If you’re looking for the perfect Victoria sandwich it would seem that Co Armagh is the place to be, with two local Women’s Institute (WI) members making it into a province-wide final.
Mandy Neill from Tartaraghan WI and Daphne McCammon from Glenanne WI both impressed the judges with their four-egg sponges at the semi-final of the Victoria Square Bake Off.
They were two of just six semi-finalists chosen from 15 WI entrants, and were selected after their cakes were subjected to the taste test by judges including Jenny Bristow.
Mandy, a member of the WI for at least 12 years, baked her winning cake in 40 minutes according to an “easy, ordinary recipe” she knows off by heart.
She said, “I decorated it the next morning, in about 15 minutes, before going to the competition. My friend got me a Belleek cake stand and a doily.
“Baking a nice Victoria sandwich is a bit of a dying art. Jenny tasted all the cakes and said she was looking for traditional buttercream with strawberry or raspberry jam. She said she didn’t want to see any soggy bottoms!”
Mandy admits she was never a natural baker, preferring to make savoury food. However, she did eventually start baking as a hobby, influenced by mother-in-law Annie Neill - “a great baker” - and the fact that her husband Ivor and son Ross like a bit of home baking.
Markethill woman Daphne, a relative newcomer to the WI having joined just two years ago, is thrilled to have made it through to the final.
She said, “The jam I used was thinner than usual so I was a bit worried about that and I wasn’t sure whether the sandwich was meant to be round or square so I baked two just in case!”
Daphne’s home-baking will be familiar to many as she and mum Myra were founder members of Markethill Country Market, and ran a home baking stall there every fortnight.
She said, “I grew up as a child with mum always baking and down the years I would have baked for family birthdays and celebrations.”
Daphne now bakes three nights a week for Kim and Ed’s Vintage Tearoom in Magowan Buildings.
She added, “Even younger people are appreciating home baking more than ever.”
Both Daphne and Mandy will compete in the final in Belfast’s Victoria Square shopping centre on Saturday, March 4, when they will have to bake against the clock to create and decorate their own ‘showstopper’ in front of a live audience.
Their only brief so far is that the cake should be decorated with a spring theme.