Well! It has been a while – so long that I’ve almost forgotten how to blog! :) Since my last post in May, I’ve been to Paris twice, visited St Croix once, published a few articles (my favorites were about Picard, the French frozen food chain, and volunteering at the Champagne harvest), had my heart completely crushed, and BUM BUM BA BUM finished the manuscript for my novel! Yes, after 525 pages and a lot of angst, I finally have a first draft. It only took a year (plus, you know, five extra years of thinking about it).
I know writing a novel might sound kind of glamorous, but as any writer will tell you, the process is actually the least glamorous thing ever. I have spent the past months wearing some variation of the same outfit, working on Sundays, scribbling insane notes to myself in the middle of the night, and feeding my family on “sustenance food” (including more canned refried beans than I care to admit). Friends, it has not been pretty.
In celebration of my newfound freedom, I decided last weekend to host a Christmas tea party. I loved tea parties when I was a little girl, and now that I have a little girl (guys, she’s three!), a tea and a tree seemed like the perfect way to welcome the holiday season. I dug out the best china (#WedgwoodForLife), and our linen holiday napkins because as my wise husband said, “It’s a Christmas party – if we’re not using them now, what are we saving them for?”
The other reason I wanted to throw a tea party is because I needed an excuse to make a Victoria sponge sandwich, a cake that I discovered through my most favorite television show ever, The Great British Bakeoff. Are you guys watching it, too? In a year that has felt quite dismal, this baking competition has been a balm, depicting humanity’s best qualities of generosity and open-mindedness, and reminding us that many of life’s problems can be solved with a slice of cake and cuppa. In one of my favorite episodes, the bakers are asked to create TWELVE identical Victoria sponge sandwiches. After watching (and drooling), I had to bake one, too.
The Victoria sponge is simple to make and delightful to eat. Its two layers of structured sponge feature a sturdier crumb than American cakes, which allows them to embrace a filling of whipped cream and jam – some use raspberry; I prefer strawberry. The cake is a celebration of baking powder, which became available to British home cooks in the 1840s, and is the leavening for the rich, buttery batter.
After a lot of research, I decided upon Melissa Clark’s Victoria sponge recipe, if only because it uses all-purpose flour, instead of the self-raising stuff that is inexplicably called for in so many British baking recipes. Whip together sugar and softened butter, add flour, baking powder, and salt, beat in eggs and a drop of milk and voilà! The hardest part about making this cake is dividing the batter evenly between the two tins.
Of course, no tea party is complete without sandwiches, and we had some of smoked salmon and of cucumber. For the latter, I called upon Felicity Cloake’s “How to Make the Perfect…” column, for the, well, perfect cucumber sandwiches. She calls for lightly salting the cucumber for 20 minutes, and heavily buttering the bread (I should have used more), and the result is, indeed, delicious. (They would have been perfect if my bread hadn’t been slightly stale at the corners, and that’s because I used the the leftover white bread from my Thanksgiving stuffing, I ADMIT IT.)
Scones are the final afternoon tea essential, and I even found clotted cream to heap upon them. After extensive research and deliberation, I chose Sophie Grigson’s buttermilk scone recipe. But I think I added too much liquid and they went awry. Instead of a crumbly texture, they were flat, moist, and slightly chewy. I’ve still got half a jar of clotted cream in the fridge, so send me your favorite recipe for British scones (or should I say scons?), if you have one.
Or maybe next time I’ll just serve the toy cakes?
Happy holidays! I hope to be seeing you here a lot more often.