Tag Archives: royalty

Queen Elizabeth Cake

Today is sixty years since the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Last year we had the festivities of the Diamond Jubilee, marking sixty years since her accession, but today marks the anniversary of the great celebration in Westminster Abbey which provided such memorable images to the world. And in comparison to the rather wet day we had last year, today London is basking in sunshine.

I was looking for a recipe in honour of this day, and I was rather surprised that there were not more cakes and bakes that were associated with great event. Perhaps everything else has been overshadowed by the famous Coronation Chicken? Undeterred, I kept searching and finally came across the curiously-named Queen Elizabeth Cake. This is a tray cake made with dates and nuts, finished off with a caramel glaze and topped with coconut. So far, so good.

Queen_Elizabeth_Cake_1

This is a cake with quite an interesting story. The tale goes that Her Majesty used to enjoy dabbling in home baking from time to time, and would make this recipe herself, in the Buckingham Palace kitchens, to be sold for charitable purposes. In fact, this was the only cake she would make. With this sort of regal endorsement, I just had to try this recipe. Incidentally, I’m sure the Queen would appreciate the Great British Bake-Off – but what would she make of this cake featuring as part of the technical challenge?

The technique was new to me – the cake has a lot of dates in it, but rather than just throwing them in and hoping for the best, they are soaked briefly in hot water with bicarbonate of soda. This soda, in addition to helping the cake to rise, gives the batter greater saltiness which combines with the sweet dates to enhance their flavour. The overall result is light, airy and delicious. With the caramel glaze, it probably makes you think of sticky toffee pudding.

When it came to assembling the cake, and with the utmost respect to Her Majesty, I departed from the original recipe. My cake did rise in the oven, but it was about 2 1/2 cm in depth. I wanted it higher, so I cut the cake into two slabs, and used half of the glaze as a filling, and so ended up with two layers. If you’ve got lots of people coming to tea, just go with one layer, but I think the double-layer approach looks quite nice. When it comes to the coconut, I would go for the white stuff rather than the golden toasted coconut. Nothing to do with flavour, but the white coconut looks great against the caramel.

Queen_Elizabeth_Cake_2

Now, time for a reality check. Is this cake really a secret from Buckingham Palace? Well, we do know that the Queen is very practical and hands-on when she is at her summer home, Balmoral Castle in Scotland, and from her days in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. I have no doubt she would be more than capable when it comes of baking. This also seems like a very traditional cake to me – the dates and walnuts give it an old-fashioned flavour, and I felt the air of post-war austerity over the ingredients, jazzed up with exotic coconut, all of which lends an air of plausibility to the story of this recipe coming from a newly-crowned Queen in the 1950s.

However, a few things make me cautious. This recipe does seem very close to the very British dessert of sticky toffee pudding, so perhaps it’s just that with a better story? Also, lots of the versions of this recipe featured online from yellowing scraps of paper found in attics from American sources, with references to terms like “frosting” and “pecans”. We don’t frost cakes in Britain, we ice them (and if you’ve had the pleasure of a British wedding cake, you might think we plaster them). Pecan nuts are traditionally less common than good old-fashioned walnuts over here. So on balance, if I were asked to come down in favour of a “yay” or “nay”, I would need to plump for “nay”, but even so, there is a nice story behind this cake, and if Her Majesty were to be coming round for afternoon tea, I don’t think she would refuse a slice. Congratulations Ma’am!

To make Queen Elizabeth Cake (makes 12 pieces):

For the cake:

• 175g soft dates, finely chopped
• 240ml boiling water
• 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• 200g soft brown sugar
• 120g butter
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 egg
• 140g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 60g walnuts, chopped

For the glaze:

• 75g soft brown sugar
• 75g double cream
• 25g butter
• pinch of salt
• 30g desiccated coconut

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (300°F). Line a 23 x 31cm (9 x 12 inch) rectangular baking tray with greaseproof paper.

2. In a heatproof bowl, mix the dates, bicarbonate of soda and boiling water and set aside.

3. In another bowl, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix well, then fold in the flour and baking powder until just combined.

