Food for Thought: Mrs Beeton’s Sponge

In 1861 the kitchen belonged to the women of the house, without exception.

Isabel Beeton compiled and documented how to run the perfect house and although at the time this would include servants, animal husbandry and religion, she is most famous for her early contribution to food. Beeton had vision and confidence in the kitchen. She educated herself on how and what to cook and then published this guide to help all women succeed in running the perfect home. Confidence in the kitchen is definitely the difference between a chef and a humble home cook but this distinction can be changed with some kitchen tips allowing us to cook without hesitation and in fact bake with the conviction of Mrs Beeton herself. One of the hardest things to master in the kitchen is rice. Some cooks wash the rice until the water runs clear, others soak the rice overnight before cooking and some simply boil in water until tender. The perfect rice for me is pilaf. A perfect combination of the absorption method and allowing an extra hit of flavour – it is almost a dish in itself! My trick to getting this perfect every time is using one cup of rice to every two cups of stock or water. Sweat onions and garlic off in butter and then add rice and stock, allowing it to come to the boil on the stove then place in the oven for exactly 20 minutes with a lid. Once removed and allowed to rest for five minutes the rice is perfectly fluffy and full of flavour. Béchamel or white sauce is something that can be a make or break to the home cooks, repertoire. Mastering a roux can allow you to thicken sauces, pie mixtures or Béchamel without leaving the horrible taste of raw flour or worst of all, lumps. The perfect roux is made from equal quantities of flour and butter and cooked out slowly over a low heat, allowing the flour time to cook. No lumps come from adding cold milk to the hot roux and whisking the milk in a third at a time. My favourite trick in the kitchen is a recipe inspired from Mrs Beeton’s guide to housekeeping, the famous Victorian sponge. Baking is a precise task and a recipe is most always called for, but this cake is made from the weight of the eggs in their shell, allowing you to bake at a moment’s notice and with no need to search for a recipe. Once mastered, this cake becomes a base for your favourite flavour combinations. Although it is hard to beat the combination of raspberry jam and whipped cream, some things can simply never be improved on.


Ingredients 4 eggs Butter – at room temperature Sugar Plain flour Milk 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 teaspoon salt Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. 2. Weigh the eggs in their shell. 3. Take the weight of the eggs and weigh out the exact same weight for the butter, sugar, flour and milk. 4. In the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. 5. On a medium speed add the first egg followed by one tablespoon of the sifted flour. Mix until the mixture is combined. Repeat this process for the remaining three eggs. 6. Stop the mixer and add the remaining flour milk, vanilla and salt, start the mixer on a slow speed until combined and then mix on a medium speed for 30 seconds. Be careful not to over mix, you just want the batter to come together. 7. Pour into a 20cm greased cake tin lined with greaseproof paper and bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. 8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, and then gently remove to a cooling rack. 9. When completely cool, slice in half allowing you to sandwich them back together with your favourite filling. 10. Raspberry jam and whipped cream with vanilla pods is the traditional filling and with the compulsory dusting of icing sugar.

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