Showstopper! 36 miniature cakes

Bakers time limit: 3.5 hours  My time: 4 hours
British – English : Caster sugar = superfine sugar; icing sugar = powdered sugar
Items Borrowed: These cakestands from!
*disclaimer – I do some work for this company on the weekends

Phew. I’m kinda glad that’s over. This was a particularly difficult challenge for me, for completely self imposed reasons, if I’m honest. This is a showstopper. It’s supposed to be hard. Also, I feel bad about getting to have an easier time on the technical baking challenge – I had to make things more tricky.

In this particular showstopping challenge, the bakers were tasked to create classic British cakes, in miniature. 36 of them. They had to be identical, tasty, and beautifully decorated.

As an American, I had to do a little research into what qualifies as a British cake, but I’m a librarian. Research is my thing. I got this.

Some of the cakes the bakers on the show chose included a “lemon drizzle cake” (lemon cake with lemon sauce drizzled over) and a Battenburg cake (four rectangles of cake held together with marzipan), coffee and walnut cake, and Jaffa orange cake (a chocolate and orange thing that seems to be usually a prepackaged snack)

Based on my research, I also feel like the British really enjoy nuts in their cakes. Almonds. Walnuts. Hazelnuts. Also, a Swiss Roll is a traditional British cake (Swiss being a misnomer) – but I’ve already made one of those.

I wonder what I’d make if the challenge was for a mini American cake? What cake is American? Sheet cake probably. Oooh, Red Velvet? Boston Cream Pie! Alas, the challenge is for British cakes. Ok – not alas. As an Anglophile, I was really, really excited about this. After some research, I narrowed it down to two options: a courting cake or a Victoria Sandwich.

courting cake


A courting cake is a product of the Lancashire region, where young women would bake it to prove their culinary skills to their husbands-to-be. It consists of a shortbread base and a layer of sponge cake, with cream and berries sandwiched in between. I really liked the idea of this cake. I read that William and Kate were presented with a courting cake before they were married. I have a particular fondness for Wills. (We’re so close in age! I’m named after his mom!)
However, in the end, I decided to go with the Victoria Sandwich. Primarily, of course, because it was simple, and I wanted to make my first “showstopper” bake challenge as simple as possible. Also, I didn’t want to mess with berries.

A Victoria Sandwich is two layers of “Victoria” sponge cake, with a layer of jam and cream sandwiched in between. It is named for Queen Victoria, who apparently had a bit of a sweet tooth at tea time. Typically it’s made with raspberry or strawberry jam; however I wanted to make this as “British” as possible, so I decided to go with a marmalade filling – I’ve always thought marmalade was such an English thing.

Really, my inspiration is a creamcicle. I always loved those as a kid. So, I took a basic Mary Berry Victoria Sponge recipe, and added vanilla bean to the sponge and the cream.

And then I shrunk it.

IMG_2410I considered just baking cupcakes, then slicing them in two to make the sandwich. But no, I have to make things hard on myself. I wanted the cakes to be proportional to a full size cake – the layers couldn’t be too thick. I started by testing out how thick a tablespoon and two tablespoons of batter would bake in the bottom of a cupcake tin. Turns out, one tablespoon made it almost exactly perfect!


So now I just need to make 72 tiny cakes to sandwich…. hooray?
This would be a whole lot easier if I had more than one cupcake pan.


I had to adjust the bake time and temp on the fly, since the time and temp for a full size cake or even a cupcake is a lot different than what it takes for about 4 oz of batter at a time to bake up. I did a lot o kneeling in front of the oven to keep an eye on things.

I baked. And I baked. and I baked. Each time I had to let the pan cool, then carefully lever out the tiny little cakes. Next time, I will pre-plan more. I think if I cut out 72 tiny circles of parchment paper, I could have saved myself a LOT of trauma.

About halfway through baking, I started to assemble. I put the marmalade on the stove for a few minutes in order to make it spreadable – it smelled soooo nice. I whipped up some cream and scraped up the last of the vanilla bean in.

I really need to get some more real piping bags. I was using ziplocks with a corner cut off which is NOT ideal.

I started baking at noon, and at 4:00 I was still baking the cakes. I’ll be honest: even though I baked all 36 cakes worth, I didn’t end up decorating the last 10 or so. I had some important errands! In my defense, I had spent 4 hours doing this. And IF I’d had a second cupcake pan I could have been done in half the time, so… I’m just going to pretend I did them all.

The Victoria Sandwich is usually decorated with either powdered sugar or “caster” (superfine) sugar sprinkled on top – I’d seen recipes that called for both. I like the look of powdered sugar, so I went with that.IMG_2431

One of the requirements of a showstopper bake is that it look gorgeous as well, so I needed something a little bit more than just a powdered sugar topping. The goal was to put an orange powdered sugar heart on top. Did you know it’s pretty difficult to color powdered sugar? At least it is using the equipment I had on hand. My food processor isn’t the greatest. I ended up dying granulated sugar, but I ran out of time before it went beyond a peach color. So I went with that.

All in all, pretty, but not as impressive as I’d hoped.

If I were to do this again, I would make the filling more substantial. Maybe whip the cream a little firmer? The top layer of cake was just a little too heavy and you couldn’t see the filling in between all of them. And the topping was not bright enough! I just didn’t plan ahead enough to make a real vibrant orange sugar – I think I need a powdered food coloring for that. This is why you’re supposed to practice the showstopper!IMG_2445

At least they were delicious.

Vanilla Bean and Marmalade Victoria Sandwiches

4 eggs
8oz sugar
8oz self-raising flour
2tsp baking powder
8oz butter, room temp.
1 vanilla bean

1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp sugar
1 cup marmalade
powdered sugar for the top

To Make
1. Preheat oven to 325
2. Grease a muffin tin and line the bottom of each well with a circle of parchment, or use a silicone muffin pan – grease that, too, they’re not really non-stick!
3. Combine the eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder, and butter into a mixing bowl.
4. Split and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod and add to the mixing bowl. Put the vanilla bean hulls into a sealed container with the sugar you will later be using for the whipped cream. It won’t be fore long, but it will start to infuse the sugar with the lovely vanilla scent…
5. Mix the cake ingredients until just incorporated. The mixture will be thick but spreadable.
6. add 1 tablespoon (4oz) to each well of the prepared pan. Try to level the batter as well as you can – I used a piping bag to swirl it in, and a kitchen scale to weigh it.
7. Place in the middle shelf of the oven and bake for about 6 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown and springy, and the edges pull away from the sides of the pan.
8. Cool in the tin for a minute or two, then run a knife around the cakes and carefully flip over your muffin pan (or pop up the wells, if it’s silicone!).
9. Cool completely.
10. Make the whipped cream by adding the 2 tbsp of sugar to 1 cup of whipping cream. You can re-scrape the vanilla bean pods to make sure you get the last of the yummy goodness in there, then discard the pods (or add to more sugar to make vanilla sugar for your coffee!).
11. To assemble: place one cake right side up, spread with marmalade and whipped cream, then top with another cake upside down. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve! Makes 18 cakes.

One thought on “Showstopper! 36 miniature cakes

  1. You are such a dedicated baker, Diana! These turned out really pretty.

    I’m very fond of Battenburg Cake, because, of course, marzipan. 🙂 And Jaffa Cakes, which you can find in the international aisle at Krogers/Dillons. Wal-Mart, too, sometimes. .


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