As royal wedding fever reaches its zenith, in the UK it's not just expectations that are soaring. Food sales are also on the up, as final preparations for countrywide celebrations are made. Now, they might just be on to something. If you're planning to watch the ceremony, then what better way to really get into the spirit of things than with a themed menu?
It hasn't generated quite the same degree of speculation as the dress, but nevertheless food has still been a major talking point in the lead-up to the big day. Things started to get interesting when, a few weeks ago, Clarence House announced that William was to revive the Victorian tradition of the groom's cake.
Nothing particularly noteworthy about that, you may think, until you consider his choice. Now chocolate fridge cake is about as far from an elegant slither of sponge as possible. There's nothing reserved about this cake; it is extremely sweet, very easy to prepare and isn't anything special to look at.
The version that will be served on Friday will no doubt be elaborately decorated, but in its simplest (and possibly most delicious) form, this cake is made from crushed biscuits mixed with melted chocolate, butter and golden syrup. It is a children's favourite and a treat that a young William apparently used to enjoy when visiting his grandmother, the queen, for tea.
Palace chefs have supplied McVities with the recipe and the biscuit company is currently putting the finishing touches to the cake (using some 18 kilos of chocolate and around 1,700 biscuits in the process). And therein lies the controversy. The decision to favour rich tea biscuits over the more crumbly, slightly mealy digestives has surprised many a chocolate fridge cake aficionado, myself included. To be honest, either works well and the recipe below can be altered to suit personal preference. You could keep it really simple and omit the sultanas altogether or jazz the cake up with chopped nuts, glacé cherries or even marshmallows. I like to use a mix of milk and dark chocolate, but feel free to use just one or the other. Either way, be warned: it is incredibly rich and intensely chocolatey, so small squares are very much advised.
Eschewing tradition, Prince William and Kate Middleton have opted for a canapé reception for their 600 or so lunchtime guests, rather than a more formal sit-down banquet. While this might seem like a boon for those working in the kitchen, the chefs are still going to be rather busy. If you work on a basis of each guest consuming 15 canapés each (remember there is no main meal), this means that they will need to produce around 9,000 bite-size morsels. As we all know, crisps, dips and mixed olives simply won't cut it. Instead, a mixture of hot and cold canapés is likely to be served: herbed crêpes, duck terrine, quail's eggs dipped in celery salt and miniature Cornish pasties have all made an appearance at Buckingham Palace in the past. Whatever the menu, British produce is likely to take centre stage, so why not follow suit and begin your celebrations in a similar fashion? The canapé recipe below gives a nod to the dainty cucumber sandwich (an afternoon tea favourite), while the addition of salmon makes them that bit more special.
When you're feeding a crowd, a prepare-ahead main course is a good idea. It prevents last-minute stress and, in this case, means that you'll be able to give the nuptials your full attention. This is not the occasion for serving chic, fashionable food. Embrace all that is retro and royal and serve coronation chicken with a cold rice salad on the side. Not only is this dish a British stalwart (it was invented in 1953 by Constance Spry for the queen's coronation) it is also, as Spry acknowledged in The Constance Spry Cookery Book, the perfect choice when you are entertaining "a large number of guests of varying and unknown tastes".
Disregard any preconceptions that you may have about coronation chicken. By that I mean try to forget about the motorway service station sandwich that you once picked up as a last resort (all stale bread and sickly sweet mayonnaise-y sauce). Poaching chicken in a light, aromatic stock and then leaving the meat to cool in the broth is a great way of imparting flavour and moisture. Although the sauce is traditionally made with mayonnaise and cream, I think that natural yoghurt works really well here; it provides a slightly sour note, which prevents the sauce from being cloying. With that in mind, the chicken shouldn't be swimming in sauce, it just needs a light coating. Serve with a simple rice salad (cooked rice, mixed with fresh herbs, lightly dressed with vinaigrette) and you can't go far wrong.
In terms of presentation and execution, the menu below might not be fit for a queen, but I doubt you'll have any complaints from guests. So bring out the bunting, seek out some sugared almonds (what wedding would be complete without them?) and enjoy. All recipes serve eight but can easily be doubled.
Salmon and cucumber rounds
1 large cucumber
150g cream cheese
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tbsp finely chopped dill (optional)
100g smoked salmon
Peel the cucumber, then cut it into thin slices, approximately 1cm thick. Either leave them as they are, or, for a more elegant touch, use a round cutter to cut out small discs.
Put the cream cheese in a bowl, add half the lemon zest, a tablespoon of lemon juice, the chopped dill and plenty of black pepper. Beat together until smooth.
Spread each piece of cucumber with a thin layer of cream cheese, top with a small piece of smoked salmon and scatter over the remaining lemon zest.
6 chicken breasts
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
handful parsley stalks
few sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tsp white peppercorns
For the sauce:
1 tbsp oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp mild curry powder
juice of a lemon
200ml natural yoghurt
1 mango, peeled and diced
1 tbsp mango chutney
75g cashew nuts, roasted
small bunch parsley, chopped
salt and black pepper
Put the carrot, onion, celery, bay leaves, herbs and white peppercorns into a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, add the chicken breasts and leave to simmer for 10-12 minutes (depending on size). Remove the pan from the heat and leave the meat to cool in the liquid. When cooled, remove the chicken and slice into strips. Pass the liquid through a fine sieve.
Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 4-6 minutes, until softened but not coloured. Sprinkle over the curry powder and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Add the lemon juice and a couple of tablespoons of the reserved stock and allow to bubble up briefly. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool.
Combine the mayonnaise, yoghurt, cooked onion, three quarters of the mango and the mango chutney in a large bowl. Season with salt and black pepper. Add the chicken, stir well and store in the fridge until you are ready to serve. Mix in the cashew nuts and chopped parsley at the last minute and garnish with the remaining mango.
Chocolate fridge cake
150g dark chocolate
150g milk chocolate
180g unsalted butter
2 tbsp golden syrup
250g rich tea biscuits
Grease and line a 23cm square baking tin with parchment paper.
Break the chocolate into pieces and tip into a heat-proof bowl along with the butter and golden syrup. Place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure that the bowl doesn't touch the water. Leave to melt slowly.
Crush the rich tea biscuits into small pieces and tip into a large bowl with the sultanas. Pour over the chocolate mixture and stir until really well combined. Pack the mixture into the prepared baking tin, smoothing the surface with the back of a spoon. Chill in the fridge for at least three hours, before cutting into small pieces.