VICTORIA SPONGE CAKE

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Another trip to Portland, Maine has come and gone, and once again I’m counting down the days until Alex and I can return. This being our third time visiting Portland, we went with the plan of hitting up our favorite spots that we miss while back at home (Bonobo for our favorite pizza, Belleville for the best croissants I’ve ever had, Ruski’s for drinks, etc.), but made it a point to try things that we never had time to try on prior trips. And thanks to finally having a rental car, we were able to leave the peninsula and see places that I always had wished to.

Among these must-see places were: Palace Diner in Biddeford for a perfect breakfast set in a 15-seat dining car; driving up to Yarmouth to check out More and Co. - a shop that sells amazing ceramics and glassware.; and hiking around Mackworth Island, where fairies apparently live (don’t ask). But most importantly, with a car, we were able to make the trek up north to see Mount Desert Island, home to Acadia National Park. Since we only spent one night in MDI, I don’t have that many tips** on what to do or see (besides the basic tourist-y locations in the park), and therefore, I won’t be giving a guide for MDI. BUT, I did update my Portland City Guide post and added some new spots that I deemed worthy of checking out, with a few of them being a short car ride away from the peninsula.

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And now, it’s time for baking again. Leading up to our trip to Maine and the week after we came home, I tried my best to eat as “cleanly” as possible. This pretty much meant no sweets, dairy, or alcohol, which was a lot easier than I thought it would be especially since Alex joined me in on this “detox”. But it also meant taking a mini break away from the blog because what fun is it to post something for you guys when I can’t eat it? No fun at all.

Today’s recipe is for a cake that I didn’t even know existed until watching an episode of the Great British Bake Off - the only baking competition show that I enjoy and cherish. I won’t go into detail about the show because I’m sure most of you have at least heard about it, but if you haven’t given the show a watch yet, I strongly recommend you do so (all the episodes are available on Netflix). In one of the season finales, the remaining three contestants had to make a quintessential British cake called a Victoria Sandwich, also known as a Victoria sponge cake. This very traditional layer cake has been around since the Victorian era and is essentially two sponge cakes with raspberry jam and/or a whipped cream OR buttercream frosting sandwiched between, with a generous dusting of confectioners’ sugar on top.

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There is much debate on what is most traditional - having a whipped cream or buttercream frosting filling - and after some research, it honestly seems like it’s split down the middle. On the GBBO, the contestants were asked to make one of the judge’s, Mary Berry, version of the simple cake, with raspberry jam and a buttercream frosting. But today, I am giving you a recipe with a whipped cream filling and instead of raspberry, a strawberry jam. I felt like adding a buttercream frosting would make the cake too decadent and I wanted my cake to be more reminiscent of a strawberry shortcake, which is light and fresh. As for using strawberry jam instead of raspberry, that’s due to my preference over the two as well as how amazing the strawberries have been recently at my local farmers market. Therefore, I also added fresh strawberries to the filling, which definitely isn’t the standard, but I think a welcomed addition.

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This recipe is kind of perfect to me due to the fact that it is equal parts easy to bake, beautiful to look at, and insanely delicious. Those three vital components are what I look for in recipes and its those dishes that I continue to bake time and time again. The cake layers come together rather quickly (only bake in the oven for less than 30 minutes) and nothing is easier than making fresh whipped cream and cutting up strawberries. If you want to make your own jam, by all means go ahead, but if we really want to call this a simple and quick recipe, store bought will definitely come in handy.

The two layers of sponge cake should be as identical as possible due to the fact that there’s no hiding any flaws that would normally be covered up with frosting. Much like my carrot cake, a Victoria sponge cake is “naked” and therefore you want to make sure the layers are even so the cake looks uniform. But as for the filling, I like having it more rustic-looking with the whipped cream and jam spilling out, especially when you slice into the cake. In my opinion, I think it makes the cake look more appetizing since the ingredients are more on display. The contrast of the perfect cake layers with a “messy” filling makes it that much more beautiful.