4. Add the nuts and the date mixture (the dates should have absorbed a lot of the water, but the mixture will still be very wet – it should be lukewarm, not hot). Stir with a light hand until smooth.

5. Pour the batter into the tray and bake for around 25-30 minutes until the top is a rich brown colour and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool.

6. While the cake is baking, make the glaze – put the sugar, cream, butter and salt into a saucepan, and keep stirring until the mixture comes to the boil. Remove from the heat and put aside until cold.

7. To finish the cake, cut in two equal slabs. Spread half the glaze onto one piece, then place the other on top of it. Spread the remaining glaze on the cake and sprinkle with the coconut. Trim the edges for a neat finish and cut into pieces.

Worth making? An easy recipe, but gives a rich, moist cake which cuts easily. Perfect for coffee mornings or afternoon tea. Recommended, and with royal approval!

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Diamond Jubilee: Battenberg Cake

I’ve just come back from central London, and the old city is looking rather glad, with bunting string across streets and Union Flags hung from just about everything you could imagine. All very, very British.

And this bring me to the Battenberg cake. This is just about the most British-looking cake you could probably imagine. I mean, what other nation would come up with something that has squares of different-coloured cake all wrapped up in marzipan?

That said, in all my years, I have never, ever, seen anyone actually make a Battenberg Cake. It seems that Mr Kipling has the market cornered on this one, and if you want one, you usually buy one. So today, I’m taking on the challenge.

As you might suspect, this is also a cake with links back to royalty. The name itself is a bit of a giveaway. Battenberg…sound familiar? Well, it’s clearly German, but let’s flip it round (so we’ve got Berg-Batten) and then translate it into English (Mountbatten). Sound familiar now? Yes, this it the family of Price Philip, the Queen’s husband. So basically, it’s a royal wedding cake.

The Battenberg Cake was originally created by chefs in the palace for the wedding of Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine (how’s that for a title?), a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, to Prince Louis of Battenberg. So that is where the name comes from. And to make the link clearer, these were the grandparents of Prince Philip, so that’s were the surname comes from (even if it is now Mountbatten-Windsor). The marzipan link is apparently due to a British admiration for the German ability to turn this simple sugar-and-almond paste into works of art, and when called upon to impress royalty, they wanted to use it as a key part of the wedding cake. With that, a British afternoon tea classic was born.

So at the weekend, I got out my sieve, almond extract and marzipan, and tackled this cake. Before I started, I was a little apprehensive – I’ll freely admit that I’ve got a manifest preference for making things that should have a sort of rough rustic charm to them. If it consists of equal layers, right angles and smooth surfaces, that all seems…well…might it might not turn out too well.

So how do you make sure that things do turn out well? The secret seems to be not so much how you make the sponge, but how patient you are. Wait until it is completely cool, and you’ll be able to cut the cake into neat pieces to stick together with jam. If you can’t wait, and start slicing too soon, you’ll end up with lots of crumbs and a rather rougher (might I say rustic?) appearance. I found this helpful video by the Hairy Bikers, and I would urge you to follow their tips. I glued the cake together with apricot jam, but then brushed it all over the rolled-out marzipan. It worked, but it was  little but sticky to work with. Trust the men with beards!

I’m glad that I tried making this cake – it does take quite some time, but the result is a lovely, moist sponge with a delicate almond flavour and nice, rich coat of marzipan. Perfect for a fancy afternoon tea.

To make a Battenburg Cake (makes 10-12 slices)

For the cake:

• 175g butter
• 175g caster sugar
• 3 eggs
• 50g ground almonds
• 130g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
• red natural food colouring

For the decoration:

• 250g apricot jam
• 400g marzipan

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a 20cm square tin with greaseproof paper. Make a divider in the middle of the tin with more greaseproof paper (we’re going to make half plain and half pink sponge, so you need a divider for this).

Put the butter and sugar into a bowl. Mix well (best to use an electric beater) until light and fluffy.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs, then add, a little at a time, to the butter mixture, beating well after each addition. Add the salt, vanilla and almond extract. Fold in the flour and almonds and beat gently until smooth.

