Little over a year ago, my partner and I celebrated her birthday in the company of others, and made for the occasion a princess cake: the delirious Swedish prinsesstårta. This was shortly before the dessert appeared on an episode of The Great British Bake Off; and I posted briefly about the cake, with a photograph, over on Culturedarm’s Tumblr page. Alas, I never posted an accompanying recipe.
This year the process repeated, and another princess cake was made. The princess cake is layers of sponge with raspberry jam and vanilla custard in between; with whipped cream mounted dome-like on top; and the whole then covered by coloured marzipan. Icing sugar is typically sifted on top of the marzipan; and more marzipan may then be added by way of decoration, along with more cream, or sometimes melted chocolate.
The prinsesstårta first appeared in 1948, in a cookbook published by Jenny Åkerström, a teacher in the service of Prince Carl, Duke of Västergötland. Originally called ‘grön tårta’ (‘green cake’), the dessert received its grander name as it became a favourite of Prince Carl’s three daughters, Margaretha, Märtha, and Astrid.
Princess cakes are still usually covered with green marzipan. But a variant using pink or red marzipan may be called an operatårta instead of a prinsesstårta – that is, an opera cake rather than a princess cake – while versions with yellow marzipan are known as prince cakes. Swedish children, and adults too, often enjoy miniature princess cakes crafted to resemble the faces of frogs.
The princess cake has a reputation for difficulty. Mary Berry of The Great British Bake Off has a vulgar recipe online that sees you purchasing assorted butters, fiddling to construct a fondant rose, and grinding almonds to make the marzipan from scratch. As so often in life – thanks for nothing, Mary Berry!
In fact the princess cake isn’t complex at all – and it can be made exceedingly simple if you are willing to forego a few nuances of flavour. You don’t absolutely need the vanilla custard, for instance: do away with it if you want, or if you’re pressed for time but still demand to go to the trouble of making a cake. Jam and whipped cream alone will suffice. More, feel free to play around with the ingredients: using jams other than raspberry; adding different flavourings to the sponge, cream, or custard; and decorating the realm that lies above the marzipan as much or as little as you prefer.
A final note: the recipe below asks for only two layers of sponge. Three are more common. So without changing the quantity of ingredients, simply add another cake tin if you are ready and willing, spreading the sponge mixture more thinly between the three. This obviously allows you also another layer of jam and vanilla custard.
* * *
- 150g caster sugar
- 150g butter
- 3 eggs
- 150g self-raising flour or 150g plain flour plus 5g baking powder
- 300 ml milk
- 1 vanilla pod or a drop of vanilla essence or 2 tsp vanilla sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 80g caster sugar
- 1 tsp cornflour
- raspberry jam
- 600 ml double cream or whipping cream
- 500g green or pink marzipan
- 50g red or yellow marzipan
- icing sugar
* * *
- Let’s start with the vanilla custard, as this is going to need time to cool.
- For the vanilla custard, pour your milk into a saucepan, add the vanilla pod/essence/sugar, and allow the milk to come gently to a boil.
- Mix the sugar into the egg yolks and beat fervently for several minutes, until the mixture is smooth and pale yellow.
- Beat the cornflour into the sugar and egg mixture.
- Now add the boiling milk gradually, half-heartedly folding it in – because who knows what might happen to the egg if you’re any bolder than this?
- Return the mixture to the saucepan, and place over a moderate heat, stirring with a suitable implement for a couple of minutes until your custard thickens.
- Tip or spoon the custard into a bowl – using a sieve if you really desire a smooth custard – and cover the bowl with clingfilm, then put it into the fridge to cool.
- Now for the cake, preheat your oven to 180C.
- Grease or line two (or more) shallow cake or sandwich tins, around 18cm in diameter.
- Cream together the sugar and butter.
- Beat in the eggs, and patiently mix in the flour.
- Pour or spoon your cake mixture into your already prepared tins, and bake for around 15 minutes.
- When your sponge layers emerge from the oven, allow them to cool. Then put them together, with thick layers of jam and vanilla custard between.
- Finally for the covering, whip your cream until it’s nice and firm.
- Pile the cream on top of your layers of cake, and shape into a dome.
- Roll out your green or pink marzipan, and carefully place it over your dome of whipped cream. Fold at the bottom.
- Sift some icing sugar over the top of the marzipan.
- And at last add whatever decorations you like to the top of your princess cake: dollops of cream, red or yellow marzipan in whatever design you wish, melted chocolate, and so on.
- In Sweden they consume the esteemed prinsesstårta fingers first, quite literally gouging out its creamy innards. Otherwise you may use a spoon or pastry fork.