Victory of the Victorian sponge
So it is a sponge! Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding cake was a good old Victorian sponge cake. Though it is one of the classics in British baking, having a sponge cake for a royal wedding is a huge shift from the tradition of British wedding cakes. According to custom, it had to be a fruitcake with royal icing. Interestingly, both cakes have roots from the Victorian era and the legacy of the sweet-toothed queen who surely loved her cake.
When it comes to British wedding cakes, the extravaganza all started with Queen Victoria. In her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840, her bridal cake was coated with a calcareous layer of sugar coating, called royal icing ever since. Double refined white sugar was a luxury in the past, a symbol of status to display wealth. A pure white icing on a cake was the best way for the family to show off their wealth on their wedding day.
The Victorians also considered white icing as a symbol of purity in a wedding, just like the white bridal gown. Queen Victoria had worn a pure white gown trimmed with lace as her bridal dress, and an intricately decorated white icing finish on a cake just seemed to be the perfect match. The cake itself was a fruit cake, again laden with dried fruits, nuts and spices demonstrating the bounty of the Commonwealth of Nations that were part of the British Empire. Since then, every single royal wedding cake was a dense fruitcake, covered with a layer of marzipan and a final decorative coating of royal icing. The cake could endure time, never went stale, just as the British monarchy. It became the British way to go in weddings.
The tradition was not challenged by Victoria’s royal successors. Queen Elizabeth’s cake was a nine-foot fruitcake elaborately decorated with sculptural sugar ornamentations, so was Diana’s towering five-foot-tall fruitcake made by the Royal Naval cooking school. In rather recent weddings, royal cakes began bearing certain new messages. When Prince Charles married Camilla Parker-Bowles, their cake was made by Etta Richardson, a humble Wales housewife from Llansteffan who had a cake stand at a local fair. This was the first humble cake in a royal setting, just fit for the couple’s untraditional marriage.
Prince William and Kate Middleton went for a classic style, with an impressively royal-looking cake made by Fiona Cairns. Kate focused more on the floriography, the silent messages given by the language of flowers on the royal icing, a well-thought act based on the Victorian symbolism of flowers. William seemed to be more interested in the flavor, and opted to have a spare cake for the party just for the sake of taste, his favorite chocolate cake originally made by McVitie for the royal family.
Though it is not traditional to have a sponge cake for a royal wedding, the Victoria sponge cake is one of the great classics of British high-tea tables. It is a pound cake made by the creaming method with equal amounts of butter, sugar, eggs and flour, cut in half and sandwiched together by a red jam, preferably strawberry or raspberry. It is the iconic cake of British bakery, a national favorite for teatime. Still, the cake of Harry and Meghan is far from classic in every sense, it is definitely not the usual buttery cake layered with jam. On the contrary, it is an upgraded one, a lemon sponge with the uplifting freshness of lemon zest and frosted with an elderflower-perfumed cream.
It may be rightly said that it is the bride’s American influence. The white pound cake, or Angel food cake, is considered to be a classic wedding cake in the United States, as opposed to Britain’s old-fashioned fruitcakes. The American style unexpectedly put an unforgettable mark on this wedding. The gospel singing “Stand by Me,” Preacher American Bishop Michael Curry quoting Martin Luther King, and crying out “There is power in love!” was more like a scene from a Hollywood movie than a British royal ceremony, in contrast with the very British motto of “Keep calm and carry on.”
During the wedding, there were numerous revolutionary acts. The bride walked halfway down the aisle solo and Prince Harry chose to wear a wedding ring, just like any other common husband. Nevertheless, the wedding was a happy one, all smiles and warm feelings. The wedding cake, made by Claire Ptak from California, was the perfect finale for such a wedding, as it was a cake that put a smile on everyone’s face like a fresh spring breeze, bringing a California sunshine sparkling over an empire on which the sun never sets.
The British are masters in bridging the past and the present and opening new prospects for the future. With this wedding, they rebranded the British monarchy with an American celebrity twist. Now, the new flavor is fresh and bright, lemony and zesty, hip and joyful California-style, while still sweet, yet not cloyingly sweet!
Recipe of the Week: Kensington Palace announced the ingredients as 200 Amalfi lemons, 500 organic eggs from Suffolk, 20 kilograms of butter, 20 kgs of flour, 20 kgs of sugar and 10 bottles of Sandringham Elderflower Cordial. Easy to adapt! Take a good Victorian sponge cake recipe, probably from the BBC. Just make sure to add the grated zest of two lemons to the batter. Bake, cut in half, and drizzle with elderflower cordial. The easiest place to find it in Turkey is at Ikea. Spread the cake with a good tart lemon curd (you have to make your own or beg friends going to Britain to bring a jar). Frost with butter cream or if challenging, Swiss meringue frosting flavored with elderflower cordial, and voila! You have your royal cake.
Fork of the Week: Royal weddings and ceremonies of Ottoman times had one single dish that was almost obligatory: Zerdeli pilav, a buttery rice pilaf topped with a rice pudding flavored with saffron and rosewater called “zerde” because of its bright yellow tint, meaning “gold” in Persian. It was as imperial as could be, with precious ingredients, expensive white rice, white sugar, saffron and rosewater.
This is a dish completely extinct now. No one in Turkey can think of topping a savory pilaf with a sweet layer of pudding. However, the once royal Ottoman dish popped up at a reception recently in Ankara. No, it was not another neo-Ottoman attempt by the presidency, but a reception to celebrate Europe Day. The European Delegation in Ankara chose to make a reception consisting of all-historic recipes (proud to say all compiled by me) to pay tribute to the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage. So, the unusual pilav-zerde combination was a nod to the legacy of Ottoman cuisine. Hope it catches on and ends up being served at festive occasions and weddings like it used to be.
Cork of the Week: A sparkly rosé is the perfect choice for weddings. This season, we have many pink newcomers in the market by wineries such as Kayra, Pamukkale, Suvla, and Vinkara, some with a pale blush tint, like Harry’s shy smile, and some as outspoken as Meghan’s American accent. You may add a dash of elderflower syrup to create the new Kir Royal of the season; it will surely add a touch of magic. Remember, according to the belief elderberry protects from the evil, and is a fruit of the opposites, bearing the magic of juxtaposition, where opposites unite and find synergy.