Put half the batter into another bowl. Add a little red food colour to tint the batter pink. You won’t need very much – I used one teaspoon, and the colour was very intense.

Fill one half of the cake tin with the plain batter, and the other half with the pink batter, separating with the greaseproof paper divider.

Bake the cakes for around 30-40 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool completely.

To assemble the cake:

First, I recommend watching the Hairy Bikers video (if you’re able to get access). It should explain all!

To put the cake together, take out of the tin and remove the greaseproof paper.

Put one cake on top of the other, and trim the long edges to that they are the same size and form a square shape. Next, cut each piece lengthways, so you have four long rectangles of cake – two pink, two yellow.

Next, put the jam and a tablespoon of water into a saucepan. Heat gently until just boiling, then pour through a sieve – you’ll need to use a spoon to push everything through, and you’ll end up with a smooth jam “glue” to use on the cake.

Now is time to assemble to cake. Brush one long side of a piece of cake with jam, and attach to another piece. Repeat with the two other slices of cake. Next, brush the large side of one of the “glued” cakes, and put the other on top. You should now have a cake “loaf” with the alternating squares of sponge cake.

Take the marzipan and roll out on a surface sprinkled with icing sugar. Aim for a rectangle as wide as the cake is long, and long enough to go once round the cake. It should be around 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thickness.

Brush the whole cake with jam, then place on one end of the marzipan. Roll the cake along the marzipan, pressing lightly to make sure that it sticks properly. Keep rolling until the marzipan overlaps along one side.

Use a sharp knife to trim the marzipan until even, and then put onto a serving plate, with the seam on the bottom.

Before serving, cut a thin slice of either end to show the pattern of the sponge cakes.

Worth making? I was utterly stunned with just how amazing the home-made version of this cake turned out. The coloured part was perhaps a little too red, but it had a lovely moist texture, fragrant almond flavour and looked the part.

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Hark, the Royal Wedding! Maids of Honour Tarts

You might remember in the dark days of last winter, the announcement came from the Palace that there would be a royal wedding in 2011. Reactions were…muted.

Fast forward to Spring, and actually, the country seems to be completely cock-a-hoop about the whole thing. And the excitement is not contained to these fair isles, it seems the American media are really only just about able to contain how thrilled they are. We’ve seen Kate launching a lifeboat in Wales, Kate flipping a pancake in Ireland…yes, we (more accurately, the media) just can’t get enough of it. Kate shops, Kate crosses the road, buy Kate’s ring, wear her dress, and from late 2011, see her wax figure at Madame Tussauds. If you’ve got questions, there is a very helpful FAQ website here.

We were all supposed to throw street parties. We all thought “nope, won’t be doing that”. And then the shops were full of bunting and Union Flags for a bit of waving by the masses on the big day, and actually, we’ll probably all be doing it after all. The British, it seems, really do quite like a royal wedding after all. And best of luck to them!

To keep in with the mood of the nation, there obviously needs to be a little culinary nod to HRH Prince William and his future wife, and what could be more fitting that Maids of Honour tarts?

These certainly have a royal pedigree, but as with a lot of cakes that have a story to tell, there are a few versions floating about. Here are some of my more interesting findings:

Theory one: the maids of honour attending one of Henry VIII‘s Queens (possibly Catherine of Aragon) would nibble on these custardy, lemony treats (and the lemon link does fit with Catherine’s Iberian origins). So far, so nice. However, there is a darker element. The King, upon seeing how much the ladies enjoyed them, tasted one for himself, found it to be very good indeed, and so had to ensure that no-one else could learn the secret. How was this to be achieved? The unfortunate cook was locked up when he or she was not preparing pastry or zesting lemons. It’s probably a good thing we have moved from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.

Theory two: these cakes were enjoyed by the maids of honour of Queen Elizabeth I when they were at Richmond Palace. The richness of these cakes (and remember – back in the day, lemons, sugar and butter were luxuries) made them famous and they were small objects of desire for fashionable members of the royal court.

