freezer for a minimum of 8 hours. For the first 2 hours, remove the pan every 20 to 40 minutes and stir the contents, making sure to scrape down the sides of the dish and incorporate both the iced and still-liquid granita.

Once the granita is completely frozen, use a large spoon to scrape the top to form a single serving. Place the granita in a cocktail glass or bowl and enjoy.

Cool and Simple Coconut Syllabub

July 3rd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Syllabub. For me, the name conjures up visions of windswept sand dunes, black-robed Bedouins, dust-covered camels, whirling dervishes and Tales from 1,001 Nights. As exotic as it sounds, syllabub has a much more sedate background. Instead of hailing from that imagined sun-drenched desert land, this sweet comes from Great Britain.

Although the origins of its unusual name are uncertain, historians do know that the confection is product of 16th century England. Back then it was a frothy drink comprised of milk and sweet wine or cider. Because people liked the drink’s foamy head more than the liquid, syllabub eventually discarded its drink status and became a creamy, whipped dessert. This is the easy sweet that I love.

Featuring scant few ingredients, syllabub is the model of simplicity. You can whip it up in a few minutes with either a whisk or an electric mixer. To vary its taste, you can replace the coconut rum with liqueurs such as Grand Marnier or Kirsch. To decorate its gentle peaks, you can top your syllabub with grated chocolate, chopped nuts, citrus zest, edible flowers, toasted coconut or the like.

In keeping with its romantic desert image I serve syllabub in colorful Moroccan tea glasses, yet another awkward souvenir that I just had to buy and then lug around on vacation. Unlike my ill-advised couscousiere, I regularly use these little guys.

Serves 4

1 cup whipping cream, chilled
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 ounces coconut rum
1/8 teaspoon coconut extract
1 to 2 tablespoons grated bittersweet chocolate, for dusting

In a medium bowl beat the cream until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar, rum and coconut extract and beat for another 1 to 2 minutes or until the syllabub holds soft peaks. Spoon into four small glasses and sprinkle grated chocolate over the top of each. Serve chilled.

Sweet & Nutty Couscous

June 18th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Summertime on the East Coast, when every muggy day feels like a day spent in the tropics. Whenever sultry weather strikes, I dig out my growing stack of limited-cooking-required recipes. Most of these dishes have their roots in warmer climates where, like me, cooks try to keep the amount of heat in the kitchen to a minimum.

On the top of that stack is a beloved Moroccan specialty, sweet couscous. Dotted with iron-rich dates, dried cranberries, dried apricots and toasted almonds, this grain-based favorite offers an assortment of sensory thrills. The sharp snap of the almonds provides a pleasant, and audible, change from the velvety softness of the steamed fruits and couscous. It also gives me a chance to toss all the ingredients into one pot and steep them for five minutes before serving. Tasty and requiring limited cooking, it’s a treat that can’t be beat!

Traditionally, making couscous involves intermittently steaming the grains in a two-tiered pot known as a couscousiere, wetting down, and then separating the grains with your fingers. It’s a process that takes close to an hour. On balmy, time-pressed evenings, a saucepan and a cup of instant couscous serve as fine substitutes.

As cringeworthy as my videography may be, I’ve included a brief clip on how to use a couscousiere. I also explain why this tool falls into the category of regrettable souvenirs. Bear with me on this one. As time goes by, the videos will improve.

Along with serving Sweet & Nutty Couscous for dessert, I like to cover and refrigerate this dish overnight and then eat it chilled for breakfast. It’s delicious on its own but also tastes wonderful when spooned over Greek yogurt.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 cup dried couscous
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
3 tablespoons dried dates, chopped
1-inch vanilla bean
1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup honey
Greek yogurt, optional, for serving

In a medium saucepan, boil the water. Add the couscous, cherries, apricots and figs. Using a knife, split open the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the saucepan. Stir the ingredients together, cover the saucepan and remove from heat. Let stand for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine cooked couscous and butter. Rake your fingers through the couscous, loosening the grains and incorporating the butter with the fruit.

Pour in the honey and gently stir. Add the toasted almonds and blend again. Serve the couscous on its own or over plain or vanilla-flavored Greek yogurt.

Victoria Sponge Cake

June 5th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Right now I seem to be on a quest to convince everyone that British food is not only edible but also quite delicious. Last week I raved about sweet, fruity scones. Next week I’ll have an article on English trifle at Zester Daily. This week, though, at Kitchen Kat I want to talk about Victoria sponge cake.At first glance Victoria sponge cake may look like a white cake with jam and icing squished in between the layers. Okay. It is that. Take a bite, though, and you’ll find that it’s much lighter, honeyed and complex than your usual white layer cake.

This cake is named for England’s Queen Victoria, who apparently loved a slice of this sweet with her afternoon tea. Shortly after her reign it became a staple at early 20th century parties and teas. Unsurprisingly, I first tried Victoria sponge cake at a teashop in England’s Lake District. Sweet, airy and so heavenly, it surpassed anything that I could have expected from a dessert also known as Victoria sandwich and Victoria sponge.

To make the best Victoria sponge cake possible, you should have all your ingredients at room temperature; you don’t want cold eggs or milk to cause your creamy butter to harden. First beat the sugar and butter together until white and fluffy. At this point add the beaten eggs and sifted flour to the butter. If you mix everything together in one go, you won’t get the ethereal texture for which this delicate cake is known.

Traditionally, Victoria sponge is topped by whipped cream. Because I like to make the cake the night before serving it, I use a buttercream icing instead. It holds better and adds a bit more flavor to the dessert.

If you’re not the most adept at horizontally slicing a cake in half, you can divide the batter between two greased, 7-inch springform pans. The cakes will bake for 12 to 15 minutes; this is slightly less than what’s required for the 8-inch pan. The jam and icing will then be spread between the two cooled cakes.

for the sponge:
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup good quality strawberry jam

for the icing:
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk, at room temperature
1 pound confectioner’s sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease one 8-inch springform pan and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl beat the sugar until creamy, 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides, add the sugar and beat again until light and fluffy, 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl again, add the eggs, vanilla and milk and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and gently fold it in the liquids.

Place the batter in the greased pan. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, until the cake has risen and is golden in color. Remove the cake from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before removing the cake from the pan and cooling completely on a wire rack.

To make the icing, in a large mixing bowl beat the butter, vanilla and milk together until well combined. With the mixer running on low, slowly add the confectioner’s sugar, beating until smooth.

Using a long, sharp, serrated knife, cut the cake, widthwise, into two equal-sized halves. Place on half, cut side up, on a platter. Spread a thin layer, about half, of icing, followed by all of the jam, on the cut side. Lay the other half, cut side down, on top of this layer and spread the remaining icing over top of it. Serve with a cup of hot, black tea.