Queen Victoria’s stood two feet tall, had a nine foot circumference and weighed 300 lb. Queen Elizabeth II’s was nine feet high and weighed 500 lb. But the Queen Mum’s—tipping the scales at 800 lb. and towering at 10 feet—made the others look like cupcakes.
Whether Kate Middleton’s wedding cake will surpass these saccharine predecessors is anybody’s guess: just like the dress, details of the celebratory confection’s final design have not been revealed. Palace officials and cake makers alike, however, have handed out a few crumbs. For starters, the royal couple has decided that there will be two official cakes: a traditional multi-tiered fruitcake made by celebrity cake maker Fiona Cairns for displaying at the Buckingham Palace reception, and a chocolate biscuit variety assembled by McVitie’s, a popular British biscuit-making company, for the wedding breakfast’s 600 guests to actually eat. Excessive? Not at all: Prince Charles and Diana, princess of Wales, had 27 official and unofficial cakes at their wedding reception.
And besides, it’s tradition—albeit a 17th-century one that died out quickly in Britain—to make wedding cakes in pairs; a more feminine one for the bride and a less ornate version for the groom. If you haven’t figured out whose is whose, consider this: the chocolate biscuit cake is one of Prince William’s favourite sweets, often enjoyed when visiting his grandmother at Windsor Castle on Sundays for afternoon tea while he was a student at Eton. The version that McVitie’s head chef Paul Courtney will prepare—along with the help of another 10 company employees—will be made according to slightly different proportions: no fewer than 1,700 McVitie’s Rich Tea biscuits and 18 kg of dark chocolate will be required to make this groom’s cake.
It may not sound like a dessert fit for a king, but royals have entrusted the cookie company—which first opened up a bakery in 1830 in Edinburgh—with numerous special occasion treats: in 1893, they were commissioned to bake a wedding cake for Prince William’s great-great-grandparents, the future Queen Mary and King George V. Thirty years later, McVitie’s created that colossal goodie for Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon when she married her prince, soon to be George VI. Subjects queued for hours to see it on public display. And in 1947, the firm constructed a cake for William’s grandparents, Elizabeth and Philip, using ingredients donated by the Australian Girl Guides. That’s three generations of Windsor wedding cakes—and a lot of pressure for Courtney.
Not surprisingly, the chef will prepare at least two of the chocolate biscuit cakes for the big day. “You can’t just say, ‘Sorry, we don’t have it,’ if, God forbid, there is an accident en route [from Manchester] to London,” he told the Telegraph. At least, from a technical standpoint, the McVitie’s chocolate biscuit cake isn’t too difficult to make since it isn’t baked: yes, it’s a refrigerator cake.
Fruitcake, on the other hand, needs more finesse. But designer Cairns, who’s baked cakes for the likes of Paul McCartney, told the Telegraph that baking Middleton’s ceremonial cake will be like making a fruitcake at home: “We just use bigger batches.”
As for the design, the bride-to-be “has guided us right from the beginning with very strong ideas,” says Cairns. Middleton even submitted mood boards to illustrate the precise look and tone of the cake—which is traditional British all the way—including the decorative floral and fauna motifs. Sugar paste renditions of at least 16 different blooms and leaves, chosen by Middleton for their symbolic meanings, will be intricately piped and scrolled. (The English rose, Scottish thistle, Welsh daffodil and Irish shamrock—the four flowers of the home nations—will also make a patriotic appearance.) The exterior’s white icing, symbolizing purity, harkens back to Victorian times. And the fruitcake interior (Cairns promises raisins, dried cherries, walnuts, lemon and orange zest, and French brandy) looks back further still: British brides have been choosing fruitcakes for centuries. The spices and dried fruits were not only symbolic of fertility, but they were also costly—and therefore a sign of prosperity.
As is the case with most fruitcakes, no one knows precisely when this royally rich one will be eaten: it’s customary for a tier or two to be divvied up among guests and other tiers to be frozen for future christenings. But don’t be surprised if a slice pops up on eBay years from now: 167-year-old fragments of Victoria’s cake were exhibited at a 2007 Windsor Castle show that celebrated royal marriages. And slices of Prince Charles and Diana’s cake have sold for as much as $1,600.
The newlyweds will most certainly cut the first slice together—perhaps with a little pageantry: both the Queen and Prince Philip and Prince Charles and Diana used the groom’s sword to cut their respective wedding cakes. It all depends on whether or not Prince William’s uniform will be outfitted with a blade. That, of course—along with details of Middleton’s gown—won’t be revealed until April 29. Neither will the couple’s official cipher (their official monogram), but it’ll definitely make an appearance on the show-stopping fruitcake. Our bet? Crowning the top tier.