Theory three: Henry VIII called these cakes “Maids of Honour” when he offered one to a future Queen, Anne Boleyn.

So we have learned…that we’re not exactly sure where they came from, but the Richmond link is strong, even to this day, and it seems to be a safe bet that they were around in the times of the Tudors. At this point, I confess that I am a huge fan of the recent TV series. Historically accurate? Maybe not, but a jolly good watch every weekend.


Now, at this stage, I realise two things. The links to the Tudors is probably not the parallel the I want to make with Wills and Kate (to whom I wish the best of luck). I’ve also failed to tell you what these cakes are actually like.

The cases can be made of shortcrust butter pastry of puff pastry. I used shortcrust here, but for the Big Day I will try them again but with puff pastry. The filling is a mixture of eggs, cream cheese, almonds and lemon zest plus a few aromatic “extras”. The filling sets when they are baked, so they are a little bit like mini-lemon baked cheesecakes. Some versions also add a little dash of something else under the filling – either lemon curd (to make them extra-citrussy) or some jam. I liked this idea, so I made some with lemon curd and some with seedless raspberry jam (typically British), but you could also use marmalade, apricot jam, strawberry jam or whatever else takes your fancy.

Now, the practical but – how exactly to flavour the filling? Lemon is a constant in all recipes, but as we are looking to make Maids of Honour for a Royal Wedding, I looked back to what would only have been available only to a royal kitchen back in Tudor times, and I went for broke: a pinch of saffron, citrus zest, orange zest, ground almonds, almond extract, orange blossom water, a pinch of cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg. Clearly not the sort of things your average peasant would have been able to get hold of. For for a queen indeed.

If you’re looking to make these, they are well worth the effort and make a nice treat for a picnic or tea. However, use saffron only if you like the flavour. I know it can be an acquired taste, so if you prefer, just play it safe and stick with the lemon and spices, which will still give a wonderful flavour and delicate aroma.

To make Maids of Honour (makes 10):

For the pastry:

• 125g plain flour
• 80g unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
• pinch of salt
• 2 teaspoons caster sugar
• iced water

Put the flour, butter, salt and sugar in a bowl. Use your fingers and work until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add enough iced water until the dough comes together (no more than 1-2 tablespoons). Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

For the filling:

• 50ml milk
• very tiny pinch of saffron strands (optional)
• 150g cream cheese
• 40g ground almonds
• 50g caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
• 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
• zest of 1/2 lemon
• zest of 1/4 orange
• pinch of cinnamon
• pinch of nutmeg
• 50g butter, at room temperature

If using saffron: put the milk in a saucepan and heat until almost boiling. Turn off the heat, add the saffron strands and allow to sit for 10 minutes until the milk is infused with the saffron colour and aroma. Put the cooled milk and the rest of the ingredients in a bowl, and mix with a balloon which until smooth.

If not using saffron: put all the ingredients in a bowl, and mix with a balloon which until smooth.

To prepare the tarts:

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Grease a cupcake tray with butter.

Roll out the dough as thin as you can – you might find it easier to work the dough with your hands so that it is pliable and does not crumble. Cut our rounds of pastry, put into the to 2-3mm thin, and cut out rounds to line a cupcake tray. Use fingers to press the dough as thin as you can (we want a high filling-to-pastry ratio).

Add one scant teaspoon of jam or curd to the bottom of each case (not too much – or the jam will boil and leak out when baking). Fill each tart two-thirds with the filling mixture – it will puff up slightly during baking.

Bake the tarts for 20 minutes until the filling is puffed and the pastry is golden. You may need to turn the baking tray around half-way to ensure they colour evenly.

Once cooked, remove from the oven, and serve with a light dusting of icing sugar (which would also have been an extravagance in Tudor times).

Worth making? These are very simple but elegant little tarts, which are relatively straightforward to make, and taste great. The filling can be customised depending on exactly what you like in the way of flavours and spices. Will Kate eat them on the big day? We don’t know that yet, but might just be the perfect thing to impress guests are you’re gathered around the television on Friday.

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