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.
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, 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.)