Ode to the Royal Wedding Cake

Sunday September 18, 2011

Prince William and Kate Middleton's vintage glamour wedding cake-the Royal Wedding Cake 2011 decorated white on white with over 900 handmade flowers and scrolling

Wills and Kate are back from their honeymoon already (and their first official state duty of greeting the Obamas in the palace behind them and a visit to Los Angeles with dinner prepared by Giada De Laurentiis. What was on the menu? Pea pesto crostini, California chopped salad, and chicken Milanese.) and I haven’t even made my statement on their wedding cake yet! Soooo here is my spring/summer 2011 royal wedding cake extravaganza recap…

the ultimate here comes the bride...great shot of Elizabeth and Phillip/1947

But it was a summer of royal weddings from Albert Prince of Monaco with Charlene Whittstock of South Africa, to the very private wedding of Zara Phillips, cousin to William, to her captain of England’s rugby team commoner, Mike Tindall (not even a photo of the cake!), and Victoria the Crown Princess of Sweden became the Duchess of Västergötland after her wedding last June. I was delighted to read that Princess Victoria is of the house of Bernadotte, Napoleon’s general who left France to become the King of Sweden and rival to Napoleon diplomatically (the 1950s novel Desiree by AnneMarie Selenko is the story of the wife of Bernadotte–it was made into a movie with Marlon Brando and Michael Renny.). Germany had its own royal wedding last August when Prince Georg Friedrich of Prussia, the great-great grandson of the last German Emperor William II and Vicky, Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, wed his childhood sweetheart, Princess Sophie Johanna of Isenburg. Their Catholic wedding took place in Potsdam in the ground of Schloss Sanssoci Palace, the former summer residence of the imperial German royal family, the House of Hohenzollern.

Europeans love their royal weddings and members of the now non-existing royal houses are out showing that imperial glamour is not a thing of the past like the monarchy rule. Bring the tiaras out of the vaults! Get to work polishing the Glass Coach for the ride through the streets of London on the way to the ceremony! The festivities can be boiled down to who wears what over sized brimmed hat or fascinator. And of course the shoes and the CAKE. The royal part is in name only these days, left over from the ruling class of the pre-democratic era. Just about everyone is related directly or indirectly to Queen Victoria, as her children married into all the major royal houses of Europe.

the cupcake wedding cake-easy to grab, tuck a few in the purse or pocket, and run

Wedding cakes are pretty ho hum these days in terms of ease to procure. Every bakery makes their version and many talented independent contractors make cakes on an individual order basis, often by word of mouth. Google wedding cakes and just be amazed at all the different designs and sizes. There are all colors of the rainbow and even individual sized, which are adorable. Women want big cakes so they can recreate the romance and drama of a big royal wedding. A big cake is a statement!

You can go traditional, like the British fruitcake (known as a Dundee cake in Scotland) or the Scandinavian tall cone shape called the kransekake, or ring cake. It consists of consentrict circles of an almond sponge cake stacked on top of each other and held together with icing. Or you can go modern. Cupcakes for wedding cakes are super popular, as well as cookies cakes. Others want a different look totally and go for the croquembouche, a tower of caramel coated cream puffs, which is the gateaux de mariage in France. There are some great cake makers out there who make delicious cakes cuz lookin’ good is nothing if the cake tastes crappy (you can tell by all the dessert plates with cake left on them–who wants to waste calories these days?).

Kransekake wedding cake

It can be amusing to realize that the many-tiered frosted wedding cake as we know it is only about four hundred years old and it is dependent on granulated sugar as an ingredient. Once sugar was precious and rare, only available to royalty and by apothecaries for medicine. It came in a block and you had to grind it with a mortar and pestle to get it powdery. The Arabs in Sicily were importing sugar and only the wealthiest families could afford it. Before then, honey was the main sweetener and country wedding cakes were over sized dense yeasted loaves made with honey. We have come a long way from the bride entering her new estate with nothing more than a shower of grain, symbolizing fertility. The custom of throwing rice is borrowed from this tradition, a mainstay in Asia. Soon the grain became flour which made unleavened biscuits that were broken over the bride’s head. By Restoration England, the wedding cake was a pyramid of sweet, soft cakes (like the ring cake pictured above). But the sugar was dark and the virginal white icing needed the refined granulated sugar from the Caribbean to come to be. By the 18th century, the wedding cake was much like we know it now, a dense fruitcake which would support its height with no problem with white icing.

