VICTORIAN domestic goddess Mrs Beeton would have been a disaster on the Great British Bake Off.
So says food historian and Warwick University lecturer Professor Rebecca Earle, not least because her 150-year-old recipe for ‘a good sponge cake’ forgot to explain how much flour was needed.
But bake off finalists Jane, Andrew and Candice were not phased by the minimal instructions their final technical challenge included. All three baked sponges which Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood happily ate.
All of the final’s challenges carried a royal theme – the bakers recreated a meringue crown and filled a hamper with picnic treats which needed to be fit for a Queen.
Despite Isabella Beeton’s rocky start with sponge cakes, her ‘Book of Household Management’ which was published in 1861 and included a recipe for Victoria sponge, became arguably the most famous cook book ever published.
Although she was accused of plagiarising many recipes the book also sold 60,000 copies in its first year – she had been working on a shortened version before she died of puerperal fever aged just 28.
Leamington resident Prof Earle tried out Mrs Beeton’s historic recipe, which unlike most modern recipes does not use baking powder as a raising agent.
She said: “I was curious how well Mrs Beeton’s version would rise. The batter puffed up enthusiastically, but unevenly, and an extra five minutes in the oven was not enough to prevent the cake from being what my Austrian grandmother would have called ‘mürbig’, or under-baked.
“No plaudits from the Bake Off judges were likely to come my way should they materialise in my Midlands kitchen. I shall stick to Mary Berry.”
And it is believe Queen Victoria was partial to the sponge cake which was named after her.
A tell-all biography of Victoria, written by ‘a member of the Royal household’, says she was also fond of chocolate sponges, plain sponges, wafers, biscuits, tablets, petit fours, pralines, almond sweets, and more – which may explain her royal 50-inch waist.