It’s funny how friends you knew from school, growing up together as you battle through adolescence and beyond, can lead such different lives to you – yet when you see each other the years slip away and you’re giggling together like you’re still sitting at the back of the bus. As it was when my school friends and I recently met up for a long lazy pub lunch and country stroll – and I also got the chance to grill my friend Ben who has recently established Puddle Lane Duck Eggs, a farm supplying free range organic duck eggs. He currently has around 600 ducks, laying 450 eggs a day – and he will soon be increasing the number of ducks he has so that his farm produces eggs throughout the year (Apparently ducks lay eggs all year round, but they stop two months before their hatching date, and start again on their hatching date. How do they know?!)
Duck eggs are particularly good for baking, resulting in a much fluffier, more moist, better risen cake – this is apparently because they are higher in albumen and fat than their chicken equivalent. Also, the larger yolk to egg-white ratio, and because the yolks are richer and thicker, (Or as I said, the yolks are just more yolk-y. I’m good at the words.), they are much better for custards and creamy fillings. Not only that, but if you need to go gluten-free, use duck eggs as the extra protein in the whites will help bind the gluten free ingredients better. So what are you waiting for?
Ben was kind enough to give us all a dozen eggs to take home, with the promise that we would share with him the outcome of any baking. I decided to go for a simple Victoria sponge recipe as I thought the simple flavours would better show off the use of duck eggs then something more complicated (read: chocolatey).
I baked my sponge in two batches as I wanted to make a behemoth of a cake and I only have one 20cm cake tin. The first batch was a three-egger (a technical term I’ve coined), and for this I used 175g self-raising flour, 175g caster sugar, 175g butter and a teaspoon of vanilla. Cream the butter and sugar first before adding the egg and vanilla in stages, before finally folding in the sieved flour. Then bake in a lined tin for about 30 mins at 180 degrees, or until risen and golden in colour – it’ll be fully cooked when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, and the top is firm with a bit of bounce when you press down.
I then followed this up with a two-egger (seriously, I should copyright this s**t), and just changed my proportions accordingly (i.e. two-thirds of 175g is about 110-120g each of the other ingredients*. Unfortunately, I got a bit distracted and baked this second cake on the grill setting (Please note: not to be recommended, unless you like your cakes black on top and liquidy in the middle), and had to use another two of my eggs to make another batch.
(Since making the cake, I’ve read a few more recipes, and I think in future I will use the traditional Women’s Institute way of weighing the eggs in their shells, and then using the same weight in flour and caster sugar. This probably makes a lot more sense when using duck eggs as they are so much bigger. However, I don’t think it really made a difference to the bake – it was delicious as it was!)
History sidebar: Did you know that the Victoria sponge is so named because one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting (Anna, the Duchess of Bedford) used to get peckish at about four o clock (I hear you sister) and so created teatime to stave off the “sinking feeling” she got because lunch wasn’t big enough. Come on, we’ve all been there. You should see the stuff shoved in my office drawers to get me over the mid-afternoon slump.
At first the Duchess had her servants sneak her a pot of tea and a few breadstuffs into her dressing room, but then started to invite friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal at five o’clock in her rooms, of small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, and tea. Soon, Queen Victoria herself took up this craze – and declared the simple sponge cake to be her favourite of the cakes. See here for more information.
Did you also know, fact fans, that the Victoria Sponge is a cake baked on a tangled web of lies? Apparently a true sponge, is made from a whisked mixture of eggs, sugar and flour, with no fat added.
Despite being a WI member, I don’t like jam. Don’t tell anyone, I don’t want to get excommunicated. So I instead filled my cake with lashings of whipped vanilla cream (just add the beans from a vanilla pod to the cream before you whip it up) and fresh strawberries. Sprinkle a bit of icing sugar over the top, all fancy-like, and off you go.
We really did notice a difference using the duck eggs. The sponge was such a beautiful yellow colour, it looked like it was out of a magazine, and the cake was deliciously moist and flavourful. (And he’s not paid me to say that). I’ll definitely be hitting Ben up for supplies next time we meet. For more information about his farm, take a look at his website – but if you can’t get a hold of Ben’s eggs, do hunt out duck eggs at your local shop/market, and give them a go. You’d be surprised at the difference!
Words that lost all meaning to me in the writing of this post: yolk; sponge.
Today’s quote is from Douglas Adams
*You might not want to follow my half-assed recipe, and who can blame you! I recommend you look at this Guardian article about how to make the perfect Victoria Sponge, or even go straight to the mothership and use the WI recipe, which is given here.