This towering confection is the traditional wedding cake of France. The name croquembouche, which means "crunch in the mouth," refers to the hard caramel that coats delicate puffs of pate a choux filled with vanilla custard.

The elite upper classes and royalty had personal chefs. This was a coveted profession and really hard work. Rich folk did not do their own cooking. The woman or man of the house delegated and supervised and took the credit. French chefs were renoun in the savory department. But it was the Italian chefs that were known as the premier pastry chefs. Way back when, the departments of regular cooking and sweet cooking were clearly separated. So when a royal married, he/she would often bring their own chefs to the courts. Why do without?

Thus in the realm of pastry, wedding cakes, more fine textured and delicate flavored and designed to visually entertain, were born. And the royals had the first real cakes. And considering the look of the royal wedding cakes today, they still take the cake.

Princess Anne and Mark Phillips cake/1973/reminescent of Swan Lake with silver pillars

When Wills and Kate got married on April 29, it was the biggest thing to happen to Britain since the last Prince of Wales wedding. They, of course, had a beautiful wedding cake–a traditional fruitcake made by British baker Fiona Cairns. I remember when Charles and Diana got married, the royal bakers fussed and complained they weren’t given enough time to let the cake set properly as the wedding was planned in under a year. A great cake, wrapped in cheesecloth and soaked with brandy, likes a year to get rummy-right.

I was reading how a slice of that cake is up for auction on eBay after a woman died. A slice of cake from 1981 wrapped in cellophane with the royal crest. A true collectors item, a memorabilia of that day for people who attended the wedding feast. Don’t even think edible. Its like the clay statue your child made back in kindergarten that you still have on the shelf and that child is now 40 years old. It’s for looks only. And to know you have it and bring it out to show your friends.

Here in USA, a fruitcake (similar to our Christmas fruitcakes) is considered a groom’s cake, secondary to the tiered delicate bride’s cake. I still have an old article written in the 1980s by Marion Cunningham on the Groom’s cake that was published in Gourmet Magazine. Being in the wedding cake biz, I was very familiar with the groom’s cake, but only about 5 percent ordered it. In the 1980s carrot wedding cakes became the rage, with chocolate second, then banana, applesauce, and even poppy seed. Often there would be a tier of each flavor, which is a gentle nightmare to portion and distribute since most people want tastes of all three or four.

Along the cake's base ran ivy leaves, symbolising marriage, and the bottom three tiers were decorated with piped lace work and daisies, meaning innocence, sweet William - grant me one smile - and lavender. I adore the close ups of this magnificent cake.

These days the white cake and pound cake are back in vogue, flavored with extracts of vanilla, almond, coconut, orange, lemon, etc. If you can bake a layer cake, you can make a wedding cake, stack it, and decorate it with some edible fresh flowers. Many brides today make their own cake.

The decorations on Kate's cake reflected some of the architectural details in the room so the garlands on the walls were loosely reproduced on the fourth tier - roses, acorns, ivy leaves, apple blossom and bridal rose--all done in the style from the Joseph Lambeth technique of cake decoration, where intricate piping is used to make three dimensional scroll work, leaves, flowers and other adornments.

Every bride gets to have her fantasy cake come true on her day. Bakers are artisans in delivering this in physical form. If you watch the Bridezilla show and the wedding cake show on cable, you know how much work goes into these cakes. At times it borders on an ordeal, especially if you are not experienced. But with all the fancy-dan this and that, my favorite is still white on white, which is what Kate chose. Its like saying your favorite flavor is vanilla and your friends say, oh that’s not interesting. But if you love vanilla, you don’t think you are missing out on tutti fruiti.

close up of the top of the cake/the cake was 17 individual fruit cakes decorated in elegant scroll work and piping/on the right side you can see Will and Kate's new personal insignia/The four flowers of the home nations - English rose, Scottish thistle, Welsh daffodil and Irish shamrock - were featured on the penultimate tier and the top cake.

