I do love a good Royal bash. It’s that sense of coming together and national unity that makes for a great atmosphere. In fact in all things ‘Great Britain’- you can count me in! Charles and Di’s wedding, Live Aid, the London Olympics, Will and Kate; whenever there is a national event that requires flag waving you’ll find me shaking my Union-Jack with the best of them.
I know that there are many who are anti-royalty. (You don’t have to be vocal and declare yourselves. I know you’re out there!) Fear not, we can still be friends.
But like millions of others, with champagne and nibbles we excitedly watched Harry and Meghan’s big day, all waiting with collective bated-breath to see the dress, the hair, the bridesmaids, David Beckham (how has he STILL got it?), the tiara (I LOVED that tiara) and of course THE CAKE.
COME ON! We spend all year making cakes and we’re not supposed to be interested in the cake for the wedding of the year?
We knew this cake was going to be different, natural, simple and ethereal. We knew because we knew the baker and her business is all about simple cakes packed full of flavour.
She also stated that it would be a Lemon and Elderflower sponge cake with Buttercream (no fondant) decorated with real peonies. She had said she was using 500 eggs and 200 lemons and we really knew little more for sure.
There was, however, speculation because newspapers love their stats and stats sell copy, so in the absence of facts they guesstimated how much it would cost. They guessed based on previous royal cakes and previous royal bakers. They guess based on the cost of fruitcake, of portions sent out in the post, none of which may refer to this particular cake. And they told us to probably expect that the cake would cost £50,000. All this before anyone has seen the cake.
And here is where I felt for the baker. What expectations have been put out there? Add to that the fact that many mis-read the figure as fact instead of fiction and suddenly there was widely held belief that this cake had got the price tag of a small Northern house.
Expectations make our job so hard. I always strive to set expectations low, really low.
We are making luxury items. No one NEEDS cake and frankly clients can always buy cheaper cake if they want to, so ‘wow-factor’ is often our selling point. It’s our USP, so of course it’s going to be harder to wow someone if they already have high expectations, whether it’s on taste or looks or both.
When I made my award-winning wedding cake I was so worried about pleasing the bride that I gave her an extra tier. Extreme I know, but what can I say? I’m a pleaser. It’s a curse! (Most cake-makers have it.) But managing expectations has always been at the back of my mind.
I remember dining in a lovely restaurant where the prices were high. The food was OK. In fact it was probably really nice but not enough for the price tag. I left feeling underwhelmed. In any other restaurant with more reasonable prices I probably would have been raving. Conversely I remember once dining in a restaurant where the prices were eye-watering but the food was exquisite. It was memorable and something to preach about.
So expectations matter. Price matters. And much as we have no idea what the Royal Wedding cake cost (and it’s none of our business either) the numbers being bandied about certainly led people to have some expectations, and that’s without the ‘Royal tradition and precedent’ expectations that already existed.
But what became patently obvious throughout the wedding was that Royal it may be, but traditional it was not. From the simple dress, to the pastor to the choir, this was an affair with a very personal stamp on it and that went for the cake too.
So spare a thought for the Royal Baker. Although she has undoubtedly executed the perfect cake for the couple’s brief and for their wedding, she has done so in the face of monumental conflicting expectations and assumptions which were probably wildly inaccurate.
And it seemed to divide opinion. No, it DID divide opinion. I’ve gone on record about opinion before. I like opinions. I like discussion. And when you are in an ‘artistic’ profession you have to accept that people will have opinions and they won’t always be gushing. In the same way that we discuss art and fashion and architecture people will like some of our designs and be indifferent to others. When you put your work out there as a professional that’s par for the course. (I have different views when it comes to hobby bakers and you are welcome to read my thoughts on people’s reactions to an informal Royal cake here: Do Cake Bitches Rule the Internet?)
And I think people can and do discuss their opinions politely. I’m sorry but I don’t hold with people who say it is no one’s business. In this case we have a public couple in a very public event which is being discussed around the world. It is churlish to suggest that it can be discussed in every publication and in every forum but that it can’t be discussed in cake circles. In my opinion (there’s that word again) it is perfectly acceptable for people to air their views politely.
Rudeness is another matter of course. The scourge of social media and the arrogant right that some people think they have to comment rudely. That isn’t acceptable …EVER.
But back to our simply ethereal lemon and elderflower cake. As far as Claire Ptak, the Royal baker is concerned, how can anyone be critical? The cakes are all about taste. She didn’t pick the flowers, or the golden urns, (I assume they are Royal property) so unless someone has tasted the cake they can surely have little to say about her work.
Those who were not keen, whether they had hoped for traditional or whether they just weren’t keen on the arrangement, are surely only stating that they aren’t keen on the couple’s choice. Fair enough.
Undoubtedly the arrangement was what the couple wanted and in truth, I found it quite charming. There, that’s my opinion. Given what we know about the rest of the wedding it just seemed in keeping.
If I were an art critic I would say that they have married together the simplicity of the cake and the natural flowers with the history and tradition of the regal heirlooms. A nod to the bride and a nod to the groom.
It wasn’t what I was expecting. (There go those darned expectations) and I will admit that when I first saw it I was somewhat confused, primarily because of all those #fakenews reports.
I would still love to know if there was a cutting cake too or if 500 eggs really went into that cake. (I think those cakes are bigger than we think) and I’ve also heard that only small slices were served. Seriously though, if Claire is reading, let us know. We want #cakenews not #fakenews
Oh – and for the record, let me say that most of us pride ourselves on flavour as well as looks. Undoubtedly this cake is all about the taste but it has bugged me no end to see comments implying that it will taste better than a fancy one. I am sure that the Royal Wedding cake tasted exquisite, but let it not be said that our decorated cakes aren’t praise-worthy too.
If you’re up for it, you are welcome to have a go at my own Lemon and Elderflower Cake Recipe
I wouldn’t want you to get excited about it though. It’s important for you not to expect too much 😉