The Culinary Vices challenge had me stumped for a while. How do I create something excessive and luxurious on a budget, without spending days laminating pastry or buying yet more cake moulds? Then, while watching the third episode of Victorian Bakers, an excellent show which everyone should watch, inspiration struck. In the show you see the bakers at the turn of the 20th century struggling to diversify in the face of factory made bread, and one of the things they begin to make is cake.
I turned to a recent acquisition, Mrs A.B. Marshall’s Cookery Book (c. 1890s), where I found the Metternich Cake. With alternating layers of two different types of cake on a biscuit base all sandwiched together with a rich, chocolate buttercream, covered in noyeau-flavoured glace icing and decorated with two types of buttercream, this cake seemed to tick all of the boxes. It was excessive, yes, but I already had all the ingredients and equipment that I would need.
“Take four whole raw eggs, six ounces of castor sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, and the very finely chopped peel of a lemon; whip these all together in a stewpan over boiling water till the mixture is just warm; then remove and whip until cold and thick, and mix into it four ounces of fine warm flour that has been passed through a sieve, and one eighth ounce of Marshall’s baking power. Butter a square fleur mould, place it on a baking tin, and put a double layer of buttered paper on the bottom inside the mould; then pour in the mixture, and bake in a moderate oven for one hour. The cake should be a very pale fawn colour when cooked.
Prepare a similar quantity of the above mixture, but in addition add about a saltspoonful of Marshall’s cherry red or carmine and a few drops of essence of vanilla, and finish as for the first mixture.
When both mixtures are cold cut them in slices and arrange them together in alternate layers, placing between each slice a layer of Vienna chocolate icing that is mixed with a wineglass of Silver Rays (white) rum; when they have reached the required height mask over with maraschino glace and then dish on a cake bottom. Garnish the cake as in the engraving with Vienna chocolate icing and rose Vienna icing, and serve. This would be nice to serve for a dinner sweet when ice cream or fruits may be served with it.”
Little did I know the anxiety which this cake would lead to. The first step is to make the two types of Genoise sponge; I would probably cook them slightly less next time because they were a little dry, and I would chill the cakes before icing. Next up is the cake bottom.
“Cake Bottom – Rub two ounces of butter into half a pound of flour till smooth, then add two ounces of castor sugar and one egg, and mix with cold water into a very stiff paste; roll out, cut in a square shape, and bake in a moderate oven for about half an hour, then put to press, trim and use. When these are used for savoury turbans the sugar should be left out.”
Once the cakes are cooled I cut them into quarters and stacked the layers alternately. However, on re-reading the recipe I’m wondering if the instruction was actually to slice the cakes in layers vertically and to alternate those layers. You use the Vienna chocolate icing, a delicious chocolate and rum buttercream, to sandwich the layers together, and to attach the cake to the biscuit base.
“Vienna Chocolate Icing – To three quarters of a pound of icing sugar add half a pound of fresh butter, a quarter of a pound of finely powdered chocolate, a little of Marshall’s coffee brown, and about half a wineglass of brandy or liqueur. Mix all together with a wooden spoon for about fifteen minutes, when it will present a creamy appearance, and is ready for use.”
Once the cakes are assembled, making absolutely certain that they are straight, it’s time to ‘mask’ the cake in glace icing. Before I begin, let me just say that there is a reason that glace icing is basically only used on cookies and cupcakes. It is a nightmare to work with! Following the recipe exactly created a thick paste that was impossible to use so I used more water and noyeau to get a smooth, spreadable icing.
“Maraschino Glace – Put into a stewpan three quarters of a pound of icing sugar, and one and a half tablespoonfuls of water, then mix in three tablespoonfuls of maraschino, stir over the fire till just warm, then use. Noyeau, or any other liqueur, can be used similarly.”
Getting the cake iced was the worst part of the recipe, and not something I would be keen to do again. I actually iced the first cake and was so unhappy with it that I started again with the second cake. One of the problems was the texture of the cake, I kept getting crumbs in the icing even though I had brushed the sides with a simple syrup before beginning (this isn’t called for in the recipe, but I don’t know how you could get away without using jam or syrup first). The icing was also setting so quickly that I could hardly get it onto the cake, and once it was on it would break off in chunks.
“Vienna Icing – Ten ounces of icing sugar and a quarter of a pound of butter worked till smooth with a wooden spoon; mix with one small wineglass of mixed Silver Rays (white) rum and marashino, work it till like cream, then use. This may be flavoured and coloured according to taste.”
Eventually I got the whole thing covered, although it was a far cry from smooth, let alone perfect. Luckily, some of the imperfections are covered by the piped Viennese icing, some in chocolate and some in rose (I took this to mean rose-coloured, but it could also be flavoured with a little rosewater).
