Jam and cream and all things nice: Victoria sponge

This was the first cake I ever made; for a long time, it was the only cake I ever made. It’s perfect for a beginner: pretty much foolproof and reliably delicious despite its simplicity. My boyfriend requested it for his birthday this year, and it’s my Dad’s favourite too. If you’ve never had it, you need to make it soon!

There are of course many similar recipes out there, but this cake goes back to first principles in that it’s the same weight of everything (except the vanilla essence, but that’s optional anyway), and mum uses a method designed to account for differing weights/sizes of eggs. At home we had a pair of those old fashioned scales which use tiny weights on one side and a removable metal dish on the other; this method was devised with that in mind, but the same principles apply with any other type of scale.

In the ‘old fashioned’ way, you put your eggs (I used three this time, but you can use two depending on how big you want your cake to be) on the part where the weights would go, and then use their weight to measure all of the other ingredients. If you’ve got any other type of scale, weigh your eggs and then measure out the same amount of everything else. In my case, three large eggs weighed 200g, so I used 200g of the other main ingredients too.

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Ingredients

For the cake

Sugar

Butter or margarine

Eggs (2 or 3, see above)

Self raising flour

A splash of vanilla essence

A little icing sugar (for dusting)

For the filling

Double cream (as much as you like)

Jam (any kind, I used strawberry)

– Preheat the oven to 180c (160c fan), then grease two 20cm sandwich tins and set aside

– Cream together the butter and the sugar using a wooden spoon, or an electric whisk if you’re feeling fancy

– Add the eggs one at a time, with a tablespoon of flour each time, mixing after each addition

– Splash in the vanilla essence

– Sieve in the rest of the flour and fold in until the mixture is smooth

– Divide the mixture between the two tins and spread into a fairly even layer.

– Bake for 20- 25 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean (with a few moist crumbs)

– Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

– Meanwhile, beat the double cream until stiff – when the cakes are cool, spread the underside of one with the cream, and the underside of the other with a generous helping of jam.

-Sandwich together and dust the top with icing sugar – the easiest way is to put a few spoonfuls of icing sugar into a sieve, hold it about 10cm from the top of the cake and gently tap the side until you have a light layer of powdery goodness.

– Slice generously and serve.

Because it contains fresh cream, you need to keep this in the fridge unless you live somewhere really cold! It’s not ideal as it can make the sponge really hard, so each time you want some more try to remember to lift the cake out about half an hour  before to allow it to return to room temperature. Because of this, the cake is really best devoured as soon as possible – I don’t think you’ll have too many problems persuading people to eat this rapidly though.

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Listening to Beat me Daddy (Eight to the Bar) by The Andrews Sisters, New York, New York Medley by Mel Torme, That Old Black Magic by Ella Fitzgerald, Night Club by Mose Allison — I’m going through a serious jazz phase… It’s genetic.

This recipe is one I learned from my mum – it’s one that’s been around forever, seemingly. All other content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

No-bake Caramel and Peach cheesecake. Or, the day I smashed the oven door.

This creamy cheesecake is certainly a thing of beauty. But beauty born admittedly of absolute disaster… Every cloud? When one of our university friends was over for dinner a couple of weeks ago I was lifting an apple crumble out of the oven (domestic goddess) and somehow the combination of hot ceramics and oven gloves meant I managed to drop the whole thing onto the inside of the oven door. The inside glass panel shattered instantly into a million tiny pieces (safety glass — great) and we three were left for a moment as if frozen: just staring at what had just happened. And swearing.

Perhaps the most stressful part about renting, especially renting when you’re just starting out and don’t have an abundance of extra money lying around, is that you don’t own most of the stuff that you could potentially break during your everyday apple-crumble-creation activities. And so smashing the oven was followed by hours of sweeping up broken glass, and trying to get the shards out of the door mechanism so that it would actually shut, and then more hours of agonising over how much a new oven door was going to cost… I write this now from the safe vantage point of having had the oven door inside panel replaced at not too extravagant a cost last week, so… phew.

But to cut to the chase, here is what you need to know:

1) I had no oven for a few weeks

2) I cannot survive without pudding

So I made this cheesecake. It was nice. It is not necessary to smash your oven door in order to enjoy it in all of its glory.

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Ingredients

For the base
  • 200g digestive biscuits
  • 100g butter
For the filling
  • 450g cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tin Coronation caramel (you could use Dulche de leche or something similar )
  • 240ml double cream
  • 2 tablespoons icing sugar
To go on top
  • 1 tin of peaches
  • 15g butter
  • 3-4 tablespoons brown sugar, or more

Directions

– To make the base, simply melt the butter in a large bowl (I just melt mine in the microwave – you can melt yours however you like. How liberal of me) and then add the crushed digestives (I don’t have a food processor so I put my biscuits in a freezer bag and hit them with a rolling pin until they were powder)

– Mix until the butter is evenly distributed, and then grease your tin (I used a spring-form circular number) and press the mixture down so that it forms an even base. I used the flat bottom of a glass to get the base nice and flat.

