I always thought that the term "a spot of tea" was reserved for really contrived conversations in fake Cockney accents. Boy was I wrong. Not only to British subjects (that includes you, Canada) enjoy tea, but they seem to have the ability to suck a spot of it down at any time. To be honest, I don't understand the big attraction to the stuff. To me, it's just warm, slightly flavoured water. Long Island Ice tea is pretty good, but I don't think that's the same thing. At all.
The one thing I can get behind is tea time - a mystical point in the day were people throw off the shackles of their oppressors to drink out of dainty cups and eat munchkin sized side-dishes. I'm seriously in love with those little finger sandwiches. Not only do they dispose of the crusts, but they cut them into perfect little triangles. And, as you know, triangles make any food taste better. I wonder if they cut the little cucumbers inside into triangles as well? I'm sure it's not good manners to dissect your food anyway, so I doubt I'll ever be able to find out.
Beyond sandwiches, the mini tea cakes are seriously where it's at. That's why, for this leg of the journey around the world (of cake), I decided to recreate tea time in England.
The Victorian Sandwich Cakes
So what is it?
Think of the best sponge cake you've ever had. Light, fluffy, and the right amount of sweetness. Now plop some tart lemon curd on top of it. Pretty good so far, yeah? Well, what if we take some vanilla bean buttercream and add that do your sweet pile of goodness? Oh yeah. That's right baby. Did I mention this is totally in mini sandwich form? I dare you to pop the whole thing in your mouth. I think think Queen Victoria would have wanted it that way.
When did it first pop out of the oven?
Teatime was a Victorian creation - along with photographs, bicycles, and the first flushing toilet. The Queen found herself needing a bit of a pick-me-up between lunch and supper (probably because of all the naughty things her and Albert were into). To get back her energy, Victoria was served her tea with a variety of sandwiches and light cakes. Sponge cakes with filling were featured heavily during her little tea parties and, since then, have become incredibly popular as light little snack cakes.
Is it worth my time?
Baking a sandwich cake is a bit time consuming - especially when it has two different types of fillings. Baking these in a cupcake tin lowers the baking time a bit, but still gives you the same results. These cakes are elegant and impressive - perfect for a lady's birthday or for a really nerdy steampunk party.
Got a recipe?
Victorian Sandwich Cakes
Makes about 12 mini cakes
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
3 eggs (separated)
1 1/2 cake flour
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1) Butter the cupcake pan and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) Cream the butter and sugar together with a mixer until really light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and mix some more. In a separate bowl, whip up the egg yolks until light yellow. Add to your butter mixture and mix it together with a wooden spoon. Sift in the flour and mix together - the batter will be really stiff, but don't worry, we'll fix that later. In another bowl, whisk your egg whites until they've reached stiff peaks. Take about a quarter of the egg white and stir it into the batter to lighten it up. Take the rest of the egg whites and carefully fold it into the batter until everything has just begun to come together. Slowly fold in the heavy cream.
3) Spoon two hefty tablespoons of batter to each cupcake tin. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until your cakes are golden and your cupcake tester comes out clean. Set out to cool before frosting.
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup and 2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 Tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 Tablespoon cornstarch
1) In an saucepan, whisk together the butter, sugar, juice, and zest over low heat and cook for about five minutes. Add the eggs and cornstarch, whisking briskly to combine, and continue to cook while stirring for about 5 to 7 minutes. At this point the mixture will thicken. Remove from heat, pour into a large bowl, and cover tightly with a piece of plastic wrap. Make sure the wrap is touching the top of the curd, or a real nasty skin will form while cooling. Cool in the fridge for at least one hour before using.
Vanilla Bean Buttercream
1 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
pinch of salt
1) In a mixing bowl, whip up the butter until light and fluffy. Add the extract, the salt, and the bean scrapings and mix some more. Slowly add the confectioner's sugar until you've reached your desired thickness and sweetness. (I believe I used around a cup and a half)
Take two cakes - spread the cooled curd on one side and buttercream on the other. Sandwich the two cakes together and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Enjoy with a spot of tea.