Episode 10, GBBO 2014, technical challenge

The Trifecta of Classic British Bakes

Mini Victoria Sandwiches, Lemon Tartlets and Scones

Clearly, scones and the Victoria sandwich are quintessentially British (although the word scone may be derived from the Middle Dutch word schoonbrood — among other theories — meaning “fine white bread,” but even that probably arrived in the British lexicon by way of Scotland). The lemon tart, on the other hand, could be considered more of a mongrel in terms of its origins.

Lemons traveled the Silk Route from India — where they’ve been cultivated for more than 2,500 years — through the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean, arriving in Europe around 200 AD. Some thousand years later, it was Queen Eleanor, wife of England’s Edward I, whose longing for the fruits of her youth in Castile (now part of Spain) brought 15 lemons, 7 oranges and 230 pomegranates to England in 1289.

Apparently, lemon curd was developed in England in the 18th century by Quakers and brought to America in 1774 by the Shakers, a breakaway sect of the Quakers. An American cook, Elizabeth Goodwell, is credited with the first known written recipe, in 1806, for lemon custard pie with a pastry crust. From there, it seems to have traveled full circle to France, where lemon tarts (aka tartes au citron) began proliferating in restaurants and patisseries in the 19th century. Still, the lemon tart has roots in Britain, so I’m calling this challenge the Trifecta of Classic British Bakes.

This “back to basics” challenge may seem simple enough, but it takes a lot of knowledge and time management skills to juggle three bakes at once — let alone with a pared-down recipe containing very little instruction. The bakers in the Great White Tent had to know how to: (1) make jam, (2) make a Victoria sponge, (3) make short crust pastry, (4) make lemon custard, (5) make perfect scones, and (6) accomplish all of it in two hours.

Having spent nine weeks under the steely glare of Paul Hollywood and the motherly but perfectionist gaze of Mary Berry, however, these bakers had proved themselves worthy of the challenge. Yes, they hit some bumps in the road — Richard had never made lemon tarts before and ended up scrambling the custard, and Luis had some problems with his pastry crust — but they all accomplished the task at hand, albeit some with better results than others. (In the end, Nancy’s were deemed the best. The only criticism Mary could come up with was that she hadn’t piped the whipped cream onto her Victoria sandwiches.)

I took notes on how the bakers multitasked so I could follow their lead. Here’s the order in which they accomplished this trio of bakes:

  1. Make pastry dough and chill.
  2. Make strawberry jam for Victoria sandwiches.
  3. Make Victoria sponges.
  4. Roll out pastry dough for tartlets and blind bake them.
  5. Make scones.
  6. Make lemon custard.
  7. Fill and bake tartlets.
  8. Whip the cream for Victoria sandwiches.
  9. Assemble Victoria sandwiches.
  10. Decorate tarts with chocolate piping.

As always, it took me longer than the time they were allotted, but I was pretty proud of my results. Not having the individual tart and cake pans they used, I improvised by using muffin tins. That means my lemon tartlets were smaller than theirs. My custard had a few cracks and bubbles on top, but they weren’t completely scrambled. My scones got a good rise, but Mary probably would have said they were too pale. (Also, the last few that I had to cut from mushed together scraps of dough kind of fell apart when they baked.) The only problem with my Victoria sandwiches is that I didn’t whip my cream enough, so it was rather droopy. 

I love making things in miniature because they’re fun and easy to share. The Victoria sandwiches and lemon tartlets were a hit with my neighbors as well as my fellow Great British Bake Off fans, Lori and Dan. I confess that I kept all the scones for myself and my husband to enjoy for breakfast, but their petite size would be perfect for an afternoon tea with friends. 

Links to each of these recipes can be found here, here and here, but I’ve adapted them for American bakers below.

RECIPE NOTES: I have specified extra-large eggs for these recipes because they are the U.S. equivalent of large eggs in the UK. In recipes that call for fewer than four eggs, the size of eggs used often won’t make much difference in the results, but there are exceptions. For instance, a Victoria sponge is traditionally made with equal weights of flour, sugar, eggs and butter. Therefore, the size of the eggs used can throw off the ratio. 

TROUBLESHOOTING GUIDE: In looking over my photos, I realize now just how many bubbles my lemon tarts had (although a dusting of powdered sugar goes a long way in hiding them!). I did a little research, and found this helpful article, which recommends stirring the eggs and sugar together rather than whisking, then letting it sit for half an hour to let the sugar dissolve, stirring occasionally, before adding the cream, lemon juice and zest. It also suggests skimming off any air bubbles before pouring the mixture into the tart shells. I will definitely try that next time!

Mary Berry’s Mini Victoria Sandwiches

Credit: BBC.co.uk
(Adapted for American bakers)

For the jam:

  • 1 lb. strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 2 c. + 2 T. sugar
  • 1½ t. pectin (like Sure-Jell)

    For the sponge:

    • ¾ c. unsalted butter, room temperature
    • ¾ c. + 2 T. superfine (baker’s) sugar
    • 3 extra-large eggs, beaten
    • 1 t. vanilla extract
    • 1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
    • 2 t. baking powder

      For assembly:

      • 1 c. heavy cream
      • Powdered sugar, for dusting

        Directions

        1. To make the jam, place strawberries in a large saucepan and crush with a potato masher. Stir the pectin into the sugar and add to the saucepan. Heat gently, stirring continuously, until the sugar dissolves.
        2. Keep stirring, increasing the heat, until it comes to a full rolling boil — one that bubbles vigorously, rises in the pan and cannot be stirred down. Boil for four minutes. (For a firmer set, bring to 220°F.) Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
        3. Next, make the cakes: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease 12 individual cake tins. (I used a standard-size muffin pan, placing a circle of parchment paper in the bottom of each cavity.)
        4. Cream butter and sugar together until the mixture is pale and light. Add the beaten eggs in three or four increments, mixing well between each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time. Add vanilla extract and mix to combine.
        5. Sift flour and baking powder into the bowl and fold in until the mixture is glossy and smooth. Divide the mixture between the cake pans and level with a spoon.
        6. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 15 minutes or until golden-brown and springy to the touch. Leave cakes to cool in the pan for two minutes and then ease onto a wire cooling rack and let cool completely.
        7. Right before serving, cut each cake in half horizontally with a serrated knife. Whip the cream to stiff peaks and spoon into a piping bag fitted with a small plain nozzle. Pipe one dollop of cream in the middle of each cake base and smaller dots around the edges. Drizzle about a teaspoon of jam over the cream, then place the cake tops on and lightly sift powdered sugar over the cakes.

        Mary Berry’s Individual Lemon Tartlets

        Credit: BBC.co.uk
        (Adapted for American bakers)
        See troubleshooting guide (above recipes) for helpful hints to avoid ending up with bubbles on top of your tarts.

        For the pastry:

        • 1 1/3 c. + 1 T. all-purpose flour
        • 7 T. cold butter, cut into small cubes
        • 2 T. powdered sugar
        • 1 egg yolk
        • 1 T. cold water

          For the filling:

          • 4 extra-large eggs
          • 3½ fl. oz. (7 T.) heavy cream
          • ¾ c. superfine (baker’s) sugar
          • Zest and juice of 3 lemons

            For the decoration:

            • 3½ oz. chocolate (36% cocoa solids), chopped
            • powdered sugar, for dusting

              Directions

              1. To make the the pastry, place flour, butter and powdered sugar into a food processor. Pulse briefly until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then add the egg yolk and cold water. Pulse again until the mixture sticks together in clumps, then tip it onto a work surface and gather it into a ball with your hands. (If you don’t have a food processor, use a hand pastry blender or fork to cut in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs, then mix gently with a fork.)
              2. Knead the pastry briefly to bring it into a smooth ball. Flatten it into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.
              3. Grease 12, 3-inch fluted tart tins. (Alternatively, grease a 12-cup muffin tin.) Roll out the pastry to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut out circles with a 4-inch round cutter and use to line the tins, re-rolling the pastry to cut more, as needed. (If using a standard-size muffin tin, use a 3½-inch fluted cutter. I also cut 24 strips of parchment, about ½ inch by 6 inches, and placed two of them crosswise in each cavity of the muffin tin. This helped me center the pastry circles in each cavity and remove the tarts after they were baked.) Place pastry shells in the fridge to chill.
              4. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place a piece of foil or parchment inside each pastry shell and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 7 minutes, then remove the parchment and weights. Return the pastry shells to the oven for another 4-5 minutes or until they are light golden-brown and completely dry. Set aside to cool while you make the filling. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.
              5. To make the filling, break the eggs into a large bowl and whisk together with a wire whisk. Add the rest of the filling ingredients and whisk again until well-combined. Pour filling mixture into a measuring pitcher. To prevent spilling, place the tart pans on a baking sheet and partially fill the cooled baked pastry shells with the filling, carefully transfer the baking sheet and tarts to the oven shelf, then top up with the rest of the filling to completely fill the shells. (Be careful not to overfill so it doesn’t spill over the edge!)
              6. Bake for about 7 minutes, or until just set but with a slight wobble in the center. Leave in pan to cool slightly, then carefully ease the tartlets from their tins and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
              7. For decoration, melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. (Do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the surface of the water.) (Alternatively, melt chocolate in microwave, following package directions.) Spoon melted chocolate into a small piping bag fitted with a writing tip. Pipe the word ‘citron’ or a decoration of your choice on top of the tarts.

              Mary Berry’s Teatime Scones

              Credit: PBS.org
              (Adapted for American bakers)

              Ingredients

              • 2 c. all-purpose flour
              • 1 T. + 1 rounded teaspoon baking powder
              • 3 T. softened butter
              • 2 T. superfine (baker’s) sugar
              • 1 extra-large egg
              • 3-4 T. milk

                Directions

                1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Put flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub it in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.
                2. Beat the egg in a measuring pitcher. Add enough milk to make 3½ fl. oz. (7 tablespoons) of liquid. (This should be 3 to 4 tablespoons of milk, depending on the size of the egg.) Stir until well-blended, then set aside 1 tablespoon of the mixture for glazing the scones later.
                3. Gradually add the remaining egg and milk mixture to the butter and flour mixture, stirring until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough.
                4. Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and pat out until it is about ¾ inch thick. Use a 1½-inch fluted cutter to cut out the scones. (Make sure you don’t twist the cutter or the scones will not rise evenly.) Gently gather the trimmings together and pat out again to cut out more scones. Arrange the scones on a greased baking sheet and brush the tops with the reserved egg-milk mixture.
                5. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until well risen and golden-brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. To serve, cut each scone in half and top with strawberry jam and clotted or whipped cream.

                Next week: Pièce Montée

                2 thoughts on “The Trifecta of Classic British Bakes”

                Leave a Reply

                Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

                WordPress.com Logo

                You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

                Google photo

                You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

                Twitter picture

                You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

                Facebook photo

                You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

                Connecting to %s