By the end of her reign, Queen Victoria had become such a living legend that it was easy to forget the stout, squinting fussbudget underneath the crown. The mother of nine had transformed into the Mother of the Empire, more mythological than mortal.
This public image of a woman who had risen—nine children notwithstanding—above the base human desire for pleasure, is wildly at odds with the reality of Victoria the woman.
Portrait of Young Queen Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, c. 1840. Museum Colchester and Ipswich, Colchester, UK.
As a child and a young woman, she had been quite a romantic–fond of music and dancing, and so enchanted by the swoony storylines of opera and ballet that she often dressed her dolls as her favorite performers.
Wooden doll dressed by Princess Victoria as the ballerina Marie Taglioni, costumed for the role of Louise in Kenilworth (1831). Photo: the Royal Collection Trust.
She also liked to eat. She liked to eat a lot. And quickly. The pace at which she inhaled her food was remarked upon by observers at almost every stage of her life–even in her last years when her appetite was said to have decreased.
Which brings us back, of course, to Mr. Francatelli and his cookbook.
The recipe line-up is anything but uniformly stodgy. Yes, as we have seen in the previous two installments of this trilogy, there was a lot of rather unexciting stuff gussied up with fancy dress (a nice metaphor, come to think of it, for the mature Victoria).
There’s plenty of fun, though, some of it alcoholic. Queen Victoria didn’t mind a drink or two, and I’m not talking about tea with lemon. Francatelli devotes one small but potent section to American drinks (the Mint Julep, the Cock-Tail, the Brandy-Smash, the Locomotive) with this being my favorite. It’s the only recipe I’ll present untested and exactly as originally written.
Half a pint of strong ale, a wineglass of brandy, a few drops of essence of cloves, four lumps of sugar; make hot, drink slowly––and make haste into bed.
Make haste, indeed. Before you hit the floor.
In the MDK Shop
And there’s plenty to appeal to the Queen’s famous sweet tooth. There was no way I was going to end without diving into Francatelli’s plentiful recipes for desserts and puddings (he uses both words, by the way). I looked into the ices (very tempting) and at the cakes and pastries. A cornucopia made of nougat? Why the hell not.
I pondered whether this might be the time to go tall, perhaps with something gelatinous.
But then I found Francatelli’s recipes–on adjoining pages, no less–for Victoria Biscuits and Albert Biscuits. The royal couple, nestled together forever on the Cookie Tray of Eternity.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Butter and flour one 9 x 12 inch baking pan.
5 oz sugar
4 oz very finely chopped or ground almonds
6 egg yolks, beaten
for 20 minutes.
No joke, Francatelli specifies this be done for twenty minutes. If you have a docile kitchen maid with great biceps, make her do it. Otherwise, use a hand or stand mixer to bring the ingredients nicely together, which should take a lot less than twenty minutes.
Whisk vigorously until they just begin to foam:
7 egg whites
3 oz flour
1 oz candied orange peel, sliced into little bits
Grated rind (zest) of one lemon
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
Pinch of salt
Combine these batters well, then pour into the prepared pan.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before slicing into small squares or rectangles. Serve on a nice plate, decorated with extra bits of candied peel.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Butter and flour small metal cookie molds (I used a madeleine pan, for lack of any other cookie molds in the kitchen) or a metal baking sheet.
3 oz unsalted butter at room temperature
until it is light and fluffy.
Mix into the butter, in this order:
8 oz sugar
6 oz flour
3 oz ground almonds
rind (zest) of two lemons, grated
3.5 oz of kirsch (kirschwasser, cherry brandy)
Spoon the batter into buttered and floured molds, or roll into little balls using about a heaping teaspoon for each biscuit.
Bake until lightly colored–about 30 minutes.
Allow to cool completely. Once cool, spread each biscuit with a bit of:
orange marmalade (the best you can afford)
Francatelli the goes on to dip the biscuits into sugar syrup to glaze them. I will be honest with you: I didn’t. I love sugar, but this recipe begins with half a pound of sugar. Try the glaze if you like, but apologize in advance to your dentist.
The Albert Biscuits were a success with everyone who tasted them–including me.
The Albert Biscuits.
As you might guess from the list of ingredients, they have a rich and spicy taste not unlike gingerbread. The texture is moist and pleasantly cakey, akin to a typical American banana bread, but will become rubbery if you whip the egg whites too much. (I beat the hell out of them in one test batch, as though I were making meringue. I thought it would create a lighter, higher bake. Instead, they bounced when they hit the floor.)
Now, the Victoria Biscuits?
The Victoria Biscuits.
Rule freaking Britannia, these are fabulous. Sugar heavy? Yes. But all that sugar means that in the oven on a metal pan, the entire bottom of each biscuit crystallizes and goes crunchy while the middle stays tender.
And then you have the fresh lemon flavor from the zest, and the swoony overtones of the kirsch, and the rapture of the marmalade.
And you hear the Lost Chord, and see flights of William Morris angels across an azure sky, and eat another Victoria biscuit, and fireworks go off over Windsor Castle, and you eat another biscuit, and the chorus of Peers from Iolanthe enters from stage left singing “Loudly Let the Trumpet Bray,” and you cease to give a damn whether you will have to let out your corset strings tomorrow morning, and Dame Clara Butt is singing “Land of Hope and Glory,” and you grab the whole damned silver tray and head for your boudoir after telling the butler in no uncertain terms that Madam Is Not At Home to Anyone for the remainder of the afternoon.
They’re that good. In fact now that I’ve written this, I’m going to go make some more.