Classic princess cake
A Swedish prinsesstårta (princess cake) is one of the world's most famous cakes. Every konditori (tearoom) or bakelser (patisserie) in Sweden produces its own verion and every Swede can tell you where to buy a really good prinsesstårta.
You could be forgiven for assuming that Swedes have been baking prinsesstårta since the year dot, but actually it is relatively new. The first version appeared in the 1948 edition of Prinsessornas Nya Kokbok (The Princesses' New Cookery Book) by Jenny Åkerström, a tutor to three Swedish princesses. In fact it almost passed unnoticed and was dropped from the 1952 edition.
The original version was called grön tårta (green cake) and consisted of three layers of fatless sponge with vaniljkräm (vanilla custard) in between the layers. The whole cake was then covered with stiffly whipped cream, wrapped in pale green marzipan, garnished with a pink marzipan rose and dusted with icing sugar (powder sugar).
Gradually, perhaps aided by the abolition of post-war rationing in Sweden in 1951, the cake became more popular and had a name change to prinsesstårta. It is said that this was because the princesses loved the cake so much, but it may simply have been an astute marketing move by some enterprising bakers, as the name is clearly much more appealing.
Modern versions nearly always include a layer of raspberry jam and a domed top, alluding to a royal crown, although the number of layers and their order varies from one baker to another.
The original version used just 50 g of flour for the sponge, 200 ml (under 1 cup) of vanilla custard and 100 ml (less than half a cup) of cream. Today some recipes use three times as much flour and ten times as much cream! The recipe below is not quite so extravagent, although it is still more than twice as big as the original, adds a layer of raspberry jam and includes a domed top.
Baking your own
Baking your own version is great fun and very satisfying! Of course, some stages are a bit tricky (it has been set as a technical challenge on the BBC's Great British Bake Off), but don't let that put you off! John Duxbury
• The marzipan covering should be added no more than a couple of hours before serving, but the rest of the cake can be prepared a day in advance if preferred.
• Use a good quality raspberry jam/compote for the filling. For our recipe click here.
• Don't be frightened of making a marzipan rose: it looks very difficult but it is actually surprisingly easy.
• In Sweden it is normal to use potato flour (starch) in a fatless sponge as it makes it light and airy. You can buy potato flour (starch) at good health food shops or online, but if you can't find any you can use plain or cake flour instead.
(There are further tips shown in italics at the start of each section of the recipe below.)
|300 ml||(1¼ cups)||whole milk|
|1||vanilla pod, split lengthways|
|60 g||(4 tbsp)||caster (superfine) sugar|
|3||large egg yolks|
|20 g||(2 tbsp)||cornflour (corn starch)|
|25 g||(1½ tbsp)||unsalted butter|
|butter or margarine, for greasing|
|35 g||(2½ tbsp)||unsalted butter, optional|
|55 g||(7 tbsp)||plain flour (cake flour)|
|55 g||(7 tbsp)||potato flour (potato starch)|
|¾ tsp||baking powder|
|110 g||(½ cup)||caster (superfine) sugar|
|200 g||(1 cup)||raspberry jam|
|450 ml||(2 cups)||whipping cream|
|500 g||(1 lb 2 oz)||white marzipan|
|green food colouring|
|red or pink food colouring|
|30 g||(1 oz)||dark chocolate, optional|
|icing sugar (powder sugar)|
• For a nice creamy colour, use really fresh eggs from a good supplier.
• Take care when heating the custard in step 3 because it will curdle if overheated.
1. Heat the milk, the split vanilla pod and 30 g (2 tbsp) of the sugar over a low heat until just simmering. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs yolks, the remaining 30 g (2 tbsp) of sugar, cornflour (corn starch) and a tablespoon of the vanilla milk mixture, until pale and creamy.
3. Stir the warm milk slowly into the egg mixture. Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over a low heat for 4-5 minutes, until the mixture thickens.
4. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until melted and incorporated. Sieve the mixture into a bowl, discarding the vanilla pods, cover the surface with clingfilm (plastic wrap), leave to cool and then transfer to a fridge to cool completely.
• Traditionally Swedes grease the inside of baking tins (pans) with butter and then sprinkle over some fine dried breadcrumbs, but you can use flour instead of breadcrumbs if you prefer.
• Originally melted butter was not added to the mixture, but sometimes it is added now as the sponge keeps a bit better.
• The mixture must be whisked for 7-10 minutes using an electric whisk on a medium speed. This enables the egg yolks to stabilise the mixture, so it does not collapse when the flour is folded into it.
• It is important to use the electric whisk on a medium speed. If you use the top speed too much air will be whisked into the mixture, which it will not be strong enough to support, so it will collapse in the oven or when it cools.
• Keep a careful eye on the cake when it is nearly cooked. It is ready when the mixture just starts to pull away from the side of the tin, but it can be easily overcooked and then the top of the cake will shrink and the sides will not be straight.
• Do not open the door of the oven to check on the cake's progress as the draught may cause the cake to cook unevenly, so you may end up with a lopsided cake.
• Make sure you cool the cake the right way up. If you flip it over when you take it out of the tin it is likely to stick to the cooling rack.
