I sure hope you don't have Royal Wedding fatigue. If you do, I only have myself to blame for taking this long to share the story and recipe with you. (My bad.) But when you take a culinary risk, and it doesn't end up sucking, well, you want to tell the world. Right?
In the week leading up to the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, a lot of people were obsessed with finding out the details of the ceremony. What dress would Meaghan wear? Who would walk her down the aisle? How would the couple pay tribute to Harry's mum? Not me. (Okay, kind of not me.) While I was intrigued by the details, what most fascinated me was the cake.
It started, as most great things do, on a whim and a Google search.
With a full guest list of friends coming over to watch the nuptials, I was in full party planning mode one week before the wedding. I'd ordered decorations, planned activities (including a build-your-own fascinator station) and created a menu. It was during that last step I punched in a random Google search: "royal wedding cake". As a minor Anglophile, I was familiar enough with British customs to expect a series of fruit cakes to populate my search results. While we in the U.S. have dabbled in cupcake towers, dessert tables, and so on for our weddings, the Brits have stayed pretty true during the past few centuries. Queen Victoria's cake weighed 300 pounds. (And a slice of it sold at auction for way more than I'd pay for 120-year-old cake.) Queen Elizabeth's topped out at 9 feet. Wills and Kate shook things up by having a chocolate cookie groom's cake. I fully expected to hear rumors about what boozy fruits would be used. I half-heartedly contemplated the notion of making my first and last fruit cake.
I was naturally stunned to stumble across a series of articles announcing that an American-born London baker would be creating a lemon elderflower cake with Swiss merengue buttercream frosting for the big day. I promptly did another search, "lemon elderflower cake", and read through dozens of articles and recipes speculating on this untraditional royal wedding cake. By the time I ended my hour-long research rabbit hole, one thing was quite certain. I was going to try to make the bloody cake for the watch party.
Going through the research again, I made notes. I saved the recipes that came from British sources and read up on Claire Ptak's style. After spending the next several days stalking the baker's Instagram account, I felt fairly confident in my approach.
Here's what I believed in my heart:
- The cake would use primarily fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
- The buttercream frosting and decor would be more rustic than perfect in style.
- Each layer would be tall, consisting of four thinner layers with frosting between each.
- The cake would be simpler than we imagined: more like a pound cake than anything else.
- I needed to make a trip to World Market to buy the cordial, and while I was there, I might as well treat myself to some Hob Nobs and other treats.
I bought the ingredients I figured I would need and said a little prayer all would go well.
Thursday night, I greased two tall (3-inch) 6-inch pans, pre-heated my oven to 350 degrees, pulled out the ingredients and went to work.
I have the recipe below, but I'll admit, this wasn't super easy. While the cake was simple enough to assemble, it played mind games with me. I was terrified with how spongey it came out of the oven. (Don't worry about this: It's actually delicious.) I'm also super thrilled I froze the cake layers between decorating, because I have not doubt I would have biffed the frosting process.
Speaking of the frosting . . .
It was hell. And I'll admit to all of you, I never totally got the butter blended. I should have ran the mixer for a few more minutes, but by this point I could practically feel sugar and butter oozing out of my pores, and I gave myself a D for "done." I left mine with what I dubbed "butter pockets." (People love butter, so maybe I'm actually a brilliant genius.) So yes, my giant vat of frosting was lumpy, but at a certain point I had to move on with my life and wash my face and brush my teeth.
You may notice my cake has white chocolate flakes on it. They were supposed to be curls, because I'd read the cake might have white chocolate curls on the sides. It didn't. And unless you're better at making chocolate curls than I am, I definitely say you should skip this step. (Seriously. The YouTube videos I watched made it look so easy, but this was the part that nearly broke me.)
When the cake was frosted and decorated--and I'd sampled a bit of the cake and frosting to know it wouldn't kill anyone--I was ready to place my cake in the fridge overnight. I picked up the freshly frosted cake and promptly dropped it. I made a lucky, and dramatic catch, halfway to the floor. In that moment I knew--even after all the hours of researching and agonizing and baking and decorating and fighting back tears--if the cake had hit the floor, I would have dumped it in the trash can and said, "Well, I guess this was cursed. C'est la vie."
It is the most zen I have ever been, and will likely ever be, about anything in my life.
Thank goodness I didn't drop it, though, because the cake was delicious. Not only did I enjoy it, but my friends said they did too. Granted, I have lovely friends. They could have been appeasing me knowing full-well I might go off the deep end if they said it sucked.
But there you have it. After Harry and Meghan kissed outside of the church and took a carriage ride around Windsor, I served up slices of lemon elderflower cake to my guests. I never actually cried and nobody had food poisoning. We can go ahead put this one in the "success" column.
Read on for the recipe.
Lemon Elderflower CakeServes 12
8 ounces butter
8 ounces sugar (caster if you're in England, but I used granulated)
4 large eggs
8 ounces self-rising flour
1 lemon (zest and juice)
4 fluid ounces of lemon elderflower cordial
3/4 cup egg whites (I used egg beaters)
6 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
24 ounces butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon elderflower cordial
Combine room temperature butter, sugar and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Mix until it is creamy and smooth. Add one egg at a time. (Tip: Add 2 tablespoons of sifted self-rising flour before adding the final egg to prevent curdling.) Sift the remaining flour into a bowl, folding it into the mixture. Add half the lemon juice into the batter, mixing slowly.
Pour half the batter into each pan and place in oven. Bake for 45 minutes and check doneness. Add an additional 5 to 10 minutes depending on how your oven works.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Remove from pans. Slice each layer in half when able. Poke holes in top of layer with fork. Mix remaining lemon juice with the elderflower cordial. Brush the juice over each layer. Wrap in parchment paper, place in freezer safe bags, and store in freezer overnight.
The next day, in a large bowl combine the egg whites, powdered sugar and salt in a bowl. Mix at low speed until everything is blended. Then, turn speed up to medium for 5-6 minutes. After the frosting begins to make peaks, add room temperature butter a couple of tablespoons at a time. Then add the vanilla and lemon elderflower cordial. Once everything is blended, turn the mixer to medium and beat for about 10 minutes. Store in the fridge for about 10-15 minutes.
Remove the cake from the freezer. Create a bottom layer of cake topped with a generous layer of frosting. Repeat three more times. Once all four layers are placed, use remaining buttercream for the sides. To be truly authentic for the wedding, use a flat, wide spatula and leave it textured rather than perfectly smooth.
Top with fresh flowers, fruit or whatever floats your boat.
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