The Royal Wedding Cake
Note: This recipe produces a rich-tasting and lovely interpretation of the lemon elderflower cake that will be made by Claire Ptak and served at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Feel free to adapt this recipe to suit your time and skill level. You can omit the filling and use frosting between the cake layers, or just plain lemon curd. You can decorate the cake with fresh, edible flowers (be sure they have been grown for culinary use). If you want to try your hand at crystallizing flowers, see the related recipe. Candied lemon slices or peel are an option for a non-DIY garnish. If you abstain from alcohol or don’t want to buy the St-Germain called for here, you can leave it out or use more of the elderflower cordial in its place. The finished cake takes about 3 hours, plus cooling and chilling time. From Becky Krystal, based on recipes from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook,” by Claire Ptak.
For the cake:
• 8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
• 1 c. granulated sugar
• 1 tbsp. finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon; reserve the juice for the frosting)
• 3 eggs, at room temperature
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1⁄2 tsp. salt
• 2 c. flour
• 2 tsp. baking powder
• 2⁄3 c. whole milk
• 1 tsp. St-Germain or other elderflower liqueur, optional (see Note)
• 1⁄2 c. elderflower cordial, plus more as needed (see Note)
For the filling:
• 1 c. heavy whipping cream, chilled
• 1⁄2 c. homemade or store-bought lemon curd, at room temperature (see recipe)
For the frosting:
• 14 tbsp. (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 4 to 5 c. powdered sugar, or more as needed, divided
• 7 tbsp. whole milk
• 1⁄2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest and 2 tbsp. juice (from 1 lemon)
• 1 tbsp. St-Germain or other elderflower liqueur, optional (see Note)
• Fresh or crystallized flowers, or a mix, optional (see Note and recipe)
For the cake: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and place rack in the middle. Use a little butter or baker’s spray to grease 3 (8-inch) cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds. (If you only have 1 or 2 pans, cover the batter that’s waiting to be baked; hold at room temperature. Make sure the cake pans are cool before you re-use them, which is pretty easily done with a wash in cool water in the sink.)
Place the granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer. Use your clean fingers to rub 1 tablespoon lemon zest into the sugar until the sugar is aromatic and moist.
Add 1 stick of butter; beat on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy and light. Meanwhile, in a liquid measuring cup, lightly whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract and salt. Reduce the mixer speed to low; gradually add to the butter-sugar mixture until fully incorporated. Stop to scrape down the bowl.
Whisk together the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl, then add half of it to the butter mixture. Beat on low speed until just combined, then add the milk and 1 teaspoon St-Germain or elderflower liqueur, if using. Beat on low speed, until well incorporated.
Add the remaining flour; beat on low speed until no trace of dry flour remains. Divide equally among the cake pans and smooth the tops with an offset or flexible spatula. (If you use a kitchen scale, each portion of batter should weigh about 300 grams, or about 10.5 ounces.)
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the top of each cake layer springs back to the touch. The edges will be very lightly browned and starting to pull away from the sides of the pans. Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then run a round-edged knife or offset spatula around the inside of the pans to release the layers. Invert onto a wire rack and peel off the parchment paper. Use a pastry brush or silicone brush to apply the elderflower cordial a total of 4 times, allowing a few minutes in between so the liquid is absorbed.
If you need to re-use the pans to yield a total of 3 layers, wash and dry the pan(s) and repeat the baking and brushing with cordial.
For the filling: Pour the cream into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with balloon-whisk attachment or use a handheld electric mixer. Beat on high speed until it can hold a firm peak. (Pull off the whisk attachment or beaters out and see how the cream in the bowl and on the equipment looks. If it flops over, it needs more time; if it holds its shape, you’re set.)
Use a flexible spatula to gently fold in half of the lemon curd, lifting cream from the bottom of the bowl over the top of the cream, rotating the bowl as you work. Be careful not to deflate the cream too much. Fold in the remaining lemon curd. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until you’re ready to fill the cake.
For the frosting: Combine 1 3/4 sticks butter and 2 cups powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer. Beat on low speed and then increase to medium-high. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl. On medium-low speed, gradually add the milk, beating until combined.
Add 2 more cups of powdered sugar and beat on low speed for at least 3 minutes. The mixture should be smooth. Add 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest and 2 tablespoons juice and 1 tablespoon St-Germain, if using; beat on low speed until incorporated. Continue adding more powdered sugar until you get the right consistency (this can vary somewhat depending on the temperature of your kitchen and how soft the butter was initially); the frosting needs to be thin enough to spread but thick enough to not run off the cake. It’s perfectly fine to let the frosting chill for a bit in the refrigerator; you may need to briefly beat it again to smooth it back out.
