If you live in Seattle and you’re reading my blog right now, you probably know Book Larder. It is a community cookbook store in Fremont. Yes, an entire bookstore filled with cookbook only. I discovered it shortly after I moved here. First I was attracted by all the cookbooks (of course) and then I continuously come back to Book Larder because of the wonderful community and events they have. So when I found out they’re holding another beloved The Great Book Larder Bake Off 2 months ago, I immediately signed up.
Then, I immediately regret. I am not a competitive person by all means. I LOVE watching the Great British Bake Off and admire all the brave bakers in the show, but I don’t know if I can be as brave and present something nice to impress 50 judges.
I won. It’s like a dream.
I am still in shock after an entire week. The theme of this Bake Off is summer fruit. I created something called Open-Faced Victoria Sandwich. I am not sure if anyone has done something like this ever and I’m so worried no one will like it. The host announced the winners from 3rd place to 2nd to 1st. When I heard the 3rd place was not me, the 2nd place was not me, I honestly thought I had no chance and told myself “okay, next time I should just do something conventional”. I could not believe I got 1st place.
As I’m recovering from my excitement, I would love to share with you the whole process. What exactly is an Open-Faced Victoria Sandwich? How did I come up with the idea and what are the twists I made? Why do I add so many elements to a (suppose to be) simple dessert? What are the recipes I’ve used? You can click each question and jump directly to it. Now, let’s travel back time and answer all those questions!
What exactly is an Open-Faced Victoria Sandwich?
The first and most obvious question is WTH is the thing I made. Well, let’s talk about what a Victoria Sandwich first. A Victoria Sandwich was named after Queen Victoria. It is a traditional British cake enjoyed for decades. A typical Victoria Sandwich consists of raspberry jam and whipped cream. The jam and cream are sandwiched between two sponge cakes, thus the name. My Open-Faced Victoria Sandwich clearly only has one sponge cake as the base. I kept raspberry jam and whipped cream but added liquid cheesecake filling, a hidden poached strawberry, fresh raspberry filled with lemon curd and a buttered Ritz cracker on top.
How did I come up with the idea and what are the twists I made?
The theme of this Bake-Off is summer fruit. When I think about summer fruit, I think about all the colorful berries, peaches, plums and melons. Classic American summer desserts include fruit pie, tart, cobbler, galette and so on. I just simply don’t like pies or galettes and I do not believe a chef can create something magnificent if he/she does not even like to eat it.
After several testings, I decided to choose berries as my summer fruit. I’ve made tarts, cakes, and bread. They were okay but not impressive. It seemed like I don’t have many choices left.
It was the end of July and I was watching the last episode of The Great British Baking Show (S4 at that time. Now Season 5 is on Netflix!!!!!!! Go watch. It’s amazing). Mary has chosen Victoria Sandwich as the technical challenge, without giving the bakers a single recipe. The bakers all made some gorgeous looking cakes and made me want to eat one so badly. Then I realized, why didn’t I choose Victoria Sandwich? It is simple. It is elegant. It highlights the summer berry. It also has my biggest respect to the show.
I was so excited about the idea and immediately start to search for a good Victoria Sandwich recipe. I borrowed Mary Berry’s cookbook from the library and made her recipe. I also made a more modern version from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Sweet. Mary’s version is classic but the flavor is not complex enough. Yotam’s version tastes great, BUT foreign.
Why did I add so many elements to (what suppose to be) a simple dessert?
We, the bakers, are asked to make 50 small individual portions of our creations. When you bite into something so small, you want the flavor to blow. If you remember Ratatouille, in the end the rat made a dish that reminds the astonished critic of his mother’s cooking and won his review. It’s the same here. Although I really like Yotam’s Victoria sandwich, it tastes foreign. I would serve that in a Michelin Star restaurant, but I won’t make it as my item for a community Bake-Off. I cannot simply serve something that just tastes great. I have to think out of the box and make the flavor memorable.
Hence, I made some changes. It’s not hard to tell the main theme is adjusting the sweetness & richness level to American’s taste. I also added more flavors, textures, and dimensions to maximize the potential of a small dessert. Basically, I Americanized a British dessert, with a French pâtisserie spirit.
What are the recipes I’ve used?
You can click here to find the master recipe I sent to Book Larder for sharing. I used King Arthur Flour’s Norwegian sour cream cake recipe for the base, Momofuku Milk Bar’s recipe for Liquid Cheese Cake, the same strawberry recipe I used to make shaved ice, Pierre Herme’s lemon curd recipe and Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe for white chocolate whipped cream.
Thank you to everyone who encouraged me, voted for me and told me how much you like my Open-Faced Victoria Sandwich. Lastly, special shoutout to Mr.186, the hubby. Thank you for eating so many failed desserts, giving me your honest opinions and always always supporting me to do what I love to do.