Episode 1, GBBO 2013, Signature Bake

A Sandwich Cake

I’m so excited to be starting another season of My Great British Baking Challenge. Over the next eight months or so, I’ll be baking my way through all the challenges in the 2013 season of The Great British Baking Show (Collection 2 on Netfix, The Great British Bake Off Series 4 in the U.K.). If you want to catch up on why I’m doing it and how, check out my introduction here. If you’re confused as to why the seasons are numbered differently in the U.S. than they are in the U.K. (and why it goes by different names in each country, read my explanation here.

As with most seasons (except for 2018 for some reason), the first episode is Cake Week, and the Signature Challenge this time is a sandwich cake. That could mean anything from a simple Victoria sponge to a multilayered cake, but Mary Berry said she wanted to see “something different.” Most of the contestants in the Great White Tent made classic round cakes, except for Frances, who took the sandwich theme quite literally and made a cake in the shape of a sandwich, with raspberry and rose jam in the middle!

Perhaps I’m still in the Christmas spirit (Epiphany was only a few days ago, after all), but having just discovered cranberry curd this holiday season, I wanted just one more excuse to incorporate this wonderful, fuschia-hued, tastebud-tickling delight into my baking repertoire. Looking for the right cake to pair it with, I stumbled upon Mary Berry’s spiced whole orange cake with orange mascarpone icing. Orange and cranberry is a classic combination, and the addition of spices would make the whole cake smell and taste very Christmas-y. 

Have you ever boiled a whole orange? Me neither, but that’s what this recipe has you do. After boiling it for about half an hour, the peel is soft enough that you can cut it up and stick it in a food processor (or blender) and the whole thing reduces to a slightly chunky pulp. I wonder if the boiling process also removes some of the bitterness from the pith.

Setting aside 2 tablespoons for the icing, you add the pulp to the rest of the cake ingredients. This is one of Mary’s all-in-one cake recipes, where she has you put all the ingredients into a food processor and blend together, rather than creaming the butter and sugar together before adding everything else. My only problem is that I don’t have a proper food processor, so I used my mixer instead.

Her recipe also calls for baking spread (basically margarine), for which I used butter, and self-raising flour, which I substituted with flour and baking powder. In my research on self-raising flour (which is what they call it in Britain), I found that it differs from the American self-rising flour in that there is no added salt in the British version. (Leave it to Americans to add salt to everything!) I also found different ratios of flour to baking powder when making your own but came up with an average of 1½ t. baking powder per cup (approx. 135 g.) of flour. 

Rather than use two 8-inch cake pans like the recipe specifies, I used three 6-inch pans. That way, I didn’t have to split the layers horizontally as the recipe instructs. It just made for a slightly taller cake with a smaller diameter. I also decided to make it my first semi-naked cake!

I baked the cake the night before assembling it and made the decorations a day ahead, as well. Mary’s recipe uses candied orange peel on top, but I decided to also make sugared cranberries and rosemary sprigs to give the cake an even more festive appearance. I followed Mary’s instructions for candying the orange peel, and then used the directions for sugaring cranberries and rosemary that I found on BlueBowlRecipes.com with a recipe for gingerbread cake. 

I already had a batch of cranberry curd in the fridge (I had given small jars of it to friends as Christmas gifts and still had some left over!), but I will share with you the recipe I adapted from The New York Times with the cake recipe below.

Smooth the sides and decorate!
Spread frosting on the top layer.

