Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Royal Focus: Battenberg Cake

It started out as a dessert I planned to bring to a party. Little did I know it would become a character building exercise.

When my first attempt failed, making this cake became a mission. I was going to succeed in baking this cake. There it was, perfectly photographed on the internet and I was determined to make a reasonable facsimile. If it happened to taste OK, that would just be an added bonus.

The first incarnation was misshapen and when I tried to trim it to equal sizes, the whole thing fell apart. Trying to find marzipan was harder than I thought, but making homemade marzipan turned out to be harder. So I regrouped.

My second attempt, the taste turned out...well, if you've ever wondered what carpet under-padding tastes like, it might just be close. Trying to trim this cake turned into a disaster. Which I now realize is perfectly understandable considering I cannot draw a straight line to save my life.

My third attempt was a success, mainly thanks to a certain recipe and the technique of using one pan and dividing the batter using a piece of tin foil. The cakes came out almost perfectly. One required a small trim to even it out but otherwise the cake maintained structural integrity while I moved on to the marzipan. My store bought marzipan rolling job is not perfect but hey, that is what photoshop is for.

Ta Dah! And it tastes pretty good too!

Depending on which website you read, the origins of Battenberg cake vary. The most frequently repeated theory is the cake was invented for the 1884 wedding of Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine to Prince Louis of Battenberg. The four squares of the cake are said to represent the four Battenberg princes - Louis, Henry, Alexander and Francis Joseph. It makes for a nice story but it isn't necessarily true. There are knowledgable food historians who cannot find a plausible link between the Battenberg wedding and the invention of the cake. I've included some very detailed posts about the history of the cake in the sources listed below.

Although the definitive origins are lost to the sands of time, the cake did eventually find its way to the royal table. According to an anecdote from in Darren McGrady's book Eating Royally: Recipes and Remembrances from a Palace KitchenSarah Ferguson, Duchess of York loved this cake and would request it whenever she held a tea at Buckingham palace. He once sent up an absolutely perfect Battenberg cake, only to have it returned uneaten, with instructions not to serve her a store bought cake again. With a new appreciation for what goes into making this cake, I shake a virtual fist at Fergie.

The recipe and technique I followed worked charm. The recipe is reproduced with kind permission from Titli from Titli's Busy Kitchen. The video demonstration is entertaining to boot! Note, some of the terms, amounts and temperature have been changed for North American bakers.


  • 450 g (1lb) marzipan
  • 175 g / 6 oz (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 175 g / 6 oz (3/4 cup) caster sugar (superfine granulated sugar)
  • 175 g / 6 oz (3/4 cup) self-raising flour (or plain flour + 1 tsp baking powder)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2-3 tsp apricot glaze (or sieved apricot jam)
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • Red or pink food colouring
  • Icing sugar

  1. Cream together butter and sugar
  2. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl together with the vanilla essence. Add half the eggs to the butter and sugar and beat in.
  3. Sieve in half the four and beat well. Now beat in, consecutively, the remaining egg and flour.
  4. Lightly grease and line an 8" (20cm) square cake pan with parchment paper. Make a divider from baking foil and place down the centre of the pan.
  5. Pour one half of the mixture into one half of the cake pan.
  6. Beat in enough food colouring into the remaining mixture to give it a strong pink colour, then pour it into the other half of the cake tin.
  7. Bake at 170°C (338°F) for 25-30 minutes and allow to cool before turning the cake out of the pan.
  8. Carefully trim the two sponge cakes to give neat rectangles of cake. Place one cake on top of the other and cut down the centre so you have four evenly sized oblongs. Using warm apricot glaze, stick the oblongs together into a checkerboard pattern. Trim further if necessary. 
  9. Sprinkle icing sugar onto a flat surface and roll out the marzipan to around 5 mm (1 1/4") thick. spread apricot glaze onto the marzipan and slide the cake into the middle of the marzipan. Fold up the sides and make a neat seam on the top of the cake.
  10. Turn the cake over so that the seam is on the bottom and trim the ends of the cake. Place on a serving plate/board and dust with icing sugar.

