In the second of a new series Laura Rowe investigates which are the best books (and cooks) to guide you on making a classic Victoria sponge.
The TV expert: Mary Berry’s How to Cook
If Paul Hollywood is TV’s own baking badger, then Mary Berry is one wise owl. She’s been the cookery editor of several national magazines, appeared on our TV screens more times than you can shake a wooden spoon at and, staggeringly, has had more than 70 books published. If you want a foolproof recipe, Mary is your lady.
How to Cook is one of several books that Mary has published with Dorling Kindersley that keeps food styling to a minimum (with most dishes on clean white backgrounds), but gives added value in other ways.
Mary’s Victoria sponge recipe is in the ‘master recipes’ section of the book. There’s a lot to be said for simple design and easy-to-read fonts. There’s a handy panel of ‘Cook’s notes’ with the preparation and cook times specified; a list of equipment (Mary keeps it simple with two sandwich tins and an electric mixer); nutritional values; and even shopping tips. Mary suggests saving time, for example, by buying ready-cut circles of greaseproof or nonstick baking parchment. There’s also a reference to a ‘techniques’ page detailing how to crack an egg – told you this was foolproof.
Mary favours a simple all-in-one method but even this is given great detail. “The tins must be greased evenly,” she says “or else the cakes won’t rise properly”; “do not use low-fat spread [in the cake] because its water content is too high”; “if [the cake] is golden but soft in the centre, lay a sheet of foil over it and cook for an extra 5-10 minutes”. This is the sort of knowledge that experience brings. The method is accompanied by images of each stage and decoration is an effortless layer of jam and sprinkling of caster sugar. One great thing that Mary also does is show that once you have mastered this basic recipe, you can adapt and create your own variations. She gives two suggestions for a lemon-cream cake and chocolate cake.
There’s also a whole picture gallery on all the sorts of basic equipment a home cook should have, notes on food safety, and a conversion chart.
Also see The experts' guide to bread making.
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