Kate also gave Ms. Cairns detailed instructions to include 17 different blooms and foliage for their meaning or symbolism, known as the ‘language of flowers’. Considering the couple, it looks like the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge embody all these qualities already.

The 17 Flowers on the Cake

Rose (white) – national symbol of England
Daffodil – national symbol of Wales, new beginnings
Shamrock – national symbol of Ireland
Thistle – national symbol of Scotland
Acorns, oak leaf – strength, endurance
Myrtle – love
Ivy – wedded love, marriage
Lily of the valley – sweetness, humility
Rose (bridal) – happiness, love
Sweet William – grant me one smile
Honeysuckle – the bond of love
Apple blossom – preference, good fortune
White heather – protection, wishes will come true
Jasmine (white) – amiability
Daisy – innocence, beauty, simplicity
Orange blossom – marriage, eternal love, fruitfulness
Lavender – ardent attachment, devotion, success, and luck.

view from above of the wedding cake with 4 outer bottom sections of 3 layers each in progress of being set up. the cake was transported in sections and assembled on site. A multitude of sins can be covered up with all those decorations.

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales commissioned the tins for containing, as tradition requires, a slice of the Royal couple’s wedding cake. The tins were distributed to guests after the wedding/Queen Victoria's cake tins were made of silver. These are good for storing your pastry tips after you eat the cake.

So here are some fabulous royal and celebrity (the nouveau royality) cakes in my wedding cake hallmark hall of fame and shame…aka cake porn.

And they are pretty spectacular. The international royals still have the spectacular wedding cakes. I will start with the Middle East and head home to Britain, then end up in Greece…

Is this cake a kick or what? Talk about oversized pillows! With tassles and gold embroidery which seems to be a symbol of matrimony in the Middle East! Purple for the Roman emperors and gold for the Saudi sheiks. Take me to the kashbah. Has to be a nightmare to cut. Where to start? The top or the bottom? Chef Omar Addhihaoui of Kuwait.

Chef Omar again. The Kuwait Ace of Cakes. This looks like a wedding cake from the future copying an alien landing in a dream then being submerged underwater. That or for a Las Vegas showgirl wedding. Sort of a cake of all cakes. You can see by comparison with the human standing next to it, it is well over 6 feet tall and thick to boot. Each layer is a different thickness. I wonder what the coating is on the cake. It could be sprayed real gold. A slice out of that first top layer will be a longgggg sucker.

I have to include this 1993 royal wedding from the Middle East. Still going with the white and gold motif (I love her uber-attractive dress-rarely does one see short sleeve with a belt–one you could shorten it just above the knee and wear to parties for years after the wedding), Jordan’s Queen Rania and King Abdullah‘s enormous multi-tiered, rectangular-shaped cake was decorated with embossed crowns and lace embellishments. Check out the armed guard dressed in battle fatigues in the background. Just in case the brother or uncle gets tipsy and hogs the microphone singing off-key with the band.

I like this cake (left). It is romantic. It is from Prince Edward, Wills’ youngest brother, and Sophie Rhys-Jones the wedding of the Earl and Countess of Wessex, 1999. It has a look like from a midsummer’s night dream, all dark foresty and fairy-ish. It is a devils food chocolate cake that broke from flavor tradition. The layers are not that large per se. It is the pillars that give the single layers this incredible height. It is right by a window, so I hope it is winter so that the sun doesn’t melt the icing and drip flowers and foliage. I am not sure how to cut this one, since it is well out of reach, more of a display creation.

This below is one of the most famous of cakes and most photographed. The cake of Princess Grace of Monaco who left Hollywood for ruling the country that is the Las Vegas of Europe. This photo is probably from a 1956 Time magazine. The base itself is 3 or 4 layers, then white on white with short pillars and cherubs. The base looks like it has a replica of the palace. The layers are decorated with icing motifs. The upper two tiers of this incredible cake featured a built-in cage that held a pair of live turtledoves– they were released when the couple cut into the cake with Prince Rainier’s sword. Given to the newlyweds by the pastry chefs at Monte-Carlo’s famed Hôtel de Paris, was topped off with a revolving miniature of the bride and groom that played “Ave Maria” and Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March.” Royal grooms wear military regalia so they look very masculine next to the virginal lace of the all white bride.