Battenberg Cake history sources:

Wikiwand - Battenberg Cake 

Battenberg Cake - The Truth

Battenberg Cake - History Again!

The Queen and Her Cakes

Wikipedia - Battenberg Cake

© Marilyn Braun 2017

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Royal Focus: The Royal Chocolate Biscuit Cake

Behold, the Chocolate Biscuit cake. This cake may sound familiar to royal watchers as it is a royal favourite of the Queen and Prince William. He even chose it as one of the royal wedding cakes!

The 'groom's cake' at the royal wedding reception was made by McVitie's Cake Company using a royal family recipe. Now part of United Biscuits, the Royal Warrant holders have been making cakes for royal weddings and christenings since the wedding of Prince George, Duke of York and Princess May of Teck in 1893. The company, then known as McVitie and Price Ltd, also made the official royal wedding cake for Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and the official cake for the Queen and Prince Philip's 60th wedding anniversary in 2007.

This cake is no bake and super easy to make. As you can see, my icing and moulding skills need some work but luckily it doesn't affect the taste. You can find this recipe in Darren McGrady's excellent cookbook, Eating Royally: Recipes and Remembrances from a Palace Kitchen. Note that Darren has said that his book will be coming out in seventh printing soon for $24.99

This recipe is reproduced with kind permission from Darren McGrady.


1/2 teaspoon butter, for greasing pan
8 ounces McVities Rich Tea biscuits (I found them at the Bulk Food Barn in Canada)
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 ounces of dark chocolate
1 egg, beaten
8 ounces dark chocolate, for icing
1 ounces white chocolate, for decoration


Lightly grease a small (6 x 2/1/2-inch) cake ring with 1/2 teaspoon of butter and place on a parchment-lined tray. Break each of the biscuits into almond-sized pieces by hand and set aside (do not process the biscuits). Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until the mixture is a light lemon color.

Melt the 4 ounces of dark chocolate in a double boiler. If you don't have a double boiler you can use a metal bowl on top of a pot of simmering water. Add the butter and sugar mixture to the chocolate and stir constantly. Ad the egg and continue stirring. Fold in the biscuit pieces until they are all coated with the chocolate mixture.

Spoon the chocolate biscuit mixture into the prepared cake ring. Try to fill all of the gaps in the bottom of the ring, because this will be the top when it is unmolded. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for at least three hours.

Remove the cake from the refrigerator, and let it stand while you melt the 8 ounces of dark chocolate for the icing. Slide the ring off the cake and turn the cake upside down onto a cooling/wire rack. Pour the 8 ounces of melted dark chocolate over the cake, and smooth the top and sides using an offset-spatula. Allow the chocolate icing to set at room temperature. Carefully run a knife around the bottom of the cake where it has stuck to the cooling rack, and transfer cake to a cake dish. Melt the white chocolate and drizzle on top of the cake in a decorative pattern.

Cut and serve!

© Marilyn Braun 2017

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Monday, September 04, 2017

William and Catherine are expecting royal baby number 3!!

My take on it.

Congratulations to the Cambridge family.


© Marilyn Braun 2017

 Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

20 Years Later - A Royal Watcher Remembers

Temple at Althorp
20 years ago, late at night, August 30th, I was flipping through the channels and came across pictures of the tunnel in Paris. Continued watching, I think it was Brian William’s on NBC and he mentioned Diana had been in the crash. After that there was no turning off the TV. I watched the coverage as it unfolded, so to speak. At one point, I think, Tom Cruise called in, denouncing the paparazzi and how it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. I’m paraphrasing but that is what I remember.

