Blueberry Victoria Sponge Cake, London, and my first book presentation
by eat in my kitchen
London welcomed me with blue skies and the brightest sunshine – the city looked like a blossoming beauty as I stepped off the train. It was supposed to be a two day work trip but spring temperatures made it feel like a little holiday. Great food and wine and the company of wonderful people almost made me forget why I went to the capital: my publisher’s London team invited me to present my Eat In My Kitchen book for the first time at the Photographers’ Gallery. To say that I was nervous, is a slight understatement. I drove the people around me crazy in the past few days! We just finished the last edits for my book this week, which means I can’t change anything anymore and I’m not yet sure if I like this feeling. Now I have to learn to let go. But the thought of talking about it in front of 30 people straight after closing the last pages of my book to send it to the printing press felt a little overwhelming.
I booked an early flight on Wednesday morning so that I’d have the day to myself. I wanted to have enough time to meet a couple special people. My first stop was the gorgeous Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair where I stayed for the night. My last visit to London – and a scrumptious meet in your kitchen tea time feature – made me fall in love with this wonderful hotel. It’s the perfect choice when you need a relaxing place to stay during a busy trip. London is like a beehive but Brown’s Hotel is the calm oasis you can go back to to rest. Thank you Sophie Grounds for making me feel so good again!
A stroll through the sunny streets of Mayfair took me to busy Oxford Street and the charming building of Selfridges. I came here to visit Melissa Hemsely at the sisters’ brand new Hemsely + Hemsley Café located on the third floor of the luxury department store. It’s a cozy place that’s only been open for a month and it was totally packed. All the tables were taken and I saw lots of happy faces enjoying beautiful dishes from the girl’s books, like quinoa roasted vegetables with basil pesto (delicious!), salmon burger with lime slaw, and the sisters’ fantastic sweets. We chatted about our books – they just published their second book called Good + Simple – and I also got to try a wonderfully juicy banana cake that’s not on the menu yet.
Spitalfields was next, and here I met a man whose work I’ve admired for quite a while and who I got to know through another one of my meet in your kitchen features: Sami Tamimi. This man is a great inspiration, he’s open and charismatic and he talks with a warm, calm voice. Sami seems to smile the whole time, genuinely, and it felt like I’ve known him for years. He gave me such a flattering quote for my book and I wanted to thank him in person. Sami invited me to the latest addition to the Ottolenghi restaurants, their deli in the heart of Spitalfields that opened just a year ago. The place is bright and airy and the long counter right at the large window front is filled with the most beautiful food you can imagine. No one presents food as tempting, lush and perfect as the Ottolenghi crew. Large bowls filled with colourful salads and vegetables, the freshest meat platters, and piles of colourful meringue, delicate tartlets, and cakes dripping with thick icing turn this room into a food lover’s paradise. I was in heaven.
Sami constantly works on new creations and tries the food prepared by his team working in and for the five restaurants, he’s an absolute perfectionist. There was a little banana cake on a plate of six that he spotted, it wasn’t as straight as the other ones, so it had to go – right into my mouth, I didn’t mind. Seeing him in this environment, surrounded by the food he creates with so much passion and perfection, made me understand why he’s so successful and why guests from all over the world love the Ottolenghi restaurants so much. The vision that the team behind Ottolenghi once had, has been brought to life completely. There’s no compromise and that makes it so good. Before I left, we exchanged spices, and when I stepped out onto the street I felt a little sad to leave.
My dinner plans took me to an old, traditional pub, The Grenadier in Belgravia. It was an early night, I enjoyed my obligatory fish & chips and a glass of wine to the fullest and went to bed early – I had an exciting day ahead.
On the morning of my presentation, I felt like a student going to her exams, but after a few minutes of talking I was fine again – as always in life. The Photographers Gallery was the perfect surrounding and I can only recommend visiting one of their great exhibitions when you’re in town. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time for the arts but I had a lovely crowd to talk to about my book instead, which felt even better. Thank you everybody at Prestel for inviting me and for making me feel so welcome. It was a pleasure to meet you, Andrew, Emma, Oliver, Lincoln, and Will!
My London days called for a traditional British treat when I was back home in Berlin, ready for a cozy weekend on the sofa: a simple Victoria Sponge cake refined with lemon zest, filled with plump blueberries, jam, and whipped cream. It’s an honest, uncomplicated treat that fits perfectly after a week of lots of excitement.
Blueberry Victoria Sponge Cake
You’ll need 2 18cm / 7″ springform pans for this cake. If you only have one pan (like me), divide the ingredients in half and prepare and bake one cake after the other. For the 3 eggs, beat them lightly and then divide in two equal portions.
For the sponge cake
plain flour 145g / 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons
cornstarch 15g / 2 tablespoons
baking powder 1 teaspoon
a pinch of salt
butter, at room temperature, 160g / 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon
granulated sugar 160g / 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon
freshly grated lemon zest 2 teaspoons
vanilla bean, scraped, 1/2
organic eggs 3
For the filling
blueberry jam, lightly beaten, about 4 tablespoons
fresh blueberries 120g / 4 ounces, plus a few berries for the topping
heavy cream, whipped, about 120-180ml / 1/2-3/4 cup
icing sugar, for the topping
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F (conventional setting) and butter 2 18cm / 7″ springform pans.
For the sponge cake, in a large bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt.
In a large bowl, using in electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla seeds until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well in between. Using a wooden spoon, fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well combined.
Divide the batter between the two buttered springform pans and make a slight dip in the middle of each of them (to prevent the cakes from rising too high in the middle). Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden and spongy. Check with a skewer, it should come out clean. Take the cakes out of the springform pan and let them cool completely (about 15-20 minutes).
Transfer 1 sponge cake to a plate and cut off the tip if it rose to high, it shouldn’t be too pointy but it doesn’t need to be completely even either. Brush the top generously with jam and spread the blueberries on top. Spread the whipped cream all over the berries and sandwich with the second sponge cake (you don’t have to even this cake out). Dust the cake with a little icing sugar and, if you want to decorate it with blueberries, dip the berries in the jam and stick them on top of the cake.