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The not-“common”-for-long Catherine Middleton, known to her friends as Kate, the future wife of William Arthur Philip Louis Mountbatten-Windsor – second in line to England’s throne – and one-day “queen”, is a young woman with clear ideas and definite tastes. So when it came to make decisions about the menu for the wedding that Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II, the groom’s grandmother, will be serving to the 600 guests after the ceremony taking place at 11:30am on Friday, April 29th in London’s Westminster Abbey, Miss Middleton had no doubts about the cake: she ordered a traditional fruit cake, ornately decorated as tradition dictates, from the renowned pastry chef Fiona Cairns.
Fiona Cairns, 56, lives with her husband and children in a two-story cottage in Leicester county and learned her profession in the early Eighties in a nearby restaurant – one of the few at that time in England – that boasted a Michelin star. Well-known also for having written the cookbook Bake and Decorate, Ms. Cairns makes around 120 thousand cakes each year, the majority of which are sold to large luxury department stores like Harrods, Selfridges and Waitrose, and she’s particularly revered for her skill in floral decoration with sugared frosting: roses, hydrangeas and wild berries.
Her client list includes names such as Paul McCartney and the band members of Pink Floyd, who would never dream of going without her desserts, pastries and Christmas cake.
In mid-February, after the princely couple tasted several samples of fruit cake that Cairn sent them as a gift, the pastry chef was summoned to Clarence House, the official residence of Middleton’s future father-in-law, Prince Charles. There she met with Kate, who promptly requested an icing-covered, brandy-flavoured cake, decorated with three-dimensional swirls, flowers, acorns and oak leaves – symbolising strength of character – motifs that will evoke the ornamental décor of the reception hall.
A bouquet of frosting roses – the symbol of England – will decorate one corner of the cake, while thistles, daffodils and clovers – which respectively represent Scotland, Wales and Ireland – will adorn the other corners. Other symbolic flora that Cairn will be sculpting in frosting: lily of the valley, a symbol of sweetness and humility, ivy leaves, an allegory for the commitment of marriage, delicate roses, which symbolise happiness, and the vibrant, magenta-coloured Sweet William, which in the language of flowers, represents gallantry.
Alongside the fruit cake, the young Prince has made a special request: his favourite dessert made from chocolate and biscuits whose recipe has been a secret family for generations. What we do know is that for the reception, making it will require 35 lbs of chocolate and at least 1,700 McVities’s Rich Tea Biscuits.
A special baker from the McVitie’s company will be preparing the cake for Kate and William, just as they did in 2007 for the party celebrating the 60th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. And just as they did for the wedding itself in 1947.
It should be noted that during the time of this royal wedding, England was still under strict, post-War rationing and the ingredients were sent from all over the world. The resulting cake was 4 layers, 9 ft tall and weighed 550 lbs: many considered it a rather scandalous show of excess.
The English tradition of having a wedding cake goes back to Medieval times, but it wasn’t until the 18th Century that the cake became multi-layered and ornate, a symbol of wealth and luxury.
Here a short history of royal wedding cakes: in 1840, for example, one of the cakes that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert served at their wedding, had a diameter of 3 yards and weighed more than 300 lbs. Hence, it shouldn’t come as a shock that they wedding cake for the nuptials of their daughter,Princess Louise, took three months to decorate. In 1923, the wedding cake for the future King George VI was 9 feet high and weighed 800 lbs.
In more recent times, it appears that sharing has become a part of the royal wedding cake ritual. Charles and Diana received 23 cakes as gifts. The slice of one of them – a hand-painted masterpiece measuring 6 feet in height – was sold at an auction for 1,200 pounds. And when Prince Edward, one of William’s uncles, married Sophie Rhys-Jones, they auctioned a slice of their cake for 1,800 pounds, which they then donated to the Cornwall Blind Association.
But the most expensive bite of cake ever sold at an auction was that from the wedding of Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne in 1936 in order to marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson. This little bit of scandal was eventually sold in 1998 for 29 thousand dollars. To avoid putting their sweet memories into the hands of their future heirs, Kate and William have decided to offer the multi-layered royal leftovers to the Centrepoint charity, whose function is to help and support young homeless people, and of which Prince William is the Royal Patron.
To watch an interview with the head cake maker from Mcvities in charge of producing Prince William's favourite cake click here.
To watch a video showing how the Royal Masters department prepares for the Royal wedding click here.