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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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Wedding Cakes

The compliments of his neighbours were over; he was no longer teased by being wished joy of so sorrowful an event; and the wedding-cake, which had been a great distress to him, was all eat up. His own stomach could bear nothing rich, and he could never believe other people to be different from himself. What was unwholesome to him he regarded as unfit for any body; and he had, therefore, earnestly tried to dissuade them from having any wedding-cake at all, and when that proved vain, as earnestly tried to prevent any body’s eating it.
Emma

In her Life of Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, references a letter from 1812 that tells how Maria Branwell and her cousin “intended to set about making the wedding-cake in the following week, so the marriage could not be far off.” In Emma, Mr. Woodhouse is appalled by the consumption of such rich food…and in his own house! But what would a Regency Wedding cake have looked like? How was the tradition of a wedding cake even started?

The wedding cake has been part of the marriage ceremony ever since medieval times. Originally they were made of wheat which was a symbol of fertility and prosperity. As a relic of once performed fertility rites, this ‘wedding cake’ would have been thrown at the bride.

Around 1900 years ago the Romans began baking wheat and salt into a small cake to be eaten. During the ceremony the groom would eat part of a loaf of this barley bread and then he would break the rest over his bride’s head. This was taken as a sign of good fortune and a blessing for long life and many children. The guests would try and obtain a crumb for themselves as they too believed they would then share in the good fortune and future prosperity of the couple. It was only the children born to the couple whose marriage had been celebrated this way, that could qualify for high office in Roman culture. Not only did the cake give good fortune to the couple, it insured a bright future for their as yet unborn children.

As the wedding cake evolved into the larger, modern version, it became physically impractical to properly break the cake over the bride’s head. The tradition disappeared fairly quickly, though there were still reports in Scotland, as late as the 19th century, of breaking an oatcake over the bride’s head. It was also reported that in Northern Scotland, friends of the bride would put a napkin over her head and then proceed to pour a basket of bread over her!

In Medieval England, the wedding cake was described as a bread which was a flour-based food without sweetening. The breads were included in many celebratory feasts of the day, not just at weddings. No accounts tell of a special type of wedding cake appearing at wedding ceremonies. There are, however, stories of a custom involving stacking small buns in a large pile in front of the newlyweds. Stacked as high as possible the idea was to to make it difficult for the newlyweds to kiss one another over the top. If the bride and groom were able to kiss over the tall stack, it was thought to symbolize a lifetime of prosperity. Eventually, the idea of stacking them neatly and frosting them together was adopted as a more convenient option.

It is told that later in the 1660’s during the reign of King Charles II, a French chef (whose name is now lost) visited London and was appalled at the cake-piling ritual. The chef, who was traveling through England at the time noticed the inconvenience of piling smaller cakes into a mound and conceived the idea of constructing them into a solid stacked system. This earliest tiered wedding cake utilized short-cut broom sticks to separate it’s layers. Since such an elaborate wedding cake needed to be prepared days in advance and because of the lack of modern refrigeration or plastic wraps, the wedding cake was frosted in lard to keep it from drying out. The lard was scraped off just before serving. In later years, sugar was added to improve the taste of the lard and allowed the lard to be left on the wedding cake as a decorative icing.

Wedding cake of Jessie Woodrow Wilson (daughter of American President Woodrow Wilson), who married Francis Bowes Sayre in a White House ceremony on November 25, 1913.

The wedding cake took yet another course correction when in the 17th Century a popular dish for weddings became the Bride’s Pie. The pie was filled with sweet breads, a mince pie, or may have been merely a simple mutton pie. A main ‘ingredient’ was a glass ring. An old adage claimed that the lady who found the ring would be the next to be married. Bride’s pies were by no means universally found at weddings, but there are accounts of these pies being made into the main centerpiece at less affluent ceremonies. The name Bride Cakes emphasized that the bride was the focal point of the wedding.

Early cakes were simple single-tiered plum (or fruit) cakes, with some variations. There was also an unusual notion of sleeping with a piece of wedding cake underneath one’s pillow which dates back as far as the 17th century and quite probably forms the basis for the tradition of giving cake as a gift. Legend has it that sleepers will dream of their future spouses if a piece of wedding cake is under their pillow.

According to Jessemyn Reeves-Brown of the Costumer’s Companion, “Period cake recipes seem mostly to produce varieties of fruitcake involving large amounts of spice and alcohol as preservatives, which makes sense when you consider that slices of the cake had to survive being sent to absent guests, and that young ladies tucked slivers wrapped in napkins under their pillows so they would dream of their future husbands!”

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s wedding cake was 9 feet around, weighed 300 pounds and was 14 inches high.                     It was served at the wedding breakfast.

The wedding cake as we know it today, with its successively smaller layers, its supporting glass or plastic pillars, fancy hand piped frosting, all came about in 1859, with a confection that commemorated the marriage of one of Queen Victoria’s daughters. As is the case with today’s brides, the celebrities of the time moved the public to emulate their fashions, starting with the wealthiest Victorian families first. Even for the nobility, though, the first multi-tiered wedding cakes were real in appearance only. Their upper layers were mockups made of spun sugar. Once the problem of preventing the upper layers from collapsing into the lower layers was solved, a real multi-tiered wedding cake could be created.

For a white icing, only the most expensive, pure refined sugars could be used; so the whiter the cake, the wealthier the bride’s family must be (as most sugar at the time was browner than today’s refined type). A pure white wedding cake also complemented the bride as the focal point of the wedding, since she too was wearing white as her own symbol of purity.

