Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Fundamental Baking Basics

I am often surprised by how many people don't know to make a basic buttercream or victoria sandwich. This is not me being judgemental at all, I just can't imagine not knowing how to make these easy, gorgeous things around which my life pretty much revolves! They are such tremendously easy things to make and are so versatile, they can be adapted to make sooo many recipes! A victoria sponge can be filled with fresh fruit and cream for a delicious simple, summery cake OR covered with beautiful icing and stacked up high for a stunning, striking wedding cake. Buttercream similarly can be flavored with nearly anything and used as a simple filling or can be used for my all-time-favourite... Piping on cupcakes! Honestly, I could go on all day - the possibilities for the two, and the combination of the two are truly endless. So while I am away in Mexico and am unable to bake, I will enlighten those of you who do not know by sharing my favourite victoria sandwich/vanilla sponge recipe and a basic buttercream that all aspiring bakers should have in their repertoire! Better still - neither of these require a mixer. I have no doubt a mixer would help, but I do not own one and don't use one for any of my recipes that I make at home. Feel free to use a mixer if you have one but they are definitely not required!

Victoria Sandwich
200g self raising flour, sifted
200g caster sugar
200g unsalted butter
4 medium eggs
1 heaped tsp vanilla bean paste (or 1 tablespoon of liquid extract)
1 tsp baking power
1 tbsp whole milk

1. Preheat the oven to 180c and prepare 2 x 8 inch cake tins with butter and flour.
2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy - a wooden spoon is best for this. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time then add the vanilla. Both the eggs and the butter should be room temperature before cooking.
3. Add the baking powder and flour bit by bit and fold in gently. If you beat the mixture vigorously at this point it will not be as light and fluffy once cooked.  Once the batter is smooth, stir in the milk.
4. Divide evenly between the 2 cake tins and bake for 12 - 15 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool before decorating.

And that is literally it! Nothing fancy, nothing hard - just a simple, moist and fluffy cake!

Basic Vanilla Buttercream
100g butter, soften
200g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp milk, optional
As a general rule -  you should have twice as much icing sugar as butter (e.g 250g butter to 500g icing sugar).

1. Beat the butter until pale and soft before adding the icing sugar. This step is especially important if your butter is not room temperature.
2. Gradually add in the icing sugar and mix until fully combined. You can adjust the amount of icing sugar for the consistency of buttercream you want: add more for stiffer buttercream for piping intricate details like frills, or less for slightly softer buttercream for crumbcoating or filling a cake.
3. Add milk if it gets too stiff. I like to add milk to mine as I feel it allows easier piping. Add the vanilla and any food colouring at this point, too.

Again, the easiest recipe ever! So easy to adapt by adding in jam for a fruity flavour, a blob of peanut butter or nutella for a fancier icing or substituting some of the icing sugar for cocoa powder for a simple chocolate buttercream.
I hope you find these recipes helpful and get as much use out of them as I do! Happy baking :)

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