The Vintage Cookie

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

In Search of Vintage Kitchens: Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens

This summer I am faced with the task of renovating the 1980s era kitchen in the 1920s era extension to my 1810s era house in Old Town, Alexandria. An exciting, and daunting, task for the Vintage Cookie. So, I shall start with my favorite activity - hands on research.

Today I visited Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens today. ( This was the home of  Marjorie Merriweather Post, the American heiress and businesswoman who built Post Cereals into General Foods (with the help of her second husband, E.F. Hutton.) I doubt if Ms. Post spent much time in the huge, key-lime-pie green and lemon-curd  yellow kitchen in the estate, but I did. It is a fabulous, totally over-the-top version of a 1950s metal cabinet kitchen. The cabinetry is all painted metal, in green, with yellow painted walls and light grey formica countertops, edged in extruded metal. Don't think it will work in my house - but if you are interested in mid-century kitchens, go, go, go. You will rarely find a kitchen of this vintage so beautifully preserved.

The gardens, house and collections are also worth seeing - totally feminine, totally confident. Loved them. Didn't get a lot of time to look at the beautiful objects, as I went through the house with the 4-year-old. But we did enjoy the gardens a great deal.

Welcome to the Vintage Cookie - a personal guide to history and food

If you enjoy this blog, you may also enjoy a visit to The Vintage Cookie at Eclectic Nature, 1503 Mount Vernon Avenue in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria VA (22301 zip). At The Vintage Cookie I offer for sale a range of vintage and vintage-inspired items - cookbooks, dishes, cocktail and serving pieces, kitchen equipment, aprons, tea cosies, tea pots, tea sets, art, lighting, and decorative objects.

I also propose on this blog to exploit the Amazon Associates program to the fullest, providing links to books and other items I have found particularly useful and praiseworthy. Some of these items are also for sale at The Vintage Cookie in Del Ray. However, through Amazon I am able to provide access to a much wider array of new products then I could afford to carry in stock. For the vintage and antique items I have available, please visit Eclectic Nature, where you will find The Vintage Cookie, as well as other dealers in fun and beautiful objects, as well as a lovely garden center and nursery.

Today I present one of my favorite recipes - The Victoria Sandwich.

This recipe, which dates from the middle of the nineteenth century, is one of the earliest recipes to use baking powder; hence the name - a new kind of cake in honor of the Queen. Fundamentally, this is a pound cake with baking powder. This cake is indispensable to a proper British tea tray. It is also super quick, and super easy to remember. According to The London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea, "it should be every child's first recipe." I made this cake yesterday, to celebrate my birthday, from memory, start to finish in under three hours.

For a Victoria Sandwich you will need a cake, jam (strawberry is traditional, raspberry is also very good), and vanilla butter cream frosting.

The cake:
For this recipe you will need a kitchen scale and a 7" or 8" cake pan. If you don't own a kitchen scale, buy one now.

Butter and flour your favorite cake pan (or use Pam for Baking or some similar product.). You can line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment if your pan doesn't release easily. I find my cake pans differ. I have a lovely heavy gauge, non-stick 7" diameter pan from Williams-Sonoma which releases like a dream, even without the parchment liner. My larger 8" diameter pans require a liner.

Weigh two eggs, with the shells on. If you use large eggs, you will find they way about 2 ozs. each
Weigh out sugar to equal the weight of the eggs, set aside (or 100 gms/4 ozs/half cup).
Weigh out self-rising flour to equal the weight of the eggs, set aside (or 100 gms/4 ozs/1 cup).
Weight out unsalted butter to equal the weight of the eggs, set aside (or 100 gms/4 ozs/half cup).

Get out the vanilla and put it on the counter so you don't forget it. The vanilla is optional; it is not a traditional 19th century flavor, and the Ritz recipe omits it, but I like it.

Let all the ingredients come to "room temperature." Actually, the butter should be about 63 deg. Fahrenheit, everything else about the same or a little warmer.

Preheat oven to 375 deg Fahrenheit.

Put butter and flour into the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat together at low speed (using the paddle attachment) for about 1 minutes. Scrape the bowl at least once. Add sugar slowly, beat for another minute. Scrape the bowl after the last sugar has been added. Meanwhile, break eggs into a bowl and whisk lightly to break up. Whisk 1 tsp of vanilla into eggs. Increase speed on mixer to medium-fast, slowly pour in eggs. After all eggs are added, beat for three minutes. Again, scrape the bowl at least once to ensure complete mixing. The batter should be completely smooth.

Creaming the flour and butter first creates a finer textured cake. If you want a bigger, more rustic crumb you can cream the sugar and butter first, then add eggs, then the flour last.

Scoop the thick batter into the prepared cake pan. Smooth batter in pan, dishing the batter so that the center is slightly depressed OR if you have Bake Even Strips spread batter evenly and wrap the dampened strips around the pans and fasten.

Place the filled pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, check the cake. It should bounce back when lightly touched in center, and a toothpick or bamboo skewer inserted into center of cake should come out clean. If the cake is not done, bake another five minutes and check again, and so on. When cake is done, it may or may not have pulled away from sides of pan. (It will do so on cooling).

When the cake is done, remove the pan from oven. After 5 minutes, carefully upturn onto wire rack, then use second wire rack to get cake sitting right side up. Let the cake cool before assembling the Sandwich.

Vanilla Butter cream frosting:

Frosting is optional. The Ritz recipe for the classic Victoria Sandwich is only cake and jam. However, when traveling in Great Britain I find that a Victoria Sandwich invariably includes a layer of butter cream frosting. Although the following frosting is an American style frosting, it closely replicates the taste and texture of frosting in the Victoria Sandwich you are likely to be served in a local tea shop. This frosting is based on a recipe in the April/May 2010 issue of Cook's Country. This frosting recipe also has the dual virtues of being dead easy and dead easy to remember, and it works great on cupcakes. It also scales up well, if you want to make more.

1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, warmed to about 63 deg Fahrenheit
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 TBS heavy cream
1/8 tsp salt (optional)

Place butter in bowl of stand mixer with paddle attachment. Break up butter at low speed. Add cream and vanilla and increase speed to medium. When smooth, add sugar and salt. Beat for 3 minutes.

To assemble the Victoria Sandwich:

Carefully slice the cooled cake horizontally into two layers. I am a complete wuss and I use an inexpensive wire cake leveling gizmo from Wilton that cuts the cake absolutely flat. You can use a serrated bread knife if you are brave and have a steady hand.

Spread the bottom layer of cake with about 1/3 cup of jam - you can use more or less according to taste. Then spread on the butter cream frosting. Top with the top layer of cake.

If you are feeling fancy, dust the top of the cake with a little confectioner's sugar. You can even use a stencil or doily to make a design. If you are not feeling fancy, don't bother. You may also pass whipped cream when you serve the cake, if you wish. I often serve the cake with whipped cream if I am serving it for dessert, but not when I serve it with tea - but that is just my taste.

Cut cake into wedges and serve. Enjoy.

Woke up this morning and decided to test my own recipe - I had not baked the cake in the 8" pan since switching creaming methods. Cake baked up too light, then collapsed. Not enough structure in the 8" pan. Stay tuned for further updates. (Ran out of butter for testing.)