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Mrs. Weston’s Wedding Cake

In Jane Austen’s day, weddings were often held first thing in the morning, after which the bridal couple and their guests returned home to celebrate with a wedding breakfast like that served to Anna Austen and Benjamin Lefroy in 1814: “The breakfast was such as best breakfasts then were. Some variety of bread, hot rolls, buttered toast, tongue, ham and eggs. The addition of chocolate at one end of the table and the wedding-cake in the middle marked the speciality of the day.”

Though rich fruit and nut cakes had been used for centuries, in 1786 Elizabeth Raffald was the first to publish a recipe for a cake specifically for weddings. The cake was served not only at the wedding breakfast, but also shared with the household servants and sent in pieces to friends and relatives who had not attended the ceremony. These wedding cakes were single tiered, double frosted confections, though by no means small. Queen Victoria’s 1840 wedding cake measured 9 feet around and weighed 300 pounds, although it was only 14 inches high.

A period depiction of Queen Victoria's wedding cake.
A period depiction of Queen Victoria’s wedding cake.

This recipe makes an enormous cake. I have quartered the ingredients and it fit nicely into my 12 ½cm/ 5in deep, 25cm /10in springform pan.

To Make a Bride Cake
Take four pounds of fine flour well dried, four pounds of fresh butter, two pounds of loaf sugar, pound and sift fine a quarter of an ounce of mace the same of nutmegs, to every pound of flour put eight eggs, wash four pounds of currants, pick them well, and dry them before the fire. Blanch a pound of sweet almonds, and cut them lengthways very thin, a pound of  citron, one pound of candied orange, the same of candied lemon, half a pint of brandy; first work the butter with your hand to cream, then beat in your sugar a quarter of an hour, beat the whites of your eggs to a very strong froth, mix them with your sugar and butter, beat your yolks half an hour at least, and mix them with your cake, then put in your flour, mace and nutmeg, keep beating it well till your oven is ready, put in your brandy, and beat your currants and almonds lightly in, tie three sheet s of paper round the bottom of your hoop to keep it from running out, rub it well with butter, put in your cake, and lay your sweetmeats in three lays, with cake betwixt every lay, after it is risen and coloured, cover it with paper before your oven is stopped up; it will take three hours baking. – Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1794

454 g / 16 oz / 4 cups Flour

454 g / 16 oz  / 2 cups Butter

454 g / 16 oz / 2 cups Sugar

1/2 tsp Mace

1/2 tsp Nutmeg

8 Eggs, divided

454 g / 1 lb / 3 cups Currants

142 g / 5 oz / 1 cup Slivered Almonds

113 g / 4 oz / ½ cup Citron

113 g / 4 oz / ½ cup Candied Lemon peel

113 g / 4 oz / ½ cup Candied Orange peel

120 ml / ½ Cup Brandy or 1 oz Brandy extract plus Apple Juice to equal a ½ cup.

Whip the whites of 8 eggs to stiff peaks and set aside. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and egg yolks.  Once they are combined, fold in the egg whites, brandy or juice and spices. Add the flour a little at a time until it is incorporated. Stir in the almonds and currants.

Preheat the oven to 149° C / 300° F. Generously grease a tall 25cm / 10in springform pan. Spoon ¼ of the batter into the pan and top with 1/3 of the citron, orange peel and lemon peel. Repeat twice more and top with remaining batter.

Bake for 2 ½ hours, top with Almond and Sugar Icings (See Below)

Serves 25

Elizabeth Raffald's recipe and a modern interpretation can be found in Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle.
Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe and a modern interpretation can be found in Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle.

Icings for the Bride-Cake

To make Almond-Icing for the Bride Cake
Beat the whites of three eggs to a strong froth, beat a pound of Jordan almonds very fine with rose water, mix your almonds with the eggs lightly together, a pound of common loaf sugar beat fine, and put in by degrees; When your cake is enough, take it out, and lay your icing on, then put it in to brown. ER

3 Egg whites* or Meringue Powder equivalent

283 g / 10 oz / 2 cups blanched almonds, ground to powder.

1 tbsp Rose Water

454 g / 16 oz / 2 cups powdered sugar

In a food processor, combine the almonds, rose water and sugar and set this aside. Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Slowly add the almond mixture to the egg whites until incorporated. Spread this on the top of your cake as soon as you take it from the oven, and then return the cake to the oven until the top is lightly browned. Cool the cake slightly on a rack. Once the cake is cool enough to touch, slide a knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Remove the edge of the pan and ice the cake with Sugar Icing.

To Make Sugar Icing for the Bride Cake
Beat two pounds of double refined sugar, with two ounces of fine starch, sift it through a gauze sieve, then beat the whites of five eggs with a knife upon  a pewter dish half an hour; beat in your sugar a little a t a time, or it will make the eggs fall, and will not be so good a colour, when you have put in all your sugar, beat it half an hour longer, then lay it on your almond iceing, and spread it even with a knife; if it be put on as soon as the cake comes out of the oven it will be hard by the time the cake is cold. ER

907 g /

32 oz/ 4 cups Powdered Sugar

4 tbsp Corn Starch

5 Egg whites* or Meringue Powder equivalent

Sift together the starch and powdered sugar and set aside. Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Slowly add in the sugar mixture, while the mixer continues to whip the egg whites. If you add the sugar too fast the whites will fall and you will end up with a glaze instead of icing. Continue to whip the icing for a few more minutes until it is the consistency of marshmallow cream. Ice the cake using a large, flat spatula, creating whorls and swirls in the pattern. Allow to stand at room temperature for several hours so that the icing hardens. Decorate with fresh flowers, if desired.

*The consumption of raw egg whites can lead to food poisoning. Use meringue powder as a safe alternative.

Excerpted from Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle. Laura is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. She is the proprietor of Austenation: Regency Accessories, creating custom hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe. Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends is her first book. Her greatest joy is the time she is able to spend in her home with her family (1 amazing husband, 4 adorable children and a very strange dog.)

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Weddings During the Regency Era

regency era wedding

Weddings During the Regency Era

The bride was elegantly dressed; the two bridesmaids were duly inferior; her father gave her away; her mother stood with salts in her hand, expecting to be agitated; her aunt tried to cry; and the service was impressively read by Dr Grant.
Mansfield Park

Say the word “wedding” and most of us think about a bride dressed all in white, half a dozen brides maids (or more), a big bash with loads of guests and a huge cake. But what kind of weddings where common during the Regency era and Jane Austen’s lifetime? Did the bride wear white?

A Family Affair

Royal weddings tend to be big and there was no exception when Princess Charlotte married Prince Leopold in 1816.

As we have been gratified with a sight of the wedding dresses of this amiable and illustrious female, a particular yet concise account of them cannot but be acceptable to our fair readers.

The Royal Bride, happy in obtaining him whom her heart had selected, and whom consenting friends approved, wore on her countenance that tranquil and chastened joy which a female so situated could not fail to experience. Her fine fair hair, elegantly yet simply arranged, owed more to its natural beautiful wave than to the art of the friseur; it was crowned with a most superb wreath of brilliants, forming rosebuds with their leaves.

Her dress was silver lama [lamé] on net, over a silver tissue slip, embroidered at the bottom with silver lama in shells and flowers. Body and sleeves to correspond, elegantly trimmed with point Brussels lace. The manteau was of silver tissue lined with white satin, with a border of embroidery to answer that on the dress, and fastened in front with a splendid diamond ornament. Such was the bridal dress …

The jewellery of the royal bride is most superb; beside the wreath, are a diamond cestus, ear- rings, and an armlet of great value, with a superb set of pearls. The court dresses worn by the royal family and nobility on this occasion were particularly splendid; we are sorry our limits will not allow us to enter into particulars, but we cannot forbear noticing the singular taste and elegance, displayed in the superb lama dress, so beautifully wrought with silver lilies, of the Marchioness of Cholmondeley; we have never before witnessed so charming a combination of classical taste, splendour, and touching simplicity.
La Belle Assemblee (May 1816)

However, most weddings in Jane Austen’s time were private, family affairs. Even fashionable weddings at the church of choice of the day were but sparingly attended, usually only by close relatives or, if in the village church, by the local inhabitants. The bride did have a few attendants, mainly unmarried younger sisters or cousins. The groom commonly had his best man and the witnesses, of course. Usually the bride’s parents attended,as well.

What about the lavish party? Well, there wasn’t always one! Consider Charlotte Lucas’ wedding day in Pride and Prejudice,”The wedding took place; the bride and bridegroom set off for Kent from the church door.”

Most weddings were performed in church after the reading of banns. Unless the couple had a license the ceremony had to be performed in church before lunch time (hence the popularity of the Wedding Breakfast!).

The very rich, like the De Bourghs and the Darcys, would sometimes marry by special license in the family drawing room but it was very costly. Ever socially conscious, Mrs. Bennet exclaims over Mr. Darcy’s fortune, “Ten thousand a year, and very likely more! ‘Tis as good as a Lord! And a special licence! You must and shall be married by a special licence!”

According to Henry Churchyard of the Jane Austen Information Page, “All of Jane Austen’s couples would have been married according to the ceremony taken from the Church of England Book of Common Prayer; Emma Woodhouse refers to the part in which “N. takes M.” for her wedded husband “for better, for worse”. This “Form of Solemnization of Matrimony” has remained almost entirely unchanged from 1662 to the present.”

Bridal Fashions

How common the white wedding dress was during the Regency era is hard to say, but we have some reasons to suspect that it was more prevalent than many may think. Although no bridal fashion prints survive from before 1813, paintings of wedding scenes, such as Highmore’s 1743 illustration for Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, do depict brides in white. Veils seems to have become popular somewhat later in the century so most brides either wore flowers in their hair, a cap or sometimes a hat.

When Jane Austen’s niece Anna married Benjamin Lefroy in 1814, she wore “a dress of fine white muslin, and over it a soft silk shawl, white shot with primrose, with embossed white-satin flowers, and very handsome fringe, and on her head a small cap to match, trimmed with lace.”*

Although bouquets and flowers with personal meanings came into vogue during the Victorian era, flowers and herbs have been used in weddings since the beginning of time as a way of showing love and well wishes to everyone. The first recorded use of wedding flowers dates back to the ancient Greeks. Flowers and plants were used to make a crown for the bride to wear and were considered a gift of nature. Bridesmaids would make the floral decorations including garlands, bridal bouquet and boutonniere.+

Wedding Announcements

The newspaper announcement was, perhaps, the most socially important part of the wedding. Jane Austen, herself, once wrote, “The latter writes me word that Miss Blackford is married, but I have never seen it in the papers, and one may as well be single if the wedding is not to be in print.”

“I suppose you have heard of it; indeed, you must have seen it in the papers. It was in the Times and the Courier, I know; though it was not put in as it ought to be. It was only said, ‘Lately, George Wickham Esq., to Miss Lydia Bennet,’ without there being a syllable said of her father, or the place where she lived, or anything. It was my brother Gardiner’s drawing up too, and I wonder how he came to make such an awkward business of it. Did you see it?”

 


 

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Yvonne Forsling is a culitvator of exoctic Hibiscus and Regency Enthusiast. Visit her site, Yvonne’Space for a look into her passions and talents. Further discussion of Regency colour, as well as many other period plates can be found in the Regency Section of her website.

*Reminiscences by Caroline Austen
+ From Love to Know: Weddings