February 17, 2020 / Karin Bazarello /
In this week’s post, we’ll be making an Australian favorite – Queen Mother’s Cake, a flourless chocolate cake that reflects a cosmopolitan cross-cultural heritage. We’ll also learn more about the vivacious English woman behind the recipe’s name, including her special connection to the Land Down Under.
Do you recognize her? Long before Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle captured headlines, this famous royal woman dazzled the world with her vivacious spirit and warm personality. If you guessed that she was a lady, a duchess or a queen you’d be right on all three fronts. She is Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, also known as the Duchess of York, Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother. If you were intimately involved with the royals during her lifetime, you’d know her by one more moniker too – her family nickname “Cake” which was earned because of her sheer delight and interest in anything resembling a cake-like dessert. This was Elizabeth on her wedding day, the start of her journey towards eventually becoming Queen Mother…
this was her elaborate wedding cake…
A world traveler throughout her life, she loved trying new things and surprising people with her authenticity, integrity, capability and willingness to be involved. If she went camping, she would set up her own tent. If she went fishing, she would catch her own dinner. If she wanted a new dress, she’d work out the initial designs herself. Witty, stylish, observational and fun to be around, Elizabeth was one of the most popular members of the Royal family from the time she stepped into the limelight as the bride of King George VI to the time of her death at the age of 101.
She visited Australia several times throughout her life, but her first impression of it in the 1920’s sealed her fondness for it for the rest of her life. In a letter home to her mother, in 1927 she wrote…
“It is most lovely country… The climate is marvellous – very hot sun and cool breezes, and we have both enjoyed ourselves up here in Queensland. The people are so nice & friendly, & the distances are so vast that it keeps them simple.”
Who had first tasted the cake in Austria. Jan, in addition to being a talented piano player, was also a talented cook. It is unclear whether he brought the Austrian recipe home with him or if he created it from memory in his own kitchen, but either way , the story goes that he made the cake for the Queen one day while she was visiting him in the early 1950’s. So in love with it did she fall that Queen Elizabeth requested a copy of the recipe from Jan and started baking it herself at the palace. Taking on new significance and a new name – Queen Mother’s Cake – it became the favorite cake that Elizabeth liked to offer to guests and it was the only cake that she insisted on making herself each time an occasion called for it.
With its glossy chocolate frosting, simple ingredients and fluffy, moist consistency, it is easy to see why this cake became a favorite, not only with the Queen and Jan Smeterlin, but also with all of England and Australia too.
The Queen Mother’s Cake is sort of a blank canvas of creativity though when it comes to the presentation department. Like the woman it was named after it is very amenable and open to all sorts of different design interpretations and embellishments. This recipe just calls for a simple, smoothly frosted cake with no particular adornment though. In wanting to stay authentic to the recipe, I left my cake unadorned as well, but I couldn’t help adding some whip cream and a sprinkle of sliced almonds on each slice. There is something to be said about a good simple cake that requires minimal effort, but next time, it might be fun to experiment with a little extra design on top too.
Queen Mother’s Cake
1. Lightly grease a 6-inch-by-2½-inch cake ring with the butter and place on a tray on a sheet of parchment paper.
2. Break each of the biscuits into almond size pieces by hand and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar until the mixture starts to lighten.
4. Melt the 4 ounces of the dark chocolate and add to the butter mixture, stirring constantly.
5. Add the egg and beat to combine.
6. Fold in the biscuit pieces until they are all coated with the chocolate mixture.
7. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake ring. Try to fill all of the gaps on the bottom of the ring because this will be the top when it is un-molded.
8. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.
9. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and let it stand.
10. Meanwhile, melt the 8 ounces of dark chocolate in a double boiler or saucepan on the stove top over low heat. Slide the ring off the cake and turn it upside down onto a cake wire.
11. Pour the melted chocolate over the cake and smooth the top and sides using a palette knife.
12. Allow the chocolate to set at room temperature.
13. Carefully run a knife around the bottom of the cake where the chocolate has stuck it to the cake wire and lift it onto a tea plate.
14. Melt the remaining 1 ounce of chocolate and use to decorate the top of the cake.
Courtesy of Chef Darren McGrady, The Royal Chef