I’ve always felt a loyalty to follow exactly the methods and measurements of home-spun recipes. Estimating the perfect temperature for ‘golden’ biscuits or deciding where I can lay my hands on some good goose fat or orange flower water is part of the excitement of baking my way back through a century of traditional recipes.
But this time it rather backfired. I’d imagined a three-tiered wonder-sponge; pretty as a picture and tasty as a scoop of napoleon-style ice cream. The reality was a dry, flat, flop of a cake – the odd hiccup one can expect to encounter when following a recipe 70 years past its sell-by date.
Ribbon Cake is taken from the Northamptonshire and Soke of Peterborough Cookery Book; a collection of sweet and savoury recipes, household hints and tips for ‘showing produce’ pooled by the many WIs under the federation’s umbrella. There’s not a date to be found anywhere in the publication, but the war-time fonts and cheerful saturated yellow hues of the front cover suggest 1940s.
Alphabetically wedged between Raspberry Buns and Rice Cakes, Ribbon Cake is cousin of the classic Victoria Sandwich Cake which traditionally follows a method of beating together fat and sugar with flour added at the final stage. The Ribbon Cake, however, follows a personalised method based on stirring flour in rotation with the eggs. A dash of baking powder is added for final good measure with expectations for a reasonable level of expertise from the baker who must themselves decide on an adequate size of tin and appropriate temperature and time for baking.
‘I’m not happy with the way this recipe reads,’ says the WI’s Home Economics Adviser Diane Sanderson. ‘The small amount of butter suggested will contribute to it tasting dry but if you followed this method exactly you may get a pancake as a result!’ Phew. That makes me feel a little better, at least.
Diane suggests the following tweaks in line with 21st century tastes:
- Pre-heat oven to 175ºC
- Beat together 6oz castor sugar and 6oz butter
- In a separate bowl, beat three small eggs together in a basin
- Beat egg mixture gradually into the beaten fat mixture, beating well after each addition
- Sieve 6oz self-raising flour into the cake mix and fold in gradually
- Divide into three portions as stated and place into three sandwich tins (max 15cm diameter)
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen, golden and springy
- Sandwich together with jam or lemon curd
- Prettify with a light sift of icing sugar and pass on to your nearest or dearest