Cooking for the Queen? Here’s a hint. You want good mangoes and chocolate.
AMONG OTHER FIRSTS, the Queen’s jubilee celebrations scheduled for the first weekend of June will mark the debut of the Platinum Jubilee Pudding. If you haven’t yet heard, this latest dish named for a major royal occasion is to be selected from the submissions to a contest launched with much fanfare by Fortnum & Mason in January. The competition was open to all U.K.-resident amateur cooks aged eight or older. Entrants were judged by a panel including Fortnum’s executive pastry chef Roger Pizey, former The Great British Bake Off judge Dame Mary Berry and Buckingham Palace head chef Mark Flanagan. As of press time, their choice of “the people’s pudding” had yet to be made public, and since largely baseless speculation as to the Queen’s taste was running rampant, Canada’s 100 Best interviewed our foremost expert on the royal sweet tooth — John Higgins, director of the Chef School at Toronto’s George Brown College.
Canada’s 100 Best: In 1979 you left Scotland, and the fabled Gleneagles resort, to join the royal kitchens at Buckingham Palace.
John Higgins: That was my digs, as they say. It was good to have a place in London. They give you a room and the whole thing. It was like living in a hotel. Someone came and made your bed every day. There was a staff bar.
C100B: Most records have you as chef de partie at the Palace. But you were in the sweet kitchen, too?
JH: When I went to the Palace, I worked in pastry for the first time in a while. We did a lot of really good classic, simple English scones, and Battenbergs. I made a lot of ice cream. English cookery has evolved so much. Back then, there were lots of lemon posset and bread and butter pudding and things like that. Very simple.
C100B: The same was true in the savoury kitchen?
JH: We had a very good head chef, Lionel Mann [Flanagan’s predecessor]. He liked simple food, done well. We would never take a lobster and turn it into a mousseline or something like that. We’d do a poached leg of lamb or mutton with vegetables and a caper sauce. We intensified natural flavours — like layers of puff pastry on a croissant — without losing the original flavour. Lamb was supposed to taste like lamb. Nobody ever took a bite of something and asked themselves, “What the hell am I eating again?”
C100B: And the products, like game, were of incredible quality?
JH: They would shoot the game birds at Sandringham, Balmoral and Windsor. Even the Queen’s corgis would get the wild hares or rabbits. We’d poach them in court bouillon and cut the meat into a small dice, like a brunoise. Once, instead of doing it by hand, I put it through the meat grinder. That was the only food that I ever made at the Palace that was sent back — the dog food! I was like…s–t.
C100B: Corgis aside, we read often that the Queen has a sweet tooth and is very fond of chocolate. What else?
JH: The Queen loves mangoes. Cases of beautiful mangoes would come in from the Aga Khan — because they were great friends because of horse racing, of course. The mangoes were superb — perfumed, bright, just phenomenal. We used to joke about how she could always tell you exactly how many mangoes were in the pastry fridge down- stairs. We used to make a mango ice cream for her.
C100B: So, if you had entered this competition, would you have done something with mango or chocolate, or both?
JH: I’d bring them together. Chocolate and mango go well, like chocolate and orange or apricot. You want to put some flavour into it, maybe make a dense cake, richly flavoured because it’s cooked with a cocoa butter… The first thing you have to ask yourself when you enter a competition is: Who are the judges? Because it’s not about you. It’s about them and what they like. The other thing about this competition is that this recipe’s got to be reproduced. You want something the average cook can manage. Fortnum’s will likely want to sell this as well. So, you have to think of the cost. What you want is a simple recipe, with flour, eggs, sugar, [and] the most expensive thing is good chocolate. That’s where you differentiate yourself — where the chocolate is from — because chocolate has terroir, just like wine.
ROYAL CHOCOLATE CAKE
• 900 g (2 lb) top-quality dark chocolate (about 70% cacao)
• 1 L (4 cups) whipping cream
• 120 g (1 cup) sugar
• 4 eggs
• 12 egg yolks
• 110 g (1/2 cup) cold butter, small dice
• 60 g (1/2 cup) flour
• 25 g (1/4 cup) cocoa powder
Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F).
Transfer half of the chocolate to a saucepan and melt on low heat. Transfer 250 ml (1 cup) of the cream to another saucepan and bring to a boil on medium. Add the hot cream to the melted chocolate and whisk until smooth. Transfer to refrigerator until set, about 2 hours. Line a deep 20-cm (8”) round cake pan with parchment paper and grease well; set aside. Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil on high. In a mixing bowl that fits well over the saucepan, combine the sugar, eggs and yolks. Whisk until combined, place bowl over the boiling water and stir until heated through. Remove from heat and continue whisking until mixture doubles in volume. Fold in the butter until melted. Sift flour and cocoa into a bowl; fold into the egg mixture. Spoon the batter into the cake pan and transfer to the middle rack of the oven.
• diced mangoes
• mango purée
• mint leaves
Bake until internal temperature reaches 100°C (210F), about 20 minutes. Transfer cake to a cooling rack. Transfer remaining chocolate to a saucepan and melt on low. Transfer remaining cream to another saucepan and bring to a boil on medium. Add cream to the chocolate, whisk until smooth and set aside on the countertop. Remove cake from tin and slice it horizontally into three disks of equal thickness. Slather the two bottom disks with some of the warm ganache and reassemble, then return cake to the cooling rack. Add the reserved chilled ganache to the warm ganache and whisk together. Pour the ganache over the cake, letting it run down the sides and then smooth out top and sides with a spatula. Let cake cool and set for a minimum of 2 hours before serving. Portion and garnish, if desired.