Don't forget the royal icing: schools bake cakes for the Queen

Cherish Finden, pastry chef at the Langham Hotel with her Cake for the Queen
Cherish Finden, pastry chef at the Langham Hotel with her Cake for the Queen Credit: John Lawrence/The Telegraph

In a tiny school kitchen in inner-city Birmingham, eight-year-old Macie is carefully whisking eggs. The room is a hive of activity: around a dozen children from years three to six are weighing flour, grating courgettes, moulding icing into shapes. Elaborate paper crowns are perched on small heads, bunting flutters and a glorious smell of warm butter and melting sugar fills the air.

We are at the Oval Junior school in Yardley, where the School Nutrition Action Group is taking part in a new competition run by Love British Food (an organisation devoted to promoting UK produce) to design a cake to commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday. 

The contest, open to primary and secondary school students across the country, has a simple brief: use healthy, British ingredients – such as fruit, vegetables and honey – decorate it and throw a royal birthday party for the school. Entries – consisting of photos of the party, the cake recipe and a description of the whole experience – must be submitted by July 15. The winning school will be invited to Buckingham Palace during British Food Fortnight in September.

The judges, including chef Raymond Blanc, will be looking for a cake where a lot of thought has gone into the ingredients but is also suitably patriotic and fit for such a special celebration. 

Raymond Blanc Credit: AFP

“For many years, I have been highlighting the importance of encouraging children to enjoy cooking,” Blanc says, “from learning how to plant seeds and helping them grow, to picking them and cooking with them. It’s the fun of being involved and wanting to learn more.” 

He says the competition is designed to encourage children to think about food and where it comes from. “Using lovely fresh ingredients – fruit, even sweet potato and beetroot – teaching them about some unusual ideas. Using edible flowers to decorate. We hope it will set the children’s interest alight.” 

The Oval school is doing exactly that. A few minutes’ walk from the playground is a full-sized allotment where the children grow their own produce to use in cooking lessons, after-school clubs and school meals. Head teacher Rachel Chahal says each year group is given a raised bed to plant whatever they want. “It’s all part of the learning experience: what grows well, how to look after it, how to use it.

“And we don’t use fertiliser or sprays, so it’s all organic. This is quite a deprived area, so proper nutrition is a big issue. By year six, the children know how to cook a proper meal from scratch.” 

Pupils Joseph Short and Thea Williams Credit: John Lawrence/The Telegraph

Eight-year-old Joe, brandishing a wooden spoon, says he often cooks for his family. “It’s my main hobby. Yesterday I made spaghetti bolognese. The hardest bit was turning on the hob.” 

Chahal says cooking teaches children far more than simply producing a finished dish. “It’s about literacy and numeracy because they’ve got to work out the recipe for themselves. And it’s about social skills and teamwork, because they’re working together.” 

It’s also about having fun. “We are making a cake with beetroot and chocolate,” says Macie. Nine year-old Tegan adds: “It’s 85 per cent chocolate, because it’s healthier.” They’ve also been making a corgi out of modelling icing and edible gems, and think the Queen would like a cake with cinnamon and honey.

Food technology teacher Camelia Paton-Devine with 10-year-olds Libby Beighton and Zanin Arthur in the school kitchen Credit: John Lawrence/The Telegraph

Food technology teacher Camelia Paton-Devine says the whole school is throwing itself into the competition with gusto. “We’ll be turning a whole day into a 90th birthday party for the Queen. There’ll be a picnic, music, dancing, and lots of cake. We’ve done a lot of research to find healthy ingredients, and it’s got the children really inspired.” 

“Don’t be afraid,” says Blanc. “We are looking for resourcefulness and ingenuity: working as a team, educating our children about eating local and food provenance, reminding us about age-old traditions and using them to suit today.” 

Together with Love British Food, Blanc is also leading the search for the most imaginative and innovative celebration of British food during British Food Fortnight. This year it is sponsored by Co-op Food and the theme is rediscovering long-lost recipes and traditions. “It makes me so happy that so many local groups, small and large, come together,” says Blanc. “It is a great way to get to know those around you, to learn, to teach, to share, to listen and to do something wonderful in your community.” And with his experience of cooking for royalty, what would he make for the Queen’s 90th birthday?  “I’d keep it simple,” he says. “A lemon drizzle cake: my favourite.” 


