The popularity of shows like the Great British Bake Off is a double-edged sword for parents of 12 year olds. Just as a pillow case and a piece of tinsel are no longer an acceptable basis for an outfit for the school play or an impromptu dressing up day (either you spend a week making it from scratch to Oscar-winning standards or order it online and hope it’ll last out the day without the “seams” splitting or the “material” ripping), you may now also be judged on your child’s baking skills. My son, who is in year 7, has a Bake Off competition coming up at school and we all know that there will be parents who will take their child’s school Bake Off VERY seriously. But they can always order online.
Whether or not you like baking, or think you are any “good” at it, baking with your child is an opportunity to spend some time with them away from the Ipad, Xbox or TV. And you get cake. I can’t promise it will be entirely stress-free (we had tears over greaseproof paper before we had even started), and it’s a good idea to assume that it will take at least twice as long as you were expecting (possibly even longer).
My son’s year have been asked to bake a Victoria sponge or scones, by themselves, over the weekend in a few weeks’ time and take them into school for judging on the Monday. There seems to be a huge amount of pressure for my son to be an expert baker (although as the child of two pharmacists who can’t even watch Casualty because it’s too gory, I don’t really follow the logic). Still, I thought it was a good excuse to do some baking together. One of my enduring childhood memories is baking alongside my mum when I was about 7 or 8. When she made pastry she would give us each a little plastic bowl and we would make our own at the same time. My dad, a keen woodworker, made us each our own mini rolling pin. And I would try really, really hard to make good pastry but it would come out grey and tough and I would get upset. One of my younger brothers would turn up at some point, drive his toy tractor through it, build flour banks and wander off again. The other one would make very little effort but produce perfect pastry. And not a lot has changed personality-wise since.
While the upside of baking with your children is cake, depending on your perspective it can also be the downside. I chose a weekend where I knew we would have plenty of takers for cake and we made two sponges. On Saturday we made a cake together, and on Sunday he got to put what he had learnt into practice and do it all by himself. You may find you need to manage the expectation that they make the cake without any parental input on the first attempt! We creamed the butter and sugar the old-fashioned way, with a wooden spoon, as that is how they need to do it for the Bake Off. I also think it’s a great way to teach them how to make a Victoria sponge as they really get a feel for what they are doing. And it’s fun. And if you’re wondering why I gave him the recipe in ounces, you’ll find the answer here.
So in case you have a school Bake Off coming up, or are just looking for something fun to do together one weekend or over half term, we have put together a little tutorial for the perfect Victoria Sponge. Let us know how you get on!
8oz / 225g butter or margarine
8oz / 225g caster sugar
8oz / 225g SR flour
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Raspberry or strawberry jam: three or four large spoonfuls
Icing sugar or caster sugar
Set the oven to 180°C.
Grease, and line the base of two 8″ sandwich tins.
Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. It takes a while to mix the sugar into the butter:
Once it is mixed it takes quite a bit of effort to get the mixture properly creamed: when it is ready it will be creamy (hence the name, I assume) and much lighter in colour than when it was first mixed together. Once they start complaining that both their arms ache (keep switching to the other one when the first one gets tired) it might be ready:
Beat the eggs together.
Add them, a little at a time, to the butter mixture, making sure that they are properly mixed in before adding more. Don’t panic if your mix starts to curdle. It makes so little difference to the finished cake that you’d need to be an expert to notice, and even then you’d be guessing. Some people say add a tablespoon of flour if this happens but I don’t bother on the basis that the flour will then be overworked.
Mix in the vanilla essence.
Sieve in the flour. If you can, weigh it directly into the sieve – it saves another bowl and if you accidentally tip in too much it doesn’t matter as you can spoon it out and straight back into the bag.
Fold in gently with a metal spoon. It’s important that mixture is not overworked or the sponge will be tough, but it needs to be fully mixed.:
Divide equally between the two cake tins. You can either judge by eye, or weigh them to make sure they are the same. Very gently and lightly push the mixture to the edges with your metal spoon so that it is evenly distributed. It doesn’t need to be perfectly flat but if it isn’t relatively even before it goes into the oven you’ll end up with an uneven cake.
Bake for around 20-25 minutes, checking after about 18 minutes, until golden and springy to the touch. If you very gently press the centre of the cake it should spring back and not leave an indent. The sponge may also start to come away from the edge of the tin.
Allow to cool for a few minutes in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
When completely cool, turn one cake upside down and spread a generous layer of raspberry jam over it. Top with the second one.
Sieve icing sugar, or sprinkle caster sugar over the top of the cake.
I have mentioned that an even layer of icing or caster sugar over the top of the cake might be one of the factors that the judges look at but unless it’s for a very important competition, it really doesn’t matter.