Juliet Sear’s epic step-by-step guide to decorating a cake for the Queen’s birthday
In preparation for the Queen’s 90th birthday, baking expert and food writer Juliet Sear came along to the Borough Market Cookhouse to create a special celebratory cake.
In fact, calling it ‘a cake’ is to do this extraordinary work of both art and engineering a terrible disservice. It is constructed from three individual cakes and a batch of cookies, recipes for which are all available elsewhere on the site:
Here, Juliet explains how to turn these baked goods into a thing of great wonder, fit for being presented to a monarch. Creating it, as even a quick browse will make clear, is no easy task; cutting into it after all that effort will seem almost impossible.
Stuff you’ll need
Round cake drum, 4” larger than the bottom tier
Two tiers of iced cakes. I have used a 10” and 7” in this design.
Cake drums for under each cake; I used a 4” for the biscuit cake top tier, a 7” and a 10” for mine. You can make any size of course; ideally having 3” gaps between each tier looks best.
A few paint brushes
Cake decorating dust colours for the painted details
Cocoa butter for mixing the colours to an edible oil paint
Sugar paste in red, blue, green, yellow, white
Black, caramel ivory or gold, and royal blue food colouring
Small round cutters for the polka dots
Piping nozzle no 3, round tip for the bunting rope
Can of gold edible lustre spray
Yellow flower or petal paste (here I’ve used two packs of Renshaw flower paste)
Piping bag with a little white royal icing for sticking
Apricot jam, sieved
Before starting the cakes, it’s a good idea to make the little round coloured jewels in advance. They last for weeks, so you can do this whenever you like. I just rolled out different coloured sugar paste and cut small circles with a little polka dot cutter, but you could simply roll tiny balls if you don’t have a cutter. For added ‘bling’ you can get non-toxic decorative glitters—rainbow dust is great and available from many cake decorating and hobby craft stores and websites. To add sparkle, just dip each ball in the glitter, which will adhere to the sticky sugar paste. Leave these to dry until ready to use.
Start by cutting the two vanilla bean sponge cakes horizontally through the centre to create four slices, then stack these on top of each other, using 150g of raspberry jam per layer to stick them together. The base board and middle tier cake (gin, Dubonnet and lemon cake) both need to be iced in white sugar paste. You can read my instructions on how to ice the cakes here. The bottom tier cake (the layers of vanilla bean sponge) can be covered in marzipan and iced in a light sky blue paste, but if you don't like marzipan just use a thicker layer of icing. Once these are set, you can add four cake dowels to the base tier to support the middle tier, and three cake dowels in the centre of the middle tier to support the crown.
First off, decorate the crown for the top tier (chocolate biscuit cake). It looks very elaborate but in fact is pretty straightforward. I recommend giving yourself a day in advance to allow this to set well. Start off by sticking the biscuit cake to its drum with a little apricot jam and a few small pieces of sugar paste to help adhere. Then brush the whole cake and drum with cooled boiled apricot jam.
Make the four ‘puffy’ parts on the top of the cake by adding four teardrop lumps of sugar paste in a cross shape. Smooth these onto the cake.
For the circlet band decoration, roll out a length of white sugar paste and then cut into a strip to fit, using a ribbon cutter or a knife. Attach to the bottom of the crown using vodka or a little cooled boiled water to stick it.
To make a simple template for the fleur de lis decoration, cut a strip of greaseproof paper and wrap it around the crown to measure the circumference of the bottom. Now fold this into four: this will indicate where you can draw a little fleur de lis detail at four points to fit around the crown. Draw this out with a band about the same size as the white circlet, hand-draw the little fleur de lis details, then cut around the template with scissors. Roll out a strip of yellow petal paste, about 5mm thickness, and slightly longer than your template, then cut around the template carefully using a sharp knife cut. I’ve used petal paste because it is much firmer and will hold its shape more easily than regular sugar paste. Now attach the strip to the cake, resting it on top of the white circlet, using some more vodka to stick. Trim off any excess, or just push the two ends together at the back of the crown.
Insert a cake dowel in the centre of the iced crown cake and allow it to protrude 2cm above the cake. This will act as a support for the upper petal paste strips, creating the 3D arched crown effect. Cover the exposed dowel in red sugar paste to hide it.
To make the arches, roll out more yellow petal paste to the same thickness and cut two long strips of the same width. Attach the first strip to the yellow band between two of the fleur de lis details using a little royal icing, wrap this up and over the top of the crown, using cushions of scrunched-up clingfilm either side of the dowel to support the arch. Allow the paste to set firmly in the domed shape. Trim to the length you need and stick the other end of the strip down in between the fleur de lis on the opposite side. Now, looking at eyelevel, adjust the clingfilm cushions so that both sides look nice and equal. Repeat the method for the second strip.
For the globe detail on top of the crown, make a little ball of yellow petal paste, and cut out a square to sit on top of this, either by hand or using a square cutter. With a small knife or scalpel, cut little chinks into the four corners to allow light to shine through. Insert a cocktail stick through the middle of the square to help strengthen it and plunge this into the globe, use a little royal icing to stick them to the main crown. Ideally then leave the crown overnight to set nice and firmly.
Next, pipe a trim (or ‘snail trail’) to all of the crown edges using a no 3 nozzle in a piping bag filled with stiff caramel or gold coloured icing.
Once set, make sure the crown is protected within by covering the exposed red icing with clingfilm. Using your gold lustre spray, generously spray the whole crown.
We’re almost there now! Time to add your prepared colourful jewels using a little royal icing to stick them to the crown.
Decorate the sky blue bottom tier (the vanilla sponge). Stick the iced blue base to the white iced drum using a little royal icing. Load a piping bag with a no3 nozzle with soft peak royal icing. Mark out eight places along the top edge of the cake for a guide for where to pipe the bunting rope detail. If you have a tilting turntable, it really helps. If not, use some kind of wedge to lift up the cake on the side facing you—it helps to get the piping drop ropes neat. Place the nozzle against the cake, gently squeeze the piping bag and allow it to create a loose U-shaped length on the side of the cake that will drop down and then join up to the first mark. Repeat all the way around until you have eight even lengths of bunting.
Now, heat up 1 tbsp cocoa butter in a bain marie or microwave. Take a plate and pop a little pile of your coloured dusts around the plate to create a palette of paint colours. I have used greens and browns for the trees and grass, some yellow and rust for the corgis and some white and black for shading, eyes and clouds. By eye, paint a few tree trunks around the base tier. The beauty of this cake is that you don’t have to do a set design—you can just draw these wherever and however you choose. Start by outlining, then gradually fill in the detail. Use a stippling effect for the grass and leaves by pushing your brush against the board and the cake, roughly adding blotches of green shades to create the scene. Add different shades of brown for the tree trunks. If you have more colours, add some little flowers so they appear to be growing up from the base board. Add a few wispy clouds on the upper part of the bottom tier.
For the corgi cookies, cut out the lower body of the corgis from a piece of white sugar paste using the same cutter that you have used for the corgi biscuits (you can get these online) and stick them to the biscuits with a little royal icing. Add some light rusty brown detail—ideally have a look at a picture of a corgi and copy what you see. Add a little smile and an eye by using a very fine paintbrush and a little black colouring.
For the bunting, roll out some red, white and blue sugar paste fairly thinly and cut a strip out of each colour the same size that you want the length of each bunting flag to be. Now cut little triangles out of these strips. Gently attach these using a little drop of vodka or water on the top of each flag and press along the blue icing rope. Allow them to stick out a little so it looks as if they are blowing in the wind.
Add the white iced middle tier (the gin, dubbonet and lemon sponge) using a little stiff royal icing on the top of the base tier where the cake is doweled. Align it so that it is central. Roll out a small amount of blue and red sugar paste fairly thinly, and cut out lots of little polka dots. Stick around the cake to cover using a little vodka or water on the back of each dot.
Stick your corgi cookies around the base tier with stiff white royal icing.
Now you can add the crowning glory! Again, using some royal icing on the top of the middle tier, stick the crown in place and make sure it is centred. Finish off by piping stiff white royal icing all around the bottom of the crown to create the ermine fur effect—it’s best to use an open small star nozzle so it looks nice and fluffy. You can add little black dots by dipping a cocktail stick into black food colouring and swirling it around into the icing to create this effect.
If you think you need to give the crown a little more height before adding the piped white fur, you can always place a little more white sugar paste underneath the crown before sticking in down, to give it a lift.
And now you have a cake fit for a queen! Allow to set overnight if you are transporting it around and make sure to keep it level. It will last for up to three days and of course can be frozen.
Images: John Holdship