Makes 2 cakes
For each cake:
175g caster sugar
A pinch of cinnamon
Peel of a lemon
120g flour, warmed for 5 minutes in a very cool oven
3.5 g baking powder
For the second cake:
4 drops vanilla essence
1/2 tsp red food colouring
For the cake bottom:
60 g butter
230 g flour
65 g caster sugar
About 2 tsp ice water
For the Vienna chocolate icing:
170 g icing sugar, sieved
115 g butter, softened
60 g cocoa powder
2 tbsp white rum
A few drops of coffee brown food colouring (optional – listed in the recipe but the icing is already so brown that it doesn’t really seem necessary)
For the glace icing:
340 g icing sugar
3 tbsp maraschino or noyeau
For the Vienna rose icing:
140g icing sugar, plus extra
115g butter, softened
2 drops red food colouring
1 tsp rose-water (optional)
1 tbsp white rum
1 tbsp noyeau or maraschino
Simple syrup or warmed apricot jam
- Preheat the oven to 150˚C. Butter and line the base of two square, 8 inch cake tins. For each cake whisk the eggs, sugar and flavourings (and the food colouring for the second cake) in a heat proof bowl. Place this bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water and continue to whisk until the mixture is just warm to the touch. Remove from the saucepan and continue to whisk until the mixture thickens and is room temperature.
- Sift the flour and baking powder onto the egg mixture and carefully fold it in, trying not to lose too much of the volume that has been created by the whisking. Pour each mixture into a prepared tin. Place both tins in the oven and bake for 50-60 mins, or until dry and slightly springy to the touch.
- Remove the cakes from the oven when done, but leave the oven on, and allow to cool slightly before loosening the edges with a palette knife and turning them onto wire racks to cool.
- For the cake bottom, rub the butter into the flour. Mix in the sugar and the egg. Add the ice water a little at a time until the dough just comes together. Place a layer of baking paper on a baking sheet and dust with a little flour. Roll the dough out in a square shape directly onto the baking paper until it is about 1/2 cm thick. Bake in the oven for 30 mins.
- Once the cakes and the cake bottom have cooled, use a serrated knife to carefully cut each cake into quarters (or into layers, see comment above). Stack the cakes and trim to make sure that they are identical in size, otherwise you will have a lopsided cake. Use one of the squares to cut two cake bottoms of the same size.
- Make the Vienna chocolate icing by beating together the butter and the icing sugar until well combined. Add the cocoa powder and beat until it is all incorporated, then slowly mix in the rum.
- Use a palette knife to spread a small amount of Vienna chocolate icing on a cake bottom and then carefully press your first piece of cake onto the cake bottom. Continue to add 3 more pieces of cake, alternating between the plain and the pink cake, and using the Vienna chocolate icing to glue the layers together. At this point you should have two cakes, each with a cake bottom and 4 layers of cake, 2 pink and 2 white. Brush the cakes all over with simple syrup, or with slightly warmed apricot jam. Place the cakes in the fridge for 20 minutes or so, to firm up the cake.
- While the cakes are chilling make the glace icing. Place the icing sugar and maraschino or noyeau in a small saucepan over a low heat. Add water, a teaspoon at a time, until you have a smooth and thick but pourable icing. When the cakes are ready to ice, keep the icing on a low heat and bring one cake at a time to the icing. Spoon some icing over the top of the cake to make a smooth top, then use a palette knife to apply icing to the sides. Let the icing set.
- To make the rose icing, beat together the butter and icing sugar. Add the colouring, the rum and liqueur, and the rose-water if desired. Mix well. You may need to add more icing sugar to get the icing to a piping consistency. Fill one piping bag with a large star tube with the rose icing, and another with the remaining chocolate icing. Use the rose icing to pipe a shell border around the top and bottom of the cake. Use the two types of icing to pipe small stars and C-shapes onto the cake, following the engraving for inspiration.
The Recipe: Metternich Cake from Mrs A.B. Marshall’s Cookery Book
The Date: There’s no date given in the book but this edition was definitely published after 1894, and the note on the flyleaf shows that it was owned by Margaret Woolley in August 1906.
How did you make it? See above.
Time to complete?: Hours.
How successful was it?: The cake was a little dry and every element was so sweet that the overall experience was a bit overwhelming. That being said, the Vienna chocolate icing was probably the best chocolate buttercream I’ve ever had and the noyeau added a lovely flavour and colour to the glace icing. I still wouldn’t really be recommending anyone try to recreate the cake though.
How accurate?: The food colourings were a bit difficult to deal with because who knows what colour or strength they were. I used a few drops of red to make the pink cake and icing, but skipped the brown on the basis that the icing was already so brown thanks to the cocoa that it wouldn’t make a difference. The cocoa was another thing I wasn’t sure about, is that what was meant by powdered chocolate?
 Agnes Bertha Marshall, Mrs A.B. Marshall’s Cookery Book (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co Ltd, no date), 381–382.
 Ibid., 39.
 Ibid., 41.
Marshall, Agnes Bertha. Mrs A.B. Marshall’s Cookery Book. London: Simpkn, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co Ltd, no date.