I followed the recipe for the icing that goes with Mary’s cake, but I ended up adding more powdered sugar to make it a bit stiffer. When I was ready to assemble the cake, I placed the first layer on a cardboard circle on my turntable (actually a lazy susan from IKEA), piped a circle of frosting around the edge, then filled in the circle with cranberry curd. I placed the second layer on top of the first and repeated the frosting and curd filling. Then I placed the third layer on top of that and spread frosting on the top. To achieve the semi-naked cake look, I piped around the seams between each layer and smoothed it out with my offset spatula. Then I took my icing smoother (but you can also use a dough scraper) and held it straight up and down so the blade was touching the sides of the cake. Slowly turning the turntable, I scraped off the excess icing so that the cake showed through but the icing filled all the gaps between the layers and the sides were smooth. I added a bit more icing in some spots, going back over the cake with the smoother a couple of times till I was satisfied with the overall appearance. It was a bit tricky because the frosting had some small chunks of orange pulp in it, but eventually I achieved the results I was looking for. Then I transferred the cake to a platter and arranged the sugared cranberries, candied orange peel and rosemary sprigs on top of the cake and the platter.

While I was happy with the LOOK of my cake, would I be satisfied with the taste? On the first bite, yes! The spices came through and really complemented the cranberry. The orange was a little more subtle, but I felt that the cardamom helped bring the orange forward, and the icing gave the orange flavor another pop. The only criticism I have would be that the additional baking powder I used instead of self-rising flour left a slight bitter aftertaste in the mouth. This is something Mary Berry warned about in the 2012 season, when Ryan used three leavening agents (self-rising flour, plus baking powder and baking soda) in his sticky ginger and date puddings (Series 3, Episode 6; The Beginnings on Netflix), so I was surprised that her recipe uses both self-rising flour and baking powder. If I were developing this recipe on my own, I would experiment with other ways of getting the cake to rise. On the whole, though, I thought the flavor was good.

Chai-Spiced Orange Cake with Cranberry Curd Filling

Cake and icing adapted from: BBC.co.uk
Filling adapted from: Cooking.NYTimes.com
Sugared cranberries and rosemary from: BlueBowlRecipes.com

For the cake:

  • 1 small, thin-skinned orange (such as Valencia)
  • 2½ sticks butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 c. superfine (baker’s) sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 5 t. baking powder
  • 1½ t. chai masala or mixed spice*
  • ¼ t. cardamom


    1. Grease and line the bases of three 6-inch cake pans (or two 8-inch pans) with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350°F.
    2. Cut off the stem end of the orange and place the whole orange in a small saucepan. Cover with boiling water and boil over low heat for 30 minutes or until softened. Remove orange from pan and let cool. Once it is cool enough to handle, cut it in half and remove any seeds.
    3. Roughly chop the orange and transfer it all, including the skin, to a blender or food processor. Blend until medium chunky in texture. Transfer to a bowl and set aside, reserving 2 tablespoons for the icing.
    4. If using a food processor, add the remaining cake ingredients to the food processor bowl and blend just until smooth, stirring in the orange pulp (all but the reserved 2 tablespoons) at the end. If using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and lemony yellow (about 5 minutes). Add the eggs and mix until well-incorporated. Sift the dry ingredients together and add all at once. Mix on low speed just until blended. Then stir in orange pulp.
    5. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Level the batter with an offset spatula. Bake 21-25 minutes for 3 layers (30-35 minutes for 2 layers), until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake is beginning to shrink away from the sides of the pan. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing from the cake from the pans. Leave cake on rack to cool completely.
    6. *To approximate my chai spice blend, use ½ t. cinnamon, ½ t. ginger, ¼ t. cloves and ¼ t. cardamom.

    For cranberry curd:

    • 12 ounces cranberries, fresh or frozen
    • 1 c. sugar
    • Zest and juice of 1 orange
    • ½ stick (4 T.) butter, softened
    • 2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
    • 1 T. orange liqueur (optional, but I used Cointreau)


