In 2017, the Pâtisserie team at Le Cordon Bleu London were offered the fascinating opportunity to recreate the 1947 wedding cake of the then, Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. The recreation of the 9ft tall fruit cake was documented on ITV’s documentary “A Very Royal Wedding”. This month we will be sharing exclusive insight about the creation of this Royal wedding cake with an interview series with Head of Pâtisserie at Le Cordon Bleu London, Chef Julie Walsh who lead this exciting project.
In this article we will discuss how the project came about and the extensive research that took place behind the scenes to enable this show stopping cake to take shape!
What ingredients did you use and how much?
To make this iconic cake we used only the finest quality ingredients. Generally, fruit cakes use a high percentage of dried fruits and spices so you can just imagine the scale of resources we needed. For the fruit cake itself we used in the region of 60 lbs of butter, 55 lbs of sugar, 750 eggs, 80 oranges, 80 lemons, 3 litres of navy rum and a total of 340 lbs of sultanas, raisons, cherries and spices to create this 500 lbs plus showstopper. Not to mention using over 150 lbs of marzipan, and 110 lbs of icing sugar to coat and create the intricate hand piped decorations.
How much time did you spend researching information about the original cake?
Le Cordon Bleu London were first approached by Oxford productions in October 2016 to discuss the feasibility and logistics of their concept, at that stage we were shown two designs as it wasn’t confirmed which had been the “official” cake design, both were very different. Once we had confirmation of which design would be made we began preparations over the Christmas period. The first day of filming was scheduled for January 2017, so we didn’t have much time at all. To begin with, there was very limited reliable sources available so we mostly studied historic pictures of the 1947 wedding cake that were available. Eventually, the company that baked the original cake, McVities & Price provided some archive resources to the production team so we were able to cross reference these when planning the scale and the intricate decorations of the cake.
Can you share some history of the original recipe?
The original recipe was developed by Fredrick Schur, Lead Confectioner at McVities & Price. He had his original design for the cake selected by the happy couple out of 11 possible designs. The recipe for the original cake was not disclosed and may have been lost in a fire that devastated the McVities & Price factory many years ago, therefore we had to piece together the information we had to develop the recipe. We discovered that as the royal wedding took place in 1940’s post war Britain, food rationing was still in force, many of the ingredients for a cake of this magnitude would have been scarce and hard to find in the quantities required. The people of Britain and the Commonwealth donated as much as they could spare to ensure the young princess had a fitting cake for the celebrations. The most notable donation came from the Girl Guide Association of Australia (Princess Elizabeth held the office of Chief Ranger of the British Empire) who sent seven crates containing ingredients for the cake including powdered milk, flour, spices, and dried fruit, as well as 1 bottle of the best Australian Brandy! In addition to the Girl Guides donation, others received included flour from Canada, Rum from Jamaica and brown sugar from Barbados. Obviously for our cake, we included these ingredients as a nod to the original, all be it in larger quantities, and we supplemented them with the finest ingredients from Commonwealth countries we could find (and used a lot more brandy).
How long did it take to bake the cakes?
The first stage of filming was the production and baking of the cakes, this took place in early January 2017. In order to ensure the cakes would bake correctly, we had bespoke baking tins made. The largest tiers of the cake contained 120 kg of cake batter had to be baked in sections in the specially designed and reinforced tins. They had to be baked very slowly to ensure they cooked fully in the centre without burning on the edges, the largest of the cakes took a staggering 13 hours to bake.
All together this baking stage took a total of 35 hours to completely bake all four tiers.
Next in our series, we will find out more about the architecture of the royal wedding cake and how the Le Cordon Bleu team managed to get the 500 lb cake to stand tall.