This is their son, Albert of Monaco, and Charlene Wittstock‘s cake this last summer (below). It is slightly off kilter, like a giant’s cake,  and reflects the out-of-the-ordinary relationship. Charlotte was said to be looking for shelter in the South African embassy a few days before the wedding and was talked into going through with the wedding. She cried through the ceremony. The cake is decorated with the Proteas flower, which is the national flower of South Africa. The horn of plenty top piece somehow reminds me of Venus rising from the sea. Check out how smooth those tiers are and how deep as well. Interesting there is a side simple cake on a platform built into the table for the bride and groom’s celebratory slice of the red currant and vanilla cake. According to the chef, the cake is 1.50 meters in diameter and 2.50 meters high with 2,000 sugar flowers. The wedding dinner at the seaview terraces of the Opera House was prepared by 4-star French chef Alain Ducasse for 450 guests.

Albert of Monaco and Charlene Wittstock

Back to Britain and the House of Windsor, here is Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer‘s cake-weighing in at 255 pounds (below). It is a cake without humanity to me, geometric, sharp edges, very regal, all business, and a lack of femininity. And brown! Auch! Not surprised, it was baked by the Royal Navy’s Cookery School, HMS Pembroke, at Chatham, where cakes are constructed in the same manner as bridges and torpedos. The school’s senior instructor, Chief Petty Office Cook Dave Avery designed the cake. I wonder if that is a reproduction of an out of India marriage canopy or an ornate symbolic cage on top…I was confused about one square cake and a hexagonal cake, both similar and both labeled for Di. Topping out at more than 5 feet high, the cake was adorned with both the Prince and his family’s royal coat of arms, the couple’s first initials and a spray of roses, lilies of the valley and orchids. I come to find out Di had 23 cakes! No wonder they were baked in the cooking school for the Navy! All hands on deck to bake and decorate cakes!

Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer/1981
I was surprised to find the following cake photo. It is the official wedding cake of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later the Queen Mother) and then-Prince Albert, Duke of York, put on display in Reading, England, prior to their April, 1923 nuptials. Hordes of onlookers queued up for a view of the ornate, 10-ft. tall Victorian style confection replete with Grecian statues and architectural notes. Is this a small pruned bush for the top piece? It is a cake that blessed a marriage of love and duty, not only for the couple, but the country as well.

Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and the soon-to-be King George VI, 1923/a replica

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip‘s cake was a four-tier cake that weighed in at a whopping 500 lbs. The cake was covered in ornate, cathedral-like carvings – complete with tiny figures, lavish columns, and royal insignias designed to feed 2,000 guests. The cake panels were decorated with scenes from Elizabeth’s life, which would include her horsemanship, her beloved dogs, and becoming the wife of the man she loved the first time she met him. The flowers look like the Tudor rose. Crafted by McVitie and Price Ltd., the same biscuit company contributing the Groom’s Cake for William and Kate. Her platinum engagement ring had a large square diamond with smaller diamonds on either side. The diamonds came from Philip’s mother’s tiara. Her wedding band, the same as Kate’s, was made from Welsh gold which came from the Clogau St David’s mine near Dolgellau. The Worshipful Company of Gardeners provided the Princess’s bouquet, made of white orchids with a sprig of myrtle from the bush grown from the original myrtle in Queen Victoria’s wedding bouquet. The day after their wedding, Elizabeth’s bouquet was laid on the grave of the Unknown Warrior at the Abbey. Elizabeth wore her grandmother’s tiara. In order to be able to purchase the material for her wedding dress, Elizabeth saved up ration cards. Made of ivory duchesse satin woven from silk from Chinese silkworms at Lullingstone Castle, the dress was decorated with 10,000 white seed pearls, imported from America, silver thread, sparkling crystal and transparent appliqué tulle embroidery. Softly spaced throughout the dress were garlands of pearl orange blossom, syringa, jasmine and White Rose of York. These were skilfully combined with flowing lines of wheat ears, the symbol of fertility, and pearls arranged as white roses of York, entwined with ears of corn embroidered in crystal. Attached at the shoulders was a 15-foot star-patterned full court train, embroidered in pearl, crystal and appliqué duchesse satin. The ensemble was completed by a silk tulle veil held in place by a diamond fringe tiara, lent to the bride by her mother as ‘something borrowed’. The nine-foot high, four-tier wedding cake, was made with ingredients given by Australian Girl Guides. The wedding cake was cut using The Duke’s Mountbatten sword. After the wedding, leftover pieces of cake were given to schoolchildren and institutions.

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip's cake circa November 1947

I consider Fergie and Prince Andrew’s cake a transition cake spanning the modern and the traditional. The design was inspired by the society wedding styles and fashion of the late nineteenth century. It is has the regality, the height, but is still romantic and with the fresh flowers tumbling down the sides. Spirits were very high at the wedding of Prince Andrew and Duchess Fergie, who served their guests a marzipan and rum-soaked cake. The towering treat, which was prepared at the navy supply school HMS Raleigh, featured 15 ingredients, including rum, brandy and port, and was large enough to be cut into 2,000 slices. This lavish six tier royal-iced design stood over seven feet tall adorned with trailing fresh flower cascades in white and soft pink. It is white on white, with the icing decorations. Pretty in Pink for the dust ruffle on the base tier and the occasional pink rose. It is held together with the standard sized clip in pillars which set into the plate base. This cake is the standard 6 tiers. It would be easy to cut. I think this was a happy, boisterous wedding, all smiles.

Anthony Armstrong-Jones and Princess Margaret of Britain, May, 1960, was a marriage of high society, royalty, and the bohemian. The young princess took an interest in the arts and fashion and was the centre of a young set of aristocrats, know as The Margaret Set. This hexagonal wedding cake was made by Frank Jacobs (Chief Ornamentalist) of J. Lyons, who had a most enviable reputation for cake decoration with a sense of showmanship, style, and spectacle. Lyons provided the Buckingham Palace Garden Parties, the catering events at Windsor Castle, London’s Guildhall where the Lord Mayor’s banquets were held, the Chelsea Flower shows, and Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships. His culinary preparation laboratory was world-leading, attracting many graduates from Oxford and Cambridge for both cooking and business. Margaret Thatcher (née Roberts) worked as a food scientist in the laboratory before she became a member of the British Parliament and eventually Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. The cake took 5 weeks to complete, stood 5 feet tall and weighed 150 lb. The cake was decorated in white sugar panels piped in oak leaf design. The centre of the rose shaped windows contained a heraldic design in transparent colors of red, yellow and green. Princess Margaret’s personal coat of arms and the initials of the bride and groom were incorporated in the design. The floral decoration was specially designed from exotic flowers by Constance Spy Limited. Margaret’s wedding was the first to be televised.

Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones/1960

I love this cake (below). It is a masterpiece. It belongs to Greece’s Crown Prince Pavlos and heiress Marie-Chantal Miller at their July, 1995 nuptials, serving 300 smaller cakes – one per table – in addition to their main center of attraction sculpture. I love the 3-D floral decorations, not overdone, and the bucolic coloring. The design of the eight-tiered centerpiece by baker Colette Peters (who has written a book for you to do this at home) was inspired by a china pattern from the Royal Collection. It has the petal shaped base tier.
Greece’s Crown Prince Pavlos and Marie-Chantal Miller


Vintage Glamour Wedding Cake

Groom’s Chocolate Biscuit Cake

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2011

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

Your Comments

5 comments Comments Feed
  1. Carolyn Jung 19/09/2011 at 6:02 am

    Wow! What an amazingly thorough and intriguing post. I have to say that Kate’s and Will’s cake is still my fave of the bunch. Like everything else they did on their Big Day, the cake, itself, is glamorous yet classic and timeless. I just wish I could try a piece. But not one years old from eBay. Hah.

  2. Beth 21/09/2011 at 12:57 pm

    I am so glad some photographer took close ups of the different sections of the cake so we can oogle and wow the scroll work. the white on white is totally elegant. I wonder what it tasted like. it only had a small amount of tamarind added to the batter.

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