Darina Allen: The best Victoria Sponge you'll ever taste

— plus some handy tricks for making the perfect Brown Irish Soda Bread
Darina Allen: The best Victoria Sponge you'll ever taste

Victoria sponge cake: 'the best you’ll ever taste, still my favourite to serve with afternoon tea'

My father had an innate respect and admiration for women. He was so proud of Mummy, a mother of nine who, by any standard, was a wonderful homemaker who dedicated her early life solely to looking after all of us and my father whom she adored. (I don’t use that term loosely). 

Looking back, she was a totally liberated woman. How fortunate were we that she loved cooking and saw it not only as a way of nourishing us all, but bringing joy and excitement into our lives on a daily basis. Later, when my father died she took over the running of the business despite having no training.

Her skill set was pretty awe-inspiring. She made most of our clothes, wonderful dresses for me, serge dungarees for all of us — boys and girls — for after-school play. I always remember a tartan circular skirt she made for one of my birthdays. I was the envy of all my school friends.

And then there were the fluffy angora boleros — I doubt if any if you know what I am talking about! She taught me how to sew and embroider, lazy daisies, French knots and chain stitch onto tray cloths, how to use a sewing machine, how to sow seeds and fill hanging baskets. 

The kitchen garden produced vegetables year-round: currants and berries in summer, and several varieties of apple in the autumn. Daddy made sure she had help in both the house and garden. I remember, local people spoke about how lucky those girls and lads were to be working alongside Mummy.

As a child, this was my norm. We also had a flock of hens, chickens were reared for the table and a Kerry cow produced raw milk for the house. I’ve just remembered that she also made hand-made floor rugs, did tapestry fire screens and candlewick bed-spreads which were all the rage at that time. 

Here are some of Mum’s favourite recipes:

Perfect brown soda bread

recipe by:Michelle Darmody

This modern soda bread couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin - enjoy with wild garlic butter

Perfect brown soda bread

Servings

8

Preparation Time

15 mins

Cooking Time

60 mins

Total Time

1 hours 15 mins

Course

Baking

Ingredients

  • 400g stoneground wholemeal flour

  • 75g white flour, preferably unbleached

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1 level tsp bread soda, sieved 

  • 1 egg

  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil, unscented

  • 1 tsp honey or treacle

  • 425ml buttermilk or sour milk

  • sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200ºC.

  2. Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well.

  3. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk.

  4. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy.

  5. Pour into an oiled tin or tins. Using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle.

  6. Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top.

  7. Bake for 60 minutes approximately (45-50 minutes for small loaf tins), or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Victoria sponge

recipe by:Darina Allen

This buttery sponge, the best you’ll ever taste, is still my favourite to serve with afternoon tea. It keeps brilliantly and it’s even more delicious if you add some softly-whipped cream and fresh raspberries, in season, as well as the jam

Victoria sponge

Servings

10

Preparation Time

15 mins

Cooking Time

20 mins

Total Time

35 mins

Course

Baking

Ingredients

  • 125g butter

  • 175g caster sugar

  • 3 eggs

  • 175g flour

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • 1 tbsp milk

  • For the filling:

  • 110g homemade raspberry jam

  • 300ml whipped cream

  • caster sugar, to sprinkle

  • 2 x 7 inch (18cm) sponge cake tins

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C. Grease the tin with melted butter, dust with flour and line the base of each with a round of greaseproof paper.

  2. Cream the butter and gradually add the caster sugar, beat until soft and light and quite pale in colour.

  3. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well between each addition.

  4. Sieve the flour and baking powder and stir in gradually. Mix all together lightly and add the milk to moisten.

  5. Divide the mixture evenly between the 2 tins, hollowing it slightly in the centre. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked — the cake will shrink in slightly from the edge of the tin when it is cooked, the centre should feel exactly the same texture as the edge. Alternatively, a skewer should come out clean when put into the centre of the cake. Turn out onto a wire tray and allow to cool.

  6. Sandwich the two bases together with homemade raspberry jam and whipped cream. Sprinkle with sieved caster sugar. 

Queen of puddings

recipe by:Darina Allen

This retro afternoon treat is a creamy delight with a hint of vanilla and zesty twist for added flavour

Queen of puddings

Servings

6

Preparation Time

20 mins

Cooking Time

40 mins

Total Time

60 mins

Course

Baking

Ingredients

  • 600ml whole milk

  • 50g butter

  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

  • 150g white breadcrumbs

  • grated zest of 1 lemon

  • 25g caster sugar

  • 3 eggs, separated

  • 110g caster sugar, plus 2 tsp for sprinkling

  • 3 tbsp raspberry jam

  • Equipment:

  • 1 1.2l (2 pint) pie dish

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and grease the pie dish.

  2. Put the milk and butter into a saucepan, bring almost to boiling point, and add the vanilla extract. Mix the breadcrumbs with the lemon zest and sugar. Stir in the hot milk, leave for about 10 minutes. Whisk in the egg yolks one by one.

  3. Pour into the pie dish and bake for about 25 minutes or until just set. Remove from the oven.

  4. Whisk the egg whites in a spotlessly clean, grease-free bowl. When it is just becoming fluffy, add half the sugar. Continue to whisk until it holds a stiffish peak. Fold in the rest of the sugar.

  5. Warm the jam slightly. Spread very gently over the surface of the custard. Pile the meringue on top in soft folds. Sprinkle sugar over the top.

  6. Return to the oven and cook for 15 minutes or until the meringue is pale gold and crisp on top. Serve with pouring cream.

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