– Put into the fridge to chill and harden.

– In a large bowl (or a mixer if you have one) beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add the can of caramel and beat until smooth and all combined.

– In a separate medium bowl, beat cream and powdered sugar on high until soft peaks form – about 3 mins with a mixer, or about 10 mins + very sore arms if you’re just using a whisk like I was…

– With a rubber spatula, stir about one-third of the whipped cream/icing sugar mix into the cream cheese mixture, then fold in the rest. Make sure it’s all combined, but avoid over-mixing.

– Tip onto the base and smooth the top with a spatula.

– Cover tightly and refrigerate until firm, 3 hours (or up to 2 days).

– For the decorative caramelised peaches, first line a baking tray with grease proof paper.

– Empty your tin of peaches into a sieve, and rinse under cold water, then pat dry with kitchen towel to get rid of as much moisture as possible.

– Heat the butter in a frying pan, and when it’s hot lay the peaches in carefully, so they’re not touching each other. Sprinkle enough brown sugar over the top to cover each piece. Cook for about 2 mins, then flip them over. Coat the new side with more brown sugar, and then flip again.

– One the peaches are sticky and somewhat caramelised, lay them out on the grease proof paper. Let them cool completely.

– Arrange on the top of your cheesecake however you like before serving.

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Listening to: Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars, Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran, Places to Go by Leftover Cuties, Completely by Caro Emerald.

Recipe adapted from this one from The Food Charlatan: I changed the base (her crust required an oven…) and used tinned peaches rather than fresh because it’s what I had, as well as making a few other tweaks.

All other content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

Foodie Adventures: Regency Cafe, Pimlico

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Regency Cafe

I found Regency Cafe during a post-interview wander, which left me floating around Pimlico in search of a late breakfast. I was instantly intrigued by how retro this place looked; white block lettering against a black-tiled exterior, with red and white checked curtains at the windows. Correctly guessing that this kind of place would not take cards, I walked past initially, found a cash point, then went back. Inside, it really was like a time warp. Faded photographs and movie posters in frames lined the cream- tiled walls, and the tables were like the kind you’d associate with a canteen. Linoleum. The menu was spelled out in white letters on those black boards that used to display cinema times: slightly wonky and with some of the letters handmade where they’ve been lost or damaged. The food on offer instantly reminded me of home: the North of England has managed to keep far more of these ‘greasy spoons’ open, and so the fried liver on offer was reminiscent of the tiny cafe where I waitressed growing up. In London, though, there are very few of these places left. The ones that do exist tend to have a manufactured kind of feel, like they’ve been created to look like this kind of cafe, rather than actually being the real thing.

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Specials Board (+ builders’ tea; bottom left)

In my pencil skirt and blazer (remember, post-interview), I was suddenly conscious of looking very out of place: the cafe was mainly filled with working men taking their mid- morning break; all steel-capped boots, dusty overalls and fluorescent jackets. The service was rough and ready, but that only added to the warmth of the place — you order at the counter and then, when your food’s ready, they call out the order and you go up to collect it yourself. The man behind the counter had the kind of infectious friendliness that afflicts all of the best cafe owners; he seemed to know most of the people who came in and out, and by the time you left he bid you farewell like a long-lost friend.

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Condiments in technicolour

Builders’ tea; strong, milky and sloshed into plain white mugs, sat on most of the tables, accompanied by the full English breakfasts that you’d expect. Some people were tucking into large plates of rice and curry, despite the early hour: a chalkboard and the industrial-sized vat of mango chutney beside the till made it clear that this was the lunchtime special: Wednesday is curry day, apparently. The food was what you would expect: it was fresh, tasty and cheap. Definitely no frills, but this is the kind of place that shuns anything resembling frills at first glance. Standing at the counter and glancing at the menu, a man made a quip about Heston Blumenthal, that British gourmet chef famous for his weird, wonderful and very frilly creations (think, snail porridge) which I couldn’t quite hear. The owner replied jovially; ‘Oh yeah, Heston bloomin’ hell!’ It had been a long time since I’d heard anybody say ‘blooming’, and it reminded me instantly of my Dad, who is a fan of that particular exclamation of incredulity or annoyance. I’ve come to think of it as quite an old-fashioned phrase, and it made me realise that this cafe was filled with the invisible London which I hadn’t really experienced before.

Coming to London as an Oxford graduate, I’ve experienced a very particular face of the city. The posh bars and cafes, the professionals I meet when I go for interviews, and the other graduates who I spend most of my time with. But this cafe, and the people saying ‘blooming’, are more like the community I came from originally; using slang, and drinking tea from plain white mugs in cafes that only have two choices of bread (white or brown) and aren’t interested in any kind of smoothie. Don’t get me wrong, I love rye bread and passion fruit smoothies, but I also miss the simplicity of the small, rural place where I grew up.

