CECILY. Severely. Cake or bread and butter.
GWENDOLEN. In a bored manner. Bread and butter, please. Cake is rarely seen at the best houses nowadays.
CECILY. Cuts a very large slice of cake, and puts it on the tray. Hand that to Miss Fairfax.
The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde, Act II
Oscar Wilde's eternally entertaining farce is, while not technically a book, well worth a read if you haven't seen it before. Plays are, of course, written to be performed rather than read, but Wilde's inimitable dialogue is just as sharp on the page as it is off. Cecily's lack of patience for social masks - though she seems to quickly develop a wonderfully false sweetness - and Gwendolen's barely concealed fury makes for a truly funny scene, both on paper and on the stage.
To aid me in my Victorian baking, I've again turned to the fount of all nineteenth century baking wisdom: Mrs Beeton. The chocolate fudge cake below is possibly a little too rich for a traditional afternoon tea, but Cecily has already proved that she isn't quite as 'on trend' as she'd probably like to think. And, although sweet, the rich chocolate icing marries perfectly with the light spiced cinnamon sponge. Eat in very large slices, with a pot of loose-leaf tea.
Chocolate Fudge Cake
200g caster sugar
3tsp baking powder
1tsp melted butter
300g caster sugar
150g icing sugar
Small handful of ground almonds
2 sandwich tins
2 mixing bowls
Electric hand whisk
1. Grease and line the bases of the sandwich tins. Preheat the oven to 170C.
2. Beat the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and creamy. Separate the eggs, and beat the yolks with the milk in the jug.
3. Measure out the flour, baking powder and cinnamon, and sieve a little into the butter and sugar mixture. Alternate adding this and the egg and milk mixture until they are just incorporated.
4. Beat the egg whites until stiff, and fold gently into the batter. Divide evenly between the sandwich tins and place on the same shelf in the oven. Bake for 25 minutes until the cakes are coming away from the side of the tin and spring back when touched.
5. While the cakes are baking, you can prepare the icing. Put the butter in the saucepan and, once it has melted, add the milk and sugar. Bring the mixture to the boil and add the chocolate. Keep the mixture boiling for two minutes.
6. Take the saucepan off the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Beat the icing sugar into the mixture until smooth. Set the icing aside.
7. Remove the cakes from the oven, and allow to cool (for five minutes in the tin, and then on the cooling rack). Once they are cool, place one cake on a serving plate, ice the top, add the second cake and then ice the top and sides. Sprinkle the top with some ground almonds, or decorate with more icing sugar if you prefer.