If you’d like to go more traditional, then definitely stick with the raspberry jam, or you can fill it with any other jam/fruit that your heart desires. I plan on making a couple Victoria sponge cakes for my sister’s baby shower in July (yes, I’m going to be an aunt!) with one being filled with an assortment of berries and another filled with an in-season stone fruit like apricots or peaches.

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(*My only tip is to go to Momo’s Cheesecakes in Ellsworth, Maine. It’s a shop located in a garage that is open 24/7 with an assortment of cheesecake slices to choose from. Alex and I got a slice of blueberry cheesecake (which we immediately ate outside the garage at 10 am) and were genuinely disappointed in ourselves for not having more cash on us… it’s cash only and an honor system, meaning you drop the cash in a little box since no one is working the shop at all hours of the day. 10/10 recommend and now I kind of want to open up my own 24/7 cheesecake shop).

Victoria Sponge Cake

Yields (1) 8-inch layer cake

Recipe adapted from the New York Times

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

  • 3 1/4 tsp. baking powder

  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

  • 12 tbsp. (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. granulated sugar

  • 3 large eggs, room temperature

  • 2 tbsp. milk, whole or 2% preferably

  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup strawberry jam, homemade or store bought (no judgement!)

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar

  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 8 oz. fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced in half or quarter, depending on size (save some for garnish)

  • Confectioners’ sugar, for topping

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Set aside.

  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and kosher salt.

  3. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix fully until adding each one. Pour in the milk and mix again. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  4. With the mixer off, pour in the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Evenly distribute the batter between the two cake pans (a scale would be useful here) and smooth the tops using a spatula.

  5. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Let the cakes cool completely before adding the filling.

  6. Meanwhile, make the whipped cream. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the heavy cream, granulated sugar and vanilla extract until stiff peaks are formed.

  7. Take one of the cake layers (preferably the least attractive of the two) and place it on your desired cake stand or plate. Spread an even layer of the jam over the cake using an offset spatula or butterknife. Next, add about 3/4 of the whipped cream and spread evenly over the jam - leftover whipped cream can be used for serving. Over the whipped cream, arrange a layer of the fresh strawberries as evenly as possible. Place the second sponge cake on top and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Enjoy!

MY FAVORITE BANANA BREAD

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April has been a pretty exciting and busy month so far, but the best has yet to come. This Friday, even though I’ve lived in southern California all my life (minus college time), I am finally visiting Joshua Tree for the first time ever! How I made it almost 30 years without venturing to one of the most popular and beautiful deserts in the state (and country!) is beyond me, but I tend to make up for all that lost time by exploring and hiking around as much as humanly possible. And then… Alex and I will be landing in Portland, Maine on the last day of this month, so I’m pretty much counting down every day with too much excitement.

Today I’m sharing another one of my favorite standby recipes which I’m surprised took me so long to post: banana bread. I have a funny (re: picky) relationship with bananas: I absolutely do not like to eat them by itself mostly due to its texture, but I add them to my daily smoothies and I could live off of banana bread if I had the choice. It’s strange, I know, but I think that my dislike of bananas should be a testament to how good my banana bread is! If I could hate plain bananas, but love banana bread… I must be doing something right with this recipe.

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I don’t think there’s anything better than the smell of banana bread baking in the oven. I know a lot of people talk up the smell of fresh chocolate chip cookies, but I gotta say that the scent of fresh banana bread is up there as one of my most cherished scent “memories”. Even though the scent makes you want to eat the bread as soon as it comes out of the oven, I strongly advise against this! I come from the mindset that banana bread is 100 times better the next day and the next day after that. The longer the bread sits, the banana flavor intensifies. And speaking of bananas, I want you to wait to use your bananas until they look like fruit flies are going to eat them. Sorry for the gross visual, but the riper the bananas are, the more flavor and sweetness we’ll get from the fruit. I feel like this wait period is what sets a good banana bread from an exceptional one.