When I went to Oxford, I was surrounded by people that mainly (not everybody!) spoke very stereotypically ‘British’ English; they were ‘posh’, I supposed you’d say, for want of a better word. Most people spoke very similarly, and I was instantly mocked for my deepened vowels, and the way that I said certain words, like ‘butter’ or ‘grass’. And even though most of it was just friendly teasing, it made me feel like I stood out. So without really realising I started to disguise my Northern accent; I didn’t let my vowels get too deep, and I rarely relaxed into the richness of slang and sayings that I’d grown up with. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the way the people in this cafe spoke reminded me inescapably of home, and that was really very nice.

Well, that turned into something of a tangent, but it comes down to the fact that if you’re looking for two eggs, chips and a Diet Coke for £4, then this place is ideal. And its friendliness is only enhanced by how rough it is around the edges.

Listening to: Warpath by Ingrid Michaelson, I Will Never Let You Down by Rita Ora, Strong and Wrong by Joni Mitchell.

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

Foodie Adventures: Homeslice, Neal’s Yard

A little while ago, just before Christmas, a good friend and I went to the South Bank Christmas market; after working up an appetite browsing the stalls we wanted something to eat. Predictably, all of the nearby restaurants were packed and we decided to head somewhere off the beaten track in the hope of finding a table. And perhaps something a little different. We wandered quite far in search of the above, which I’m beginning to discover in earnest is something of an elusive quarry in London.

Eventually though, we came across Homeslice. We had to settle for a table outside, but we were suitably bundled up and the setting, on a tiny side street, meant that we were pretty sheltered and actually quite cosy. The service was fast and friendly —  and the waiter patiently deciphered the hipster chalk prices for us (yes, I am middle-aged, I know this) and brought us a generous bottle of tap water without any eye-rolling whatsoever.

We ended up going for one slice of each of the first three pizzas to share: Margherita/ Salami, Rocket & Parmesan/ Mushroom, Ricotta, Pumpkin Seeds & Chilli Flakes. As someone who is really not very adventurous, especially when it comes to savoury food, there were ingredients there that made me a bit antsy. Mainly ricotta and pumpkin seeds. I’ll admit I was sceptical. But I’m glad I branched out: the pizzas were all lovely. No grease in sight, just great flavours and ingredients which tasted really fresh. The base was light and just the right level of chewy vs. crusty in my opinion. And by buying by the slice, we had the perfect amount of food for a pretty reasonable price. (£12 altogether, so £6 each) The flavour combinations all worked perfectly, but my favourite was definitely the mushroom/ ricotta extravanganza that I’d been so wary of — adventurous choices rewarded. Homeslice’s website is here: you should definitely pay them a visit!

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Delicious, delicious pizza

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

Foodie Adventures: The Haberdashery, Crouch End

Last weekend, my lovely friend Helen came to stay. We share an ardent appreciation of all things vintage, pretty and higgledy-piggledy — we spend a lot of time exchanging links to beautiful tiles and extravagant baking projects. Mainly on Pinterest. You get the picture. And so when she arrived off the train at King’s Cross from my home town, I really wanted to make the most of having her in London and go somewhere adorable and awesome. A quick Google search of something along the very predictable lines of ‘cosiest cafes in London’ yielded The Haberdashery: the name had me instantly hooked. It was only an easy half hour bus ride from where we were to Crouch End, so off we went.

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I didn’t manage to get my own photograph of the amazing interior; this one is from the cafe’s website

We loved it! The interior is stunning; vintage and chintzy in all of the best ways with excellent use of Victorian fireplace tiles and coffee bowls (yep, we saw people getting hot chocolate in what looked like breakfast bowls, heaven) hanging eccentrically behind the till. Our drinks came in glass bottles, and our food arrived on charmingly mismatched vintage plates. AND our butter came in an ancient looking ceramic tub that once contained ‘Sainsbury’s Freshly Made Bloater Paste’, which it turns out (thanks, Google) is a kind of fish paste made from Bloater fish, which is traditionally eaten on toast for afternoon tea. No actual fish paste on offer, sadly, so I had a Breakfast Roll with bacon and egg. The bread was lovely —  exactly the right level of toasted — sweet and chewy. The egg was fresh and cooked to perfection — the bacon just as good. I know, I know, it’s an egg and bacon sandwich. But that just seems like a massive understatement: it really was unlike any I’ve ever eaten.

I also had a yummy Elderflower Soda Jar, which of course came in an actual chunky jar with a handle. Again, it was like Elderflower cordial I’d had before, but just somehow better. The cakes looked amazing, but we were just too full after our delicious mains to sample any! I have vowed to return for afternoon tea very, very soon. Here’s the website: if you ever find yourself in Crouch End, definitely pop in. Actually scrap that, it’s worth making the journey especially, if only just to avoid another soul- destroying “Oh, I suppose we’ll just go to Starbucks, then” moment. I’ll certainly be back!

The Breakfast Roll of destiny

The Breakfast Roll of destiny

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Elderflower Cordial in a handy-handled jar

Helen with 'The Colonial' Juice: apple, cucumber, lime + mint

Helen with ‘The Colonial’ Juice: apple, cucumber, lime + mint

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015. Except the first photograph, which is from The Haberdashery’s website here.