    1. Put cranberries, sugar, and orange zest and juice (approx. ½ cup), in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until cranberries have softened and most have popped, about 10 minutes. Process the mixture with an immersion blender, food processor or blender until smooth, then press through a fine-mesh sleeve. (Reserve the pulp for another use, like these muffins: http://www.waffleandwhisk.com/search?q=pulp+muffins) Whisk the butter into the warm liquid.
    2. Put eggs and egg yolks into a bowl and beat lightly. Slowly whisk a cup of the warm cranberry liquid into the eggs to temper them, then add the rest of the liquid to the eggs and whisk them together. Using the same saucepan (wipe it out if necessary), return the liquid to the pan and cook over low heat until nearly bubbling and thickened (10-15 minutes). Stir in liqueur, if using. Let cool to room temperature, covering with plastic wrap (pressing wrap against surface of curd) to prevent scum from forming.
    3. The curd can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week or longer in the freezer. This recipe makes about 2 cups, which is more than you will need for the cake. The rest can be used any way that you would normally use lemon curd. I like to freeze mine in ½-cup canning jars so I can take out just what I need at one time.

    For decorations:

    • 1 large, thin-skinned orange (like Valencia)
    • ½ c. water, divided
    • 1½ c. superfine sugar, divided
    • ½ c. cranberries, fresh or frozen
    • 5-7 sprigs fresh rosemary


      1. Using a canelle knife, zester or a sharp knife, cut long strips of the orange peel (orange part only, not the white part) and place them in a small saucepan. Cover with boiling water, add 2 T. of sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved. Continue boiling for another minute, then remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve, reserving the water and placing the orange peel on a piece of parchment or wax paper to dry slightly. Sprinkle 2 more tablespoons of sugar over them, tossing to coat. Leave in a warm, dry place until your cake is ready for assembly. If making at least a day ahead of time, let them air-dry overnight, then store in an airtight container at room temperature.
      2. Using the water reserved from the orange peel, add enough additional water to make ½ cup. Return to saucepan and add ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar to the pan. Stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Remove from heat and dip the rosemary sprigs into the water with a slotted spoon. Set aside on a plate or small pan lined with parchment paper and dry for 15 minutes. Then toss in a bowl of granulated sugar and set on a new, dry piece of parchment paper.
      3. Meanwhile, add the cranberries to the sugar syrup in the pan. Cover the pan with a dish towel and let sit for 10 minutes. Then remove the cranberries and set them on a piece of dry parchment paper. Let them dry for 15 minutes to an hour before sugaring. Toss in a bowl of granulated sugar and allow to dry. These can be made a day ahead and stored in tightly covered containers in the fridge, but it’s recommended to put a small dish of rice inside the container so they don’t become soggy. Also, because rosemary has such a strong scent, I would keep them in separate containers.

      For the icing:

      • 3½ T. butter, softened
      • 2¼ c. powdered sugar (approx.)
      • 9 ounces mascarpone cheese
      • 2 T. orange pulp, reserved from making the cake


        1. Cream the butter until smooth, then add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, until it becomes the texture of cookie dough. Add the mascarpone and beat until smooth and creamy. Add the reserved pulp and beat thoroughly. If the icing isn’t stiff enough to pipe, add more sugar, a little at a time, until it is the right consistency.

        To assemble:

        1. Place two-thirds of the icing into a piping bag with a ½-inch plain tip. Place one cake layer onto a cardboard circle (or cake plate) on a turntable and pipe a circle of icing around the edge on top of the cake. Fill in the circle with curd. Place the second layer on top of the first and pipe another circle of icing on it. Fill in the circle with curd and place the third layer on top of that. (If using two layers, you can split each one horizontally to create four layers, or just use two layers.)
        2. Spread a thick layer of icing on the top layer and smooth it out with an offset spatula. Pipe more icing around the seams of the cake layers and smooth with an icing smoother or dough scraper, turning the cake slowly as you do so. Add more icing to the sides to fill in any holes and smooth again until you’re satisfied with it. Smooth the edges of the top again, if needed.
        3. If using a cardboard base, transfer the cake to a cake plate and decorate with the sugared cranberries, candied orange peel and rosemary sprigs, as desired. If not serving immediately, store in the refrigerator.
        Next week: Angel Food Cake

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