How would the country’s top pastry chefs and bakers tackle the brief?

We asked three to design their own royal birthday cakes.


Cherish Finden 

The executive pastry chef at London’s Langham Hotel, and judge on the BBC’s Crème de la Crème, has recreated a piece of architecture in cake form (pictured on p.1).

“I based my cake on Windsor Castle, as I felt the Queen would like to see something that looks familiar and feels like home. I spent six hours there, researching and taking pictures. I wanted the cake to be a journey through history. Every tier tells a story, and each one has an iconic feature, from the tower to the chapel and Norman gate. 

“Each brick had to be cut by hand, from sugar paste. The first tier is Victoria sponge, because it is delicious and British. The second tier is a carrot cake; the third is coffee walnut. The top is a fruit cake.”

 The Langham, London; london; 020 7636 1000.


Frances Quinn

The Great British Bake Off winner made a corgi cake.

“I never go down the really traditional route, so I’ve been playing on the Victoria sandwich idea while making it more relevant. 

“The base is a classic Victoria sponge, layered with jam and buttercream, covered with royal icing. I’ve made a corgi out of cornflakes and crumbled chocolate biscuits to resemble the shadows on the fur. It’s got a breakfast theme, because if there is a day you can have a cake for breakfast, it’s your birthday. 

“It’s a playful cake, designed to make people smile.” 


Lily Vanilli

Lily Vanilli Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley/The Telegraph

The baker and cake designer has made a rich root cake with beetroot and carrot (recipe, right). 

“It’s very nutritious but simple enough for people to make at home. There’s just one tier, but I decorated it by pouring melted chocolate onto a huge pile of ice cubes, so it sets in really sculptural shapes. I’ve painted them gold and made a sort of freestyle crown around the cake, decorating it with flowers and blueberries painted with edible glitter. So it’s achievable at home but still very regal. 

“It’s a cake I imagine the Queen would enjoy eating, yet it’s not too over the top.”


Lily Vanilli’s ‘Carrot Cake Fit for a Queen’

Serves eight


For the cake

175ml runny honey
75ml water
120ml brandy
125g unsalted butter
250g any combinationof carrots, parsnips, beetroots or sweet potatoes, grated
90g raisins
Juice and finely grated zest of 1 orange
Pinch of cinnamon
¼ nutmeg, finely grated
4 cloves
225g wholegrain spelt flour, sifted
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g nuts (walnuts and pecans are good), toasted in the oven at 180C fan/Gas 6 for six to seven minutes, or until aromatic and just starting to brown, then broken into pieces


For buttercream icing

100g unsalted butter, softened
300g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
75ml double cream


For the crown

500g dark chocolate
Bag of ice cubes
Edible gold lustre dust
Blueberries rolled in edible glitter (optional)
Flowers to decorate


 Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.

 Grease and line two 18cm round cake tins.

 Heat the honey, water, brandy, butter, veg, dried fruit, citrus zest and juice, and spices together in a pan, stirring gently to melt the butter. Bring to the boil, then boil for six full minutes. Take the mixture off the heat, remove the cloves if using, and allow to cool to room temperature.

 Meanwhile, in a bowl whisk together the flour and bicarbonate of soda and stir in the crushed nuts.

 Fold the wet mix into the dry. Divide the mixture between the prepared cake tins and level out. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes before turning out on to a wire rack to cool completely.


To make the buttercream icing

 Beat the butter alone for four to five minutes on high speed. 

 Add the sugar, vanilla and cream and beat on a low speed to bring it together, then turn up and beat on high for another two to three minutes.


To make the crown

 Melt chocolate in a bain-marie (clean, dry metal or glass bowl sitting on top of a pan with an inch of simmering water).

 Fill a bowl with the ice. Pour the melted chocolate over so it forms free-form shapes. Break these away from the ice and leave to set.

 Paint with the gold lustre.

 Roll blueberries in glitter.

 Ice the cake with the buttercream icing and set the “jewels” and crown in place.