1 of 11
Prince William marries Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011
When Prince William married Kate Middleton five years ago, the official wedding cake was a multi-layered fruit cake. But the dessert the groom really cared about was one he’s enjoyed since childhood: a chocolate biscuit cake. That’s due to Carolyn Robb. From 1989 to 2000, she was the personal chef to Prince Charles, his then-wife, Diana, and their two small boys, William and Harry. Among the recipes she brought into the Wales’s kitchen was the chocolate biscuit cake. It’s one of the highlights in her cookbook, The Royal Touch, which features many of the home-cooked recipes that the Prince of Wales and his family enjoyed. It’s a treat for everyone. While royal watchers will enjoy the glimpses behind palace walls—A note, “Mummy says its okay!” in Diana’s handwriting that Harry produced so Robb could give him a treacle tart—it’s also a home cook’s must-have. Packed with lucid instructions, easy-to-find ingredients and mouth-watering recipes, it’s an excellent cookbook. Full stop. No matter who first ate these delicious meals.
Robb always wanted to be a chef. She got her first position in a royal kitchen right out of school, working for the Queen’s cousin, the duke of Gloucester and his family. Their London pad is in the Kensington Palace complex, near the Waleses. The royal home cooking offered Robb a lot more variety than working in a restaurant, where she’d have worked on a similar menu day after day. She was on her own, shopping, cooking, planning menus.
Two years later, in 1989, Charles and Diana asked her to work for them. She started as a junior chef. “I still did the same job” as with the Gloucesters, she recalls. However this one was incredibly busy and involved a lot of travel. After the couple separated in 1992, she was asked to continue to work for Charles, becoming head chef. Her years as a royal chef were a blur of cooking that ran the gamut from simple family meals to large charity dinners, when the staff would borrow chefs from Buckingham Palace.
For Robb, a successful meal involves basing the dishes around the ingredients. Fresh, in-season foodstuffs combined with staples from a well-stocked kitchen can produce interesting meals that the pickiest child would eat. While it helps that Prince Charles is known as a passionate advocate of organic gardening who often takes crates of fresh produce on his travels, Robb points out that today’s supermarkets are filled with everything a home cook needs.
And while The Royal Touch is stuffed with pictures of mouth-watering creations, most include instructions on how to vary the recipe, or its presentation. So while the crab tian with mango and avocado looks spectacular when prepared in metal rings, it’s equally fine thrown on a plate for a quick supper. On the cover is a dessert called Eton mess. In Robb’s hands, the confection of meringue, berries and cream can become a fancy, multi-level showstopper. Yet, as she points out, it can also be casually ladled onto a large serving dish. (I’ve created the latter version for an annual “dessert night” gathering at the family cottage. It was polished off in record time.)
Then there is the chocolate biscuit cake.
“Mum made me when I was little,” the chef recalls. While there were tins full of cookies and cakes during her childhood in South Africa, this was a special treat made by her English mother. Later, Robb would tweak the recipe, but the basics remained the same: digestive biscuits, golden syrup (cane syrup) and chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. She’s no clue how often she made it for the Prince of Wales and his family. “Over a period of 11 years many, many times!” Though the boys had healthy diets, they “certainly enjoyed some sweets too.” And this no-bake cake is beyond simple to make. (For North Americans, look for golden syrup in bulk food stores like Bulk Barn.)
While William’s massive wedding version contained 1,700 tea biscuits, Robb’s recipe is family-sized. Or, in the case of Maclean’s, just enough to satisfy a newsroom on a production day. Excluding setting time in the refrigerator, this recipe took just a little more than 30 minutes to make. I divided the batter into three small cakes for the office. While buzzed out on the combo of sugar, carbs and chocolate, colleagues thoroughly approved of this iconic British creation.
Now out of royal service, Robb, who has two young daughters, is doing everything from cooking for private clients, leading culinary tours with travel firms and even a cookware development project in South Korea. Best of all, she’s collecting ideas for another cookbook.