1. Pre-heat the oven to 175°C (350°F, Gas 4, Fan 160°C). Grease a deep 20 cm (8”) diameter springform cake tin (pan) and sprinkle with breadcrumbs (or flour).
2. Optional: melt the butter over a low heat.
3. Sift the flours and baking powder into a small bowl and mix thoroughly.
4. In a separate large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together for 7-10 minutes, using an electric whisk on medium speed, until the whisk leaves a thick trail on the surface when lifted.
5. Carefully fold the sifted flours and baking powder into the mixture.
6. Fold in the melted butter, if using.
7. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 30 minutes, until the sponge has just started to shrink away from the side of the tin.
8. Remove the cake from the oven, leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
• The custard is initially made quite thick so that it can form a barrier to stop the jam colouring the marzipan and spoiling the appearance of the cake.
• The custard is then loosened with whipped cream to make it easier to spread. However, don't thin it too much as you want a nice contrast with the whipped cream.
• Be sure to smoother the sides with enough whipped cream to stop the cake showing through the marzipan.
1. Cut the cake horizontally into three layers and place one on a serving plate.
2. Use 3 tablespoons of the vanilla custard to roughly pipe a ring of custard, about 3 mm (¼") thick, around the first layer and fill the middle with jam. Place the second sponge layer on top of it.
3. Whip the cream until it forms firm peaks. Use a fork to mix 4-5 tablespoons of the whipped cream into the remaining custard to loosen it slightly. Spread the loosened custard over the second layer of sponge.
4. Pile about three quarters of the remaining whipped cream on top of the vanilla custard and smooth it into a dome shape.
5. Add the third layer of sponge, cut side on top, bending it to the shape you want. Cover the sides and top of the cake with a thin layer of the remaining whipped cream. Set aside in a fridge for an hour or overnight if preferred.
• I have suggested using a large amount of marzipan partly because it is usually sold in 500 gram packets, but also because it is quite hard to roll out marzipan into a large circle. This does means that there will be a lot of marzipan leftover, which I suggest you use to make some marzipan fruits or some punschrullar (arrack rolls).
• Getting a nice pale shade of green is tricky, so only add a small amount of colouring initially and mix it in thoroughly before adding any more.
• If using a tube of gel food colouring, knead the tube before using to ensure the dye is evenly mixed.
1. Add a tiny amount of some green colouring to 450 g (1 lb) of the marzipan, reserving the rest of the marzipan to make a rose. Knead the marzipan until you have an even pale green colour. If necessary, add some more colouring, but take care when doing so to avoid ending up with a deep green colour.
2. Sprinkle some icing sugar on to your worksurface and dust your rolling pin with icing sugar. Roll out the green marzipan to create a circle at least 35 cm (14") in diameter. Keep turning the marzipan over and redusting the worksurface with icing sugar to avoid it sticking. Save the offcuts to make some rose leaves.
3. Lift the marzipan over the cake using your hands, shape the marzipan around the sides of the cake to create a smooth finish without any folds. Carefully trim any excess so the base is neat.
4. Use the leftover green marzipan to create 2 or 3 medium sized rose leaves.
• Again you should not need all the marzipan! I have suggested colouring 50 g (2 oz) partly because it is easier to colour a larger amount of marzipan, but also to allow some extra marzipan for practising with if you want.
• As with the green marzipan, you can use any leftover marzipan to make some marzipan fruits, pink punschrullar (arrack rolls) or extra roses.
1. Add a tiny amount of red or pink colouring to the remaining white marzipan. Knead until you have an even pale pink colour.
2. Cut off 15 g (½ oz) of pink marzipan and roll it out into a 12 cm (3") sauasage. Cut this into 12 pieces.
3. Using your fingers, press each piece into the shape of a thin petal. This is easier to do if you lightly dust your fingers in icing sugar periodically, as this helps to prevent the marzipan sticking to your fingers. Also, don't worry too much about the shape of each petal, but try to get the top edge a bit thinner than the bottom edge.
4. Roll the first petal up to form a bud and wrap the remaining petals around the bud to make a rose. Bend and curl the edges of the outer petals outwards to make the rose look more realistic.
• Note that the photos below were taken in artificial light, which makes the cake look too yellow.
• If you have never done any chocolate icing before, put some of the rolled-out leftover green marzipan onto an upturned glass bowl and use it to practise on.
• Use an icing bag with a No.2 Writer nozzle instead of a paper piping bag if you prefer.
1. Optional step: gently melt the chocolate in a microwave or in a bowl over simmering water. Leave to cool for about half an hour until it is quite thick. Spoon the melted chocolate into a small paper piping bag. Snip the end off and pipe swirls round the edge of the cake.
2. Lightly dust the top of the cake with icing sugar (powder sugar).
3. Cut a slit in the top of the cake with a small palette knife and insert the leaves and the rose. Use a little cream on the underside of each rose leave to help fix it in place. (Originally the rose was placed in the centre of the cake, but I think it looks better positioned off-centre.)
4. Lightly dust the top of the cake again with icing sugar (powder sugar).
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