On the cusp of Mother's Day, we caught up with our friend, the virtuosic baker and cookbook author behind London's world-renowned Violet Bakery, Claire Ptak. We spoke with her about some of her memories of being in the kitchen with her mother, and got her to give us a luscious cake recipe to make with, or for, your mother this Mother's Day!
Claire's Mother's Day Victoria Sponge Cake
Makes one 8” two-layer cake
Serves up to 10
250g (9 oz or 2 sticks plus 2tbsp) unsalted butter at room temperature
250g (1 ¼ cups) sugar
250g (4-5) eggs
50ml/g of whole milk (1/4 cup plus 1tbsp)
250g (1 ¾ cups) plain/all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
5 Tbsp jam of your choice
230ml (8oz) whipping cream
Icing sugar (powdered sugar) for dusting
Butter and line two 8”/20cm cake tins with baking parchment
Cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
Beat in eggs one at a time. Occasionally scraping the bowl down.
Whisk flour and baking powder together with salt.
Add flour mix to butter mixture and continue to mix just until incorporated.
Add milk and mix until combined but do not over mix or the cake will become tough.
Pour into the prepared baking tins.
Bake at 150° C fan/170° C no fan/300° F convection/350°F until risen and skewer comes out clean, about 30-35 mins.
Spread one cake with the jam
Whip the cream to soft peaks and spoon on top of the jam and then top with the second cake layer. Dust with icing sugar. Chill until ready to eat.
Permanent Collection: Do you remember the first thing you cooked with your mother?
Claire: My mom, Elisabeth Ptak, used to let my brother and I make these “experiment cakes.” We would make them with absolutely anything (edible) we could find. We'd mix everything up in a bowl and bake them. I remember one batch being a sort of marbled pinkish-gray—I think I added pureed wild blackberries to the batter—and I baked them in these beautiful little antique scalloped tart tins my mom had. These experiment cakes never tasted good, but I loved them. Each time, we would write the recipe down and my mom would keep it in her little tin full of recipe cards. I remember thinking as I grew up that she always valued and encouraged my imagination—there was no "correct" way to bake a cake. It takes intuition. I always think about that when I write recipes now, and feel I have her to thank for my willingness to take risks, and invent freely.
P.C.: What’s your favorite of your mother’s recipes?
C.P. Chicken pot pie. She made the best version ever. She would roast a chicken and break up all the pieces, mixing it with a savory mirepoix, adding a little flour to make a roux to thicken the filling, including chunks of potato, and the all-important dried tarragon. It was my first experience of tasting tarragon, and even though I'd probably use fresh now, that anisey, unusual flavor was something I loved as a kid. She would make her pies in a rectangular dish and cover the filling in a really short, buttery crust, cutting little air holes throughout. During the baking, some of the filling would bubble out and become a golden liquor. I loved it. I make the recipe for my daughter Frances and she loves it too.
P.C.: What's your favorite thing to cook with Frances?
C.P.: Well, every single morning we make waffles. I know this sounds sort of extravagant—having waffles every day!—but it's our tradition. And anyway, we make the simplest, healthiest version, using almond flour and eggs, letting her scoop them into in our little Belgian waffle iron. Frances loves preparing the fruit to go along with it too: whatever's in season. Pomegranates in the fall, blood oranges in the winter, and now the first strawberries.
P.C. Any special Mother's Day memory?
C.P.: Growing up in my family, we really celebrated the holidays. My parents loved to mark the festive days with proper ceremony. And, as a family, we loved to bake—Mother’s Day was certainly no exception. My dad was especially fond of making breakfast in bed and we had this tray with extendable legs that you could place over your lap. We'd whip up French toast, fresh fruit and a mimosa for my mom and bring it to her before she had a chance to get up. What decadence! I can't remember the last time I had breakfast in bed!