It took me a while to find my favorite version of banana bread, but the one I’m giving today is by far the best one I’ve ever come across. We all have our personal preferences when it comes to the popular loaf cake: some believe that adding chocolate chips is a must; some believe that adding yogurt or sour cream will give it the best moist texture; and some think nuts aren’t necessary. I believe that the best banana bread doesn’t have chocolate (I feel like it overpowers the banana flavor too much), needs sour cream for flavor and texture, and pecans must be added for a much needed crunch in each bite. Besides that, I don’t have any other notes or suggestions for this recipe! It’s pretty straight-forward, but trust me, it’ll quickly become a staple in your household after inhaling an entire slice.

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My Personal Favorite Banana Bread

Yields (1) 9x5” Loaf Cake

Recipe adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients

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  • 1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (ground will work as well)

  • 1 tsp. baking powder

  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda

  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

  • 2 large eggs, room temperature

  • 4 large ripe bananas (about 2 cups), peeled and mashed with a fork

  • 1/4 cup sour cream

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 1 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 9x5” loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray (alternatively, you can butter and flour the pan). Set aside.

  2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to fully combine it.

  3. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, a couple minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each one is fully incorporated until adding the next. Add the mashed bananas, sour cream, and vanilla extract. Mix on medium speed until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  4. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the stand mixer bowl while on low speed. Mix until the ingredients are fully incorporated. Using a spatula, fold in the chopped pecans.

  5. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top using a spatula. Bake in the oven for 60-65 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. When ready, the bread will be a deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Allow the bread to cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 15 minutes. Run a butter knife around the perimeter of the bread and carefully turn it out onto a plate or platter.

TANGERINE MARGARITAS

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It’s cocktail time again, and we’re revisiting my forever favorite drink of choice: the margarita. I feel pretty lucky to live in an area where margaritas aren’t confined to the summer months, but a cocktail that can be enjoyed year round despite the seasons. I’ve noticed that when I visit places like Chicago or Portland, Maine, the cocktail menus at restaurants tend to be very whiskey or gin centric, both of which I’m not too crazy about especially since they’re pretty heavy. But margaritas on the other hand… are light, refreshing, and go down easily (a bit too easily) and are everywhere here in California.

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Lately, I had been getting bored with my go-to margaritas that I make for us at home. This includes a classic margarita on-the-rocks with a splash of pineapple as well as a blended frozen strawberry margarita (always a crowd favorite). I really wanted to branch out and try a margarita with in-season fruit that would not only be delicious, but beautiful to look at. Since we’re still in citrus season, I knew that I wanted to use a citrus that was not only a bit more interesting, but also one that could be found year round. After eliminating kumquats (they’re too rare and only around for a short period of time), I landed on tangerines. Even though tangerines are in season from about November to May, there is always the option to buy tangerine juice - Trader Joe’s tangerine juice is quite honestly the best citrus juice there is available.

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Tangerine juice isn’t the only citrus found in this margarita for there is also a bit of lemon and lime juice added. Both of these additions provide a little sourness and sweetness and therefore makes a well-rounded and delicious cocktail. And to really drive home the citrus flavor, there is also orange liqueur added. I recommend using Cointreau, because it really is the best available, but if you don’t have it nor wish to buy it since it’s a bit pricey, triple sec will work just fine.

And if you think that this will have a screwdriver feel to it, aka vodka and orange juice, believe me, it is so much more elevated than that. I had Alex be my taste-tester (he consumed about 4 cocktails within an hour, he’s a champ) and he was completely impressed since he thought it would be such a boring drink. It really is all about the three citrus juices working together that makes it so complex and leaves you wanting more. When Alex stated that he would happily order this cocktail at any bar, I knew that I had succeeded that day.

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Tangerine Margaritas

Yields 1 stiff cocktail

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. tequila, blanco, añejo, or reposado works

  • 2 oz. fresh tangerine juice

  • .5 oz. fresh lemon juice

  • .5 oz. fresh like juice

  • 1 oz. orange liqueur, like Cointreau

  • 2 tsp. agave nectar

Directions

  1. Salt the rim of your desired glass and set aside.

  2. Add all ingredients plus a handful of ice to a cocktail shaker and shake to mix. Strain into your prepared glass and garnish with a lime wedge.