To assemble the cake: Place a dab of frosting in the middle of a 9- or 10-inch cardboard cake round (you could also just place the cake directly on a large plate, ideally with little or no rim). Place 1 cake layer in the center, with the cordial-soaked side facing up.
Use a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip or zip-top bag with 1 corner cut off to squeeze a border of frosting around the top of the cake, just inside the edge. This will serve as a kind of dam to hold in the filling.
Use an offset spatula or spoon to spread half the filling inside the ring of frosting. Place the next cake layer on top, also cordial-brushed side up. Repeat with another ring of frosting and the rest of the filling.
Lay the final cake layer on top. Place a small amount of frosting in a separate bowl for the crumb coat, which is a base layer of frosting that helps to seal in the crumbs and give you a smooth surface to which you can apply the rest of the frosting. Use an offset spatula or table knife to apply the thin crumb coat all over the top and sides of the cake. Transfer the cake to the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes, to let the crumb coat set.
Apply the remaining frosting to the cake, and decorate the top with crystallized and/or fresh flowers, if using. Return the cake to the refrigerator to let the frosting firm back up, another 20 or 30 minutes.
Because of the soft filling and frosting, the cake is easier to cut when it’s still cool — just out of the refrigerator. (By the time everyone eats the cake, its temperature will be just right.) Let the cake sit at room temperature for just a few minutes before cutting into slices and serving.
Variation: Pipe mounds around the top of the cake and apply candied fruit, such as lemon slices or peel. Or make a simple rose-looking swirl on top by holding a spoon edge in the center and turning the cake as you gradually move the spoon outward.
Makes 30 flowers (enough to decorate one layer cake).
Note: Crystallized (sugared) flowers are an elegant garnish for just about any dessert. A small, new paintbrush (such as the size you might find in a children’s watercolor kit) is perfect for coating the flowers with egg white. But you can also dip the flowers directly into the egg white, taking care to squeeze off the excess. If you are worried about a risk of salmonella, use pasteurized egg white. A small offset spatula will come in handy here. Be sure to buy or use flowers grown specifically for culinary use, sometimes available with fresh herbs in the produce department of supermarkets. The coated flowers need to air-dry on the baking sheet at room temperature at least overnight, and up to 24 hours. From Becky Krystal.
• 1 large egg white (see Note)
• 25 to 30 small edible flowers (see Note)
• Superfine sugar (may substitute granulated sugar ground in a food processor)
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Stir together the egg white with a few drops of water in a small bowl.
Use a small brush to paint the surface of each flower with a light coating of the egg white mixture. If you are dipping the flower instead, gently squeeze off any excess.
Place each flower coated side up in a shallow dish, such as a glass pie plate, and sprinkle it with the sugar. Don’t overdo it — you still want to be able to see the flower through the layer of sugar. Use tweezers, the tips of your fingers or an offset spatula to transfer the flowers to the baking sheet as you work. Discard any excess sugar and egg white mixture.
Allow the flowers to dry at room temperature at least overnight, or up to 24 hours. When you’re ready to use them, gently remove them from the paper, because they will stick a little (an offset spatula is handy for dislodging them).
Serves 12 (makes 1 1/2 cups).
Note: For best results, use an instant-read thermometer to monitor its temperature in the pot. The curd needs to be refrigerated for at least 8 hours before serving. From Cathy Barrow.
• 2 large eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks
• 1/2 c. sugar
• 1 1/2 tsp. finely grated zest and 1/3 c. juice from 2 Meyer lemons (or substitute regular lemons)
• Small pinch kosher salt
• 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
Fill a medium saucepan with 2 inches of water and heat over medium heat until barely bubbling.
Combine the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl that fits over the opening of the pot without touching the water below. Place over the pot and whisk constantly until the mixture thickens, becomes pale and forms a ribbon when a whisk is pulled out of it, registering 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove bowl from the heat.
Stir in the zest, juice and salt. The custard will be thin, so return the bowl to its berth over the water in the pot (on medium heat) and continue to stir as the mixture thickens. At 170 degrees, the custard will be as thick as chocolate sauce and when you run a finger across the back of a coated spoon, it should leave a trail. For a velvety texture, press the custard through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any flecks of zest or egg. Whisk in the butter 1 small cube at a time, to form a smooth and glossy curd.
Cool, cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, during which time it will thicken and its lemony flavor will develop.