How this cake acquired its regal title
As with other dishes named for famous people, I wondered about the origin story and the naming of this regal dessert. As it turns out, the story of Queen Elizabeth Cake is not so cut and dry.
What we do know is that the Queen Elizabeth cake recipe was published in Canada in 1953. It appeared in the Coronation Cookbook as well as Chatelaine that year, to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
But was this dessert really named in honour of Queen Elizabeth II or her mother who also bore the title Queen Elizabeth. Some believe that the cake was invented to honour Queen Elizabeth (the queen mother) and King George VI for the celebration of their coronation in 1937. However, it is uncertain when or where it was first served.
The Queen and King were greeted by throngs of royal watchers during their Royal Tour of Canada in 1939. It’s about this time when the recipe started to become popular in western Canada. Linda Peterat, in a BC Food History article on the topic, suggests “that the recipe was in use well before 1953”. This is in reference to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. In fact, it appeared in the Women’s Auxiliary to the Nanaimo Hospital Cook Book in 1952.
The curious bake sale endorsement
The QE Cake would become a popular bake sale item in Canada in the 1950s. Recipe cards that have survived from the era are often paired with this note:
This is supposed to be the only cake the Queen makes herself. She goes into the kitchen and bakes it. Her only wish is that the recipe not be passed on but sold for charitable purposes for 25 cents.Author unknown
However, this quaint gesture has never been confirmed by Buckingham Palace. Perhaps a bit of spin and fake endorsement was invented to benefit from the heightened interest in the monarchy that swept the commonwealth in those days.
The recipe is redeployed to England
This cake’s popularity has spanned the reign of two queens named Elizabeth and has variations across the commonwealth. Indeed, a variation of this recipe, Sticky Toffee Pudding, is very popular in the United Kingdom.
Now for the next big twist in this story. It is believed that Sticky Toffee Pudding was developed with the help of two Canada Air Force officers stationed in the English Lake District during World War II. Could this mean that Sticky Toffee Pudding is the UK reiteration of this Canadian cake?
Queen Elizabeth Cake
- 8 oz dates about 12 dates pits removed, chopped
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 6 tbsp butter
- ¾ cups sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 ¾ cups flour
- 4 tbsp butter
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 350° F
- In a medium bowl, combine water dates and baking soda. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar.
- Stir in the flour and egg.
- Mash the dates in the water or use an electric blender on low for about 10 seconds to form a smooth mixture.
- Stir the date mixture and vanilla into the flour mixture.
- Grease a 2 ½ quart oven proof baking dish or spray with non-stick stick cooking spray.
- Pour the cake batter into the baking dish and bake for about 40 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s ready.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter at medium heat.
- Stir in the sugar and cream.
- Bring to a boil, then add the coconut
- Reduce to medium and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Pour the frosting over the cake and distribute it evenly.