The cake that will be served at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s upcoming wedding on May 19 is bound to be gorgeous.
The couple chose pastry chef Claire Ptak to create a lemon elderflower cake for their big day, and on May 15th, Ptak posted a photo of crates of Sicilian lemons being delivered with the caption “and so it begins.” If Meghan’s chic style and love of food are any indication, the dessert will certainly be on-trend and modern with a subtle nod to tradition.
Harry and Meghan asked Ptak to create a dessert “that will incorporate the bright flavors of spring,” a statement from Kensington Palace read. “It will be covered with buttercream and decorated with fresh flowers.”
With just enough details to get my creativity flowing, I took to the PEOPLE test kitchen to bake-predict (bredict?) what this regal confection will actually look and taste like. (And if you prefer to drink your elderflower flavors, you can try this cocktail instead.)
First, it’s all about the flavor. Ptak — who was raised in California like Meghan — “focuses on using seasonal and organic ingredients,” so she no doubt will be using fresh elderflowers in her cake recipe. Unfortunately the tiny, creamy white blooms, which come from elderberries, are not easy to pick up in New York City during a crazy spring snowstorm, so I had to compromise and use elderflower liqueur (in this case St. Germain) to infuse my cake with the blossom flavor.
I started with a lemon curd cake base, adapted from this recipe from My Recipes. But instead of layering the cakes with curd as called for in the recipe, I used a mixture of elderflower liqueur, sugar, and lemon juice and brushed it on top of both cake layers so the liquid would lightly soak through the sponge.
Next up is the icing. If you’ve spent as much time deep-diving into Ptak’s Violet Bakery Cafe’s Instagram account as me, you’d know that the pastry chef uses a not-so-perfect approach for frosting the outside of her dessert — it’s the Meghan-messy-bun-look of cakes, if you will. The icing is swirled on in a thoughtful but rustic way, nothing too polished or smooth. Also, she rarely decorates her wedding cakes with white buttercream. But this being the royal wedding, I stuck with traditional wedding white and added a watercolor effect in bright spring colors.
It’s finally on to the decorations. I had to be strategic when picking out fresh flowers to top the cake. My baker’s intuition tells me that Ptak will opt to use peonies — which will be perfectly in season in time for the nuptials, but were not an option at my local florist today (please see snowstorm above). So I picked up some garden roses and ranunculus, which evoked the look of peonies to me (look, there’s about a foot of snow on the ground so I did what I could), and added Queen Anne’s lace — the little white and green buds — because I liked the cheeky royal tie-in.
So, what was my verdict? *lets out heavy sigh of relief* Making a wedding cake — whether it’s only two tiers or a whopping eight tiers (like Prince William and Princess Kate’s colossal confection showstopper) — is hard work. Yes, it took me seven hours to bake, cool, frost and decorate the cake from start to finish but the end result was more than worth the effort. Plus, I think the modern-meets-classic look with a floral twist is exactly the kind of look Meghan would like (ahem, she followed me on Instagram so we’re basically best friends). And, by the way, the cake tasted fantastic. The lemon and elderflower come together perfectly. I daresay, it’s almost like taking a bite right out of spring.
Read below for my full recipe if you’re inclined to make the dessert yourself—and, while you’re at it, toast the royal couple with this delicious elderflower lemonade cocktail.
Lemon Elderflower Cake à la the Royal Wedding
4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
4 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups plus 1 Tbsp. sugar, divided
Zest of 2 lemons
8 large eggs
2 cups sour cream, at room temperature
6 Tbsp. lemon juice, divided
¼ cup elderflower liqueur (such as St. Germain)
8 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 (1 lb.) boxes confectioner’s sugar
4 tsp. vanilla extract
8 tbsp. whole milk
Green, yellow and pink gel food coloring
1. Make cake: Preheat oven to 350°. Mist two 9-inch round cake pans and two 6-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and line with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter until soft. Gradually add 2 cups sugar and lemon zest and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, stopping once to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well before each addition. Stir in ¹/3 of flour mixture, then half of sour cream. Repeat, ending with last ⅓ of flour mixture. Stir in 4 tablespoons lemon juice.
2. Divide batter between pans, filling each pan about ½ way full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 25 minutes. Cool in pans on wire rack for 5 minutes, then turn out cakes onto rack to cool completely.
3. In a small bowl, stir together remaining 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and the elderflower liqueur until sugar has dissolved. Set aside.
4. Make frosting: Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl with a flexible spatula. Gradually add confectioner’s sugar. Add vanilla and whole milk and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Reserve 3/4 cup frosting and divide among three bowls. Dye each bowl of frosting green, yellow and pink with gel food coloring. Leave the rest of the frosting white.
5. Assemble cakes: Using a serrated knife, carefully slice all 4 cakes horizontally into 2 layers. Using a pastry brush, brush the elderflower and lemon mixture on the cut side of each cake layer. Place one 9-inch layer on a platter. Spread with a layer of buttercream and top with second 9 inch layer. Repeat with more buttercream and remaining 9-inch cake layers. Spread buttercream over top and sides of cake. Repeat entire procedure again with 6-inch cake layers.
6. To create the watercolor affect, place cakes on a revolving cake stand one at a time. Dollop 1 teaspoon of green, yellow and pink buttercream sporadically around the sides of cake. Use a dough scraper placed vertically on the side of the cake and blend the colors around the cake by keeping the scraper in place and rotating the cake stand. Stack 6-inch cake on top of 9-inch cake. Top with fresh flowers and serve.