Carolyn Robb 

Whenever the British royal family brings a new heir or heiress into the world, the public eye zeros in, with past debuts sparking a rush for matching baby blankets and tiny outfits. But after the little royals hit toddlerhood, is anyone wondering what they eat? When princes William and Harry were young, the job of keeping them fed fell to Chef Carolyn Robb, then-chef to Their Royal Highnesses The Prince and Princess of Wales at Kensington Palace. She was the first female personal chef—and the youngest personal chef, period—to serve the couple, and kept the job for 13 years before moving on to work in Dubai, adding to an impressive career that included stints at Michelin-starred restaurants in England, Italy and France. Now, more than a decade later, Robb works out of her home in England under her personal brand, The Royal Touch, and published a cookbook of the same name. Just before the holidays, she spoke with Boise Weekly about cookies, working with royals and what she bakes for Christmas.

Looking through The Royal Touch, I was particularly attracted to your recipe for royal chocolate biscuit cake. Apart from looking delicious, it seems to have a great story attached. Can you talk about making it for the royal family?

As it had been a great family favorite when I was growing up, I was keen to make it when I started cooking for William and Harry, and they loved it too. When they were a little older they took it back to boarding school with them sometimes as a treat. It was really special for me that William chose to have [it] as his groom's cake!

click to enlarge Chef Robb's royal chocolate biscuit cake was a favorite with the royal family. Find the recipe below. - THE ROYAL TOUCH / CAROLYN ROBB
  • The Royal Touch / Carolyn Robb
  • Chef Robb's royal chocolate biscuit cake was a favorite with the royal family. Find the recipe below.

That recipe calls for English biscuits. Can you explain what those are for American readers? Do you have a particular brand in mind, or are they homemade?

Our biscuits are the same as your cookies! The best ones to use for the chocolate biscuit cake are digestive biscuits. These are a very traditional old English biscuit (cookie), dating back to about 1830, made with wheat flour and some whole-grain flour, butter, sugar, malt extract and bicarbonate of soda as the raising agent. McVities is the brand that I like to use. If they aren't available you could substitute a shortbread biscuit or even Graham crackers.

You've worked all over the world, including in the U.S. Was it difficult to adjust your cooking lexicon when you moved?

I didn't find it difficult as I have cooked in many different places with differing weights and measures, and I love learning the local words for ingredients! My bookshelf is full of culinary dictionaries from around the world. Perhaps the only thing that I found tricky was the cuts of meat that seem very different to here in the UK.

Royal chocolate biscuit cake is just one of many dessert recipes in The Royal Touch. How many are there, and how did you curate them?

There are about 35 recipes that include desserts, cakes, cookies, slices and sweet confections. The hardest job was choosing which recipes to include, as I could have filled a whole book entirely with delicious sweet things! Some recipes come from my mother, with my own little twists added; some I created during my royal chef years; some things I make as a way to combine my favorite ingredients and some have ingredients or combinations that I picked up on my travels, especially in the Middle East. Everything that I selected is easy to make, no complicated processes, and there is, I hope, something for all tastes in the selection that I settled on.

You've moved on from working for the royal family, but it seems to have been a highlight of your career. Can you tell me what a typical day in that job was like?

One of the great joys of the job was that it was so varied—one day I might be cooking shepherds pie for two little princes at Kensington Palace, and a few days later I might be on the royal yacht in Hong Kong doing a banquet for a hundred people! Wherever I was, the days were long, starting before breakfast and working through until after dinner, which was often not served until about 9 p.m. There were usually a couple of hours in the afternoon when I would go out to do any shopping that was needed, or go into the garden and pick fruit or catch up on paperwork. As well as cooking for the royal family there were also quite a few members of staff to be fed. I didn't mind the long, unsociable hours at all as I so loved what I was doing.

And what does a typical day for you look like these days?

The days are still long! I have two young daughters, so the day starts early getting them off to school, and I get as much of my work done as I can while they are at school—but that's never quite long enough, so I finish off what still needs to be done after the girls have gone to bed, which is often very late. I always like to be here with my girls when they come home from school. My younger daughter is home by 4 p.m.—so just in time for a piece of cake and a glass of milk. She loves cake so there is always a homemade cake in cut! Cooking a fresh, healthy supper for us every night is really important to me and it is very special family time. My work is varied, which I really enjoy. [I'm] still doing some professional cooking whilst also working on other projects, product development and events with some wonderful travel companies.

Does your family have any holiday food traditions?

My mum was a wonderful baker, which is where my love of baking comes from. Christmas was always the time of year when every cake tin was bursting with my mum's wonderful homemade treats! We don't enjoy traditional English Christmas cake with dried fruit, so we always have wonderful rich moist ginger cake and a chocolate log—a chocolate roulade decorated to look like a snowy log! Also [we] always have shortbread and Christmas biscuits—lightly spiced cookies cut in Christmas shapes. Traditional mince pies are also not very popular, so I fill them with spiced apple or lemon curd, apricot conserve or chocolate paste! My younger daughter loves baking and we bake together at every opportunity; though she's just turned six and now often tells me that she knows what she's doing and no longer needs my help!

Royal Chocolate Biscuit Cake

Serves 16-20
You will need: One 8-inch round or square cake tin or flan ring; or one 8-inch by 3.25-inch loaf tin; or one 9-inch) square cake tin; or use a larger tin for a cake with less depth

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 3 sticks butter
  • 1/2 cup golden syrup (Tate & Lyle's preferably)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup, soft, plump dried figs, packed
  • 1/3 cup, soft, plump dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup pistachios
  • 1lb. McVities' digestive biscuits

To decorate:

  • 2 cups dark chocolate
  • 2/3 cup white chocolate
  • Selection of small chocolate sticks and dark and white Maltesers or Whoppers

Method

  • Melt