At one point Brian mentioned that people were in the tunnel taking pictures. He didn’t say paparazzi, it sounded like gawkers in the tunnel taking photos, which I thought was incredibly odd. This was before smart phones. When, if you took a picture, you had to wait until the film was developed a week later before you saw what you had captured. Why anyone would take photos of such a scene? If it had happened now I would understand. Everyone wants to be a citizen journalist but back then?

Alma Tunnel
Here is what was known at the time I tuned in. Dodi and the driver were dead. Miraculously, two people were still alive – a bodyguard and Diana. Of course Diana was the big story. The news made it out to sound as though it was, not minor, but not deadly. But as the broadcast continued her injuries sounded more serious. And I started thinking. What if she doesn’t die? What if she is badly injured? Paralyzed, confined to a wheelchair or in a vegetative state. What kind of a life would she lead? Given the interest in her, her life would become even worse. Paparazzi wanting to get the picture of Diana in that state. After all, later they were trying to get photos of her dead body. Imagine if she was no longer the beautiful princess everyone had come to know and love. And I found myself thinking, this is a terrible thought, but true. I would love for her to be alive, for William and Harry to have their mother back. But maybe, if she is a shadow of her former self,  she would become such a grotesque curiosity, If she dies, maybe it is better that way. Terrible, right?

I was riveted to the coverage and when Brian William’s announced she had died, it was just shocking. I grabbed one of my books about her and leafed through it. It wouldn’t bring her back but I could look at photos and pretend. I guess.

Alma Tunnel
I woke up that morning and went out and bought all of the newspapers. Throughout the week I bought every magazine I could get my hands on. I think I went in to the local convenience store so many times the owner knew me by name. I still have all of them. Waiting for my children to eventually throw them out when I’m not looking. Yes, I collected everything. Stamps, coins, plates. I wanted proof that I had experienced this moment. I recall listening to the radio and hearing bells tolling and starting to cry. I wasn’t the only one.

At the time I worked at a hospital that Diana used to be patron of. There was a remembrance book for people to sign and I remember one girl coming in and spending a lot of time signing the book. Crying as she wrote. I didn’t speak to her, given my interest in the coverage it was surprising, but I recall it to this day. I didn’t have a blog at the time so I couldn’t share my own feelings with anyone else.

Alma Tunnel
During the week I continued to collect what I could get my hands on. Then the funeral, wall to wall coverage. People crying as the cortege went by. The flowers on the coffin with the ‘Mummy’ card. Elton John singing Candle in the Wind. I even bought the CD of the song. You couldn’t escape the coverage, it was everywhere. And, to be honest, I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to continue experiencing the moment. This was our JFK moment. We would always remember where we were when we heard the news. Just like 9/11. But when her coffin drove though the gates of Athorp, it was over. Or so we thought at the time.

I’ve been to Althorp, seen the Oval Island. Seen the temple with the cross. My macabre thinking is I don’t believe she is buried on that island but we will never know and it doesn’t make any difference does it. I bought plates and books, and visited the Diana exhibit. One part of the exhibit had rose petals on the floor and home movies were playing and watching her, so young and carefree, it made it sadder.

Oval Island where Diana is buried
I continued collecting books and memorabilia, until years after she died. As the 20th anniversary approached, book-a-zines came out, photo books. People, Hello, Time. And 20 years ago I would have collected all of it. Now, I have bought ONE. I guess I have become cynical or realize I have run out of room. They have the same pictures. The same anecdotes. The one thing we have now is films about her – from her sons, from her speech coach, etc. I’ve watched two so far, but I would like to watch more. The one from her sons is the only one I really wanted to see. Unfortunately the CBC cut it to pieces, making way for all of the commercials so I haven’t seen the entire thing. I will eventually.

What I have watched shows what a loss she was to the royal scene, to the royal world. Nothing can replace her. Hearing her voice makes it that much sadder. I know people are sick of the specials, it is Diana overload. People are skeptical of her side, but I ask, what harm do these really do? What harm does remembering her do? It was become incredibly commercialized and I think that is one of the reasons I haven’t collected. Not buying these magazines allows me to keep her separate from the commercialization. I’m guilty of it, but right now it bugs me.

So on the 20th anniversary of her death. I hope to remember her the way she was. Reading tweets I see I’m not the only one taking note. People are leaving flowers at Kensington Palace but I’ve never believed it would be the same amount. Charles is getting a bad rap, as always. For today, let’s remember her for the special person she was, not the polarizing figure we have made her out to be.

RIP Diana.

© Marilyn Braun 2017

Photos may not be reproduced without author's permission. Thank you.

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Monday, August 28, 2017

It's a good time to be a Diana critic

2017 is more than just a year to cash in on the memory of Diana, Princess of Wales. It's also an opportunity to diminish someone who is no longer around to defend herself. Diana still commands interest, which seems to bring out the critics who don't like her and never did. Both in life and death, Diana is a divisive figure and the views of critics, just like fans, can run the gamut from moderate to extreme. Reading the coverage and comments in general I notice some patterns from the critics.

I notice that being a Diana fan is seen as a negative. Diana fans hang on to the past, unable to be objective about 'St. Diana.'  It seems to be unfashionable admit you were upset when she died and unabashedly watched the funeral. There is a level of cynicism towards any positive coverage. Anyone who speaks positively is biased, including her sons. It's definitely important to be discerning regarding the over-the-top coverage, but there's a middle ground for the media and the people who consume it.

I notice that Diana is an easy target. In fact, too easy. On the 20th anniversary of her death it is open season to blame her for everything that went wrong before, during and after the marriage when all sides share blame. Easier to make vicious and misogynistic comments and remind everyone of her mental health issues. If William and Kate want to fight the stigma surrounding mental health, they have their work cut out for them.

I notice people don't like women who don't behave. Women who break the rules and own their sexuality. Women who harness their power. Women who use their voice. Women who express their anger and fight back. When asked what Diana should have done differently, the consensus seems to be she should have done the lady-like thing and kept her mouth shut. After all, look at how successful keeping quiet worked for Camilla!

I notice compliments are grudgingly given. "Diana was beautiful BUT..." Thereby follows a list of Diana's worst qualities. Charles and Camilla are made to sound reasonable by comparison (Charles only slept with ONE woman during the marriage). According to critics, it is Diana fans that need to move on, not them. But while we are on the topic, why waste the opportunity to burnish Charles and Camilla by denigrating Diana?

Regardless of what polls say, I don't believe that celebrating Diana will do lasting damage to Charles, Camilla or the monarchy. She is part of their history and always will be. By the end of 2017, the commemorative issues will be filed away and most people will have moved on. The Diana critics who see things in black and white won't.

© Marilyn Braun 2017

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Prince Philip leaves behind a legacy that speaks for itself

August 2nd marks the day Prince Philip is retiring from public duties. As #PrincePhilip trends on Twitter, he is carrying out his last official duty attending the Royal Marine Parade at Buckingham Palace. He has a long association with the Royal Marines Association. He has been honorary president since 1948. His first official engagement with them took place on July 15th, 1953 when he attended a dinner in the officers' mess at Eastney Barracks.

Embed from Getty Images

It is unusual for a senior member of the royal family to retire. The royal family prides itself on carrying out duties regardless of age, health or even weather conditions. At the age of 96, Prince Philip has more than earned the right to step back and enjoy life.

His royal duties started in 1947. As Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, he accompanied his fiancée to Clydebank, Scotland in October 1947. The Princess was there to launch the Cunard Liner Caronia, at the time it was the largest liner in the world. During this visit the couple received a sewing machine as a wedding gift from the Clydebank townsfolk.

One of his earliest charity roles he took on was as President of the National Playing Fields Association. He remained president from 1947 until he stepped down in 2013.  The organization, founded in 1925 by King George V, has a long history of royal patronages. Its first royal president was the Duke of York (later King George VI). Now known as Fields in Trust, the current president is the Duke of Cambridge, who took over the role in 2013 when his grandfather stepped down.  Prince Philip appeared in a short film about the organization in 1951.

The Duke is patron or president of 800 charities, reflecting his interest in conservation, sport, the military and engineering. However, he is best known for The Duke of Edinburgh's Award. Created by the Duke in 1956, the organization it is the world's leading youth achievement award and since its inception has expanded to 141 countries and territories worldwide.

Through his initiatives and involvement, Prince Philip leaves behind a legacy to be proud of.  His royal stats speak for themselves.

Although he is officially retiring, I don't think we have seen the last of him just yet!

© Marilyn Braun 2017

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Prince Harry, keep quiet and carry on

Poor Prince Harry. Must be hard to be him, what with all of the perks: gilded palaces, expensive cars, plenty of food and working trips around the world. Having the best of everything is terrible, isn't it?

Harry, and William, have perfected the we are just like other people shtick. Except when they are not. Notice that Kate herself has never gone on record. Maybe because she knows what it is like to be ordinary and the novelty of a luxurious royal life has not worn off yet. After all of those years waiting for William to propose, why would it? If the price you pay for having to smile and wave is wearing expensive clothes and a house in the country, would you complain? At least Kate is smart enough to keep any misgivings to herself.

We have heard from William in words and actions. Now it is Harry's turn to bemoan his privileged existence without apologizing for it. He aches to be "someone other than Prince Harry," he says in a Newsweek article. Some would consider that ingratitude. 'No royal wants to be king or queen," he adds. I have always thought there was a certain irony when it comes to being royal. Especially for this royal generation. Common folk want to trade places with royals, the royals want trade places with common folk. It is said that when Prince Charles becomes king, he wants to slim the monarchy down with no foresight that in doing so could slim it right out of existence. Really, all Harry needs to do is be patient and wait.

The royals should take note. First Harry is buying his own groceries, what's next? Ironing his own clothes? Opening his own doors? Madness! Has Harry not heard the cautionary tale of the Duke of Windsor having difficulty adjusting to umbrellas no longer appearing out of nowhere?

Even if Harry were to seriously give up the royal title and trappings, he can't just walk out the door. There is all of that pesky government paperwork to deal with. If the monarchy ends, what would royal bloggers and Kate fashion experts write about? What Kate used to wear? Spare a thought for all of the royal correspondents. What would Republic rail against? What outlet would I have for my scintillating royal commentary? Egad!

Harry should think of the bigger picture. Like all of the people who would be out of work as a result. The lackeys, butlers, valet, cooks who cater to the royal family's every whim. That noise you will hear? Princess Michael kicking and screaming at having to boil her own eggs.

The royal family used to function by the motto 'never explain, never complain' and the notion of putting royal duty above everything else. Generations continued to privately martyr themselves until Charles and Diana made over sharing the new royal trend. After 25 years, one would think the royals had learnt something from it. Reading Harry's interview, the Queen must long for the good old days

© Marilyn Braun 2017

 Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Monday, May 29, 2017

William, Catherine and Harry are making a difference. It was worth the wait.

Like many royal watchers, I woke up to this photo on my twitter timeline. It is always exciting to see a new photo of the Cambridge family, given that they are so rarely released. When they are they are carefully controlled images with staged informality. As with everything the Cambridges do (or don't do), opinion is divided and I can see why. Although everyone looks happy, neither child is facing the camera and the black and white makes it look stark. Not your traditional royal family photo.

The image accompanies a British GQ cover story about William as part of his Heads Together mental health campaign. The issue will not be released until later in the week but we have been given a taste of topics covered in William's candid interview; including coping with his mother's death, the importance of family and removing the stigma surrounding mental health.

In the past the royal family have been touted for their 'stiff upper lip,' rarely showing any emotion or publicly discussing private matters. While we will never read the Queen's true thoughts about this interview (or anything else for that matter), the current generation of royals is more forthcoming. Mainly when it involves issues they want to promote.

Raising awareness about mental health and working to reduce the stigma is an important and worthy cause. Mental illness, either directly or indirectly affects each and every one of us. My own family included. William, Catherine and Harry have been criticized in the past for not using their global platform effectively. By heavily promoting this cause they are finally making a difference.

It was worth the wait.

© Marilyn Braun 2017

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Camilla has come a long way, baby!

I originally started this blog in 2005, the year Charles and Camilla were married. Back then I viewed their relationship and the controversy surrounding their wedding as satirical fodder. Many of my early articles poke fun at the situation. I remember the feeling of shock when I heard about their engagement. The idea that they could get married after everything that happened was unfathomable. Although Diana had been dead for almost 8 years, it was still hard to forget the past. The royals may have moved on but some members of the public had not.

In a recent interview to mark her 70th birthday, Camilla stated that it was a difficult road to get to that point. It was so bad that for a time she could not leave her home. Given what happened in Charles and Diana's marriage because of her involvement, it is hard to sympathize. No one came out of that situation unscathed. Why should Camilla have been any different?

To this day she is known primarily as HRH Duchess of Cornwall instead of Princess of Wales because of the past. The debate rages on about whether she will be known as Queen Camilla when Charles inherits the throne. The official line is she will be known as HRH Princess Consort instead. Because the royals bend the rules when they want to, my money is on her becoming Queen once the dust has settled. Regardless of what anyone thinks about it.

Whatever viewpoint you hold about Charles and Camilla, no one can deny they are happy together. Had this interview had been published shortly after their marriage, people might not have found it as palatable. Camilla had to prove herself and in 12 years she has not disappointed. She has even become an asset to the royal family.

Back in 2005, who would have predicted it?

© Marilyn Braun 2017

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Keep CALM royal watchers, keep CALM!

A new royal year begins. Thankfully every British royal survived 2016 and we royal watchers can all go back to our daily lives without worrying about it. At least for now.

2016 ended on a worrisome note for the royals. What with the Queen and Prince Philip both suffering from colds and foregoing taking the train to Sandringham because of it. Cue the alarmist 'KEEP CALM but here's why we should worry' and 'Here's what happens when the Queen dies...' articles. Why wait for official confirmation when we can stir up hysteria and take practice runs?

2016 was a terrible year for celebrities. Tom Hanks was spared but as the list of other notable deaths grew (David Bowie, Prince, Glen Frey, Alan Rickman, Mohammed Ali, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds), some couldn't help but fear for the Queen and Prince Philip. As if 2016 was some indiscriminate grim reaper wreaking havoc on beloved celebrities instead of just a number. As the evidence mounted that no one was safe, it was time to transfer the Queen to the safety bunker! We could breathe a sigh of relief upon either reaching January 1st, 2017 safe in the knowledge that 2016 had bypassed the most important royals. Or could we?

There is no denying that minor ailments to the young can be deadly for the elderly. The Queen and Prince Philip are now 90 and 95 respectively. Being reminded of their mortality is enough to raise anxiety and put knots in anyone's stomach. It did to mine. But just how constructive is it to count the number of days between public appearances? Concern grew when the Queen did not make her regular appearance at the New Year's Day church service. It was as if people want the Queen to get better but also make a public appearance if only to reassure us all is well. New updates on how the Queen is 'on the mend' is not enough. The Queen once reportedly said that she has to be seen to be believed. For royal watchers this has now turned to 'we won't believe it until we see her.'

One twitter follower labelled it 'ambulance chasing' and I think that is a perfect label for this type of coverage. Unfortunately, with the Queen's advancing age, we can now look forward to more of it.

© Marilyn Braun 2017

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.