Martha Washington’s Great Cake
Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks and beat them to a froth. Then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream and put the whites of eggs to it a Spoon full at a time till it is well work’d. Then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powdered to it in the same manner then put in the Yolks of eggs and 5 pounds of flour and 5 pounds of fruit. 2 hours will bake it. Add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg half a pint of wine and some fresh brandy.

Mount Vernon’s curatorial staff tried this recipe out. Since the recipe didn’t specify what five pounds of fruit were to be used, they tried two pounds of raisins, two of apples, and one of currants. The wine chosen was cream sherry. Although Martha apparently made her cake as a single very tall layer (no wonder it took so long to cook), no pan large enough was available to hold all the batter, so two 14″ layers were made and stacked after baking at 350 for an hour and a half. According to their website, such cakes were typically iced with a very stiff egg-white based icing, flavored with rosewater or orange-flower water.

This easier recipe from 1859 provides a lovely white cake suitable to any number of occasions:

Brides Cake
A pound each of flour and sugar, half a pound of butter, and the whites of sixteen eggs,beaten to a stiff froth. Flavor it with rose water.

Rose Butter
Gather every morning the leaves (petals) of the roses that blossomed the day before, and put them in a stone jar in alternet layers with fine salt. After all the leaves are gathered, put a saucer or small plate into the jar, and lay in a good pound of butter,for cake or pudding sauce.It is a very good way of obtaining the flavor of roses,without the expense.

Baked FrostingA pound of the best white sugar, the whites of three fresh eggs, a teaspoon of nice starch, pounded, and sifted through a piece of muslin or a very fine sieve, the juice of half a lemon and a few drops of the essence. Beat the whites to a stiff froth, then add them to the sugar, and stir it steadily until it will stay where you put it. It will take nearly *two hours, maybe more. Dredge a little flour over the cake, and brush it off with a feather. This is to prevent the frosting from being discolored by the butter contained in the cake. Lay it on smoothly with a knife, and return the cake to the oven for twelve to fifteen minutes. From The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, Mary Hooker Cornelius, 1859

Some history provided by Wedding Cakes by Maisie Fantaisie.

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Twelfth Night Cake

twelfth night cake

A History of Twelfth Night Cake

Do you recollect whether the Manydown family sent about their wedding cake? Mrs. Dundas has set her heart upon having a piece from her friend Catherine,
and Martha, who knows what importance she attaches to this sort of thing, is anxious for the sake of both that there should not be a disappointment.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
October 13, 1808

Plum cake, (a misnomer, since no actual plums were used) was the highlight of special occasions during the Georgian and Regency Eras. Often served at weddings, it was also the traditional cake served during the Christmas season. This cake, though, was not a Christmas Cake, but a Twelfth Night Cake, and differed from its matrimonial cousin by the inclusion of a dried bean and sometimes a dried pea baked into the batter.

The Twelfth Night cake was made with dried fruits in season and spices. According to Maria Hubert, author of Jane Austen’s Christmas, “These represented the exotic spices of the East, and the gifts of the Wise Men . Such things were first brought to Europe and Britain particularly, by the Crusaders coming back from the wars in the Holy Land in the 12th century…Twelfth night is on the 5th January, and has been for centuries the traditional last day of the Christmas season. It was a time for having a great feast, and the cake was an essential part of the festivities.

In Great Houses, into the cake was baked a dried Bean and a Pea; one in one half and the other in the other half. The cake was decorated with sugar, like our icing, but not so dense, and ornamentation. As the visitors arrived, they were given a piece of the cake, ladies from the left, gentlemen from the right side. Whoever got the bean became King of the Revels for the night, and everyone had to do as he said. The lady was his Queen for the evening.

In smaller homes, the cake was a simple fruitcake, with a bean in it, which was given to guests during the twelve days of Christmas. Whoever got the bean was supposed to be a kind of guardian angel for that family for the year, so it was an important task, and usually, it was arranged that a senior member of the family would get the bean!

In Britain the cake was baked as part of the refreshments offered to the priest and his entourage who would visit on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6th, to bless each house in the parish. This custom died out after the Reformation in the late 16th century, but was revived at the end of the 17th century, and became very much part of the Twelfth night partying again. It is recorded that in royal households, the cakes became extravagantly large, and the guests divided into two sides could have a battle with models on the cake! One battle was a sea battle, and there were miniature water canon on the cake which really worked!”*

Prior to the Victorian Era, recipes specifically for Twelfth Night Cakes are hard to find. Once the 1860’s rolled around, however, it is easy to find numerous recipes for “Rich Pound Cakes, Twelfth, Or Bride Cakes” and it seems that there is very little difference in these cakes, aside from the addition of the bean and the decoration (Early Wedding cakes were plainly frosted, albeit with two layers of icing.) Of course, with the prevalence of weddings during the Christmas season (George and Martha Washington were married on 12th Night, proper) the cake very well could have served dual purpose.

Sadly for the Twelfth Night Cake, in the 1870’s, Queen Victoria outlawed the celebration of Twelfth Night as a day of reveling, fearing that celebrations had become too riotous and out of control. Consequently, the cake became known as a Christmas Cake, and can still be found, sans bean, at holiday celebrations around the world.

The Bride Cake recipe from Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 Experienced English Housekeeper is the first recorded wedding cake recipe.  Previously fruit, pound or “Great” cake recipes would have been used. This cake, suitable for Twelfth Night, as well, 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. Other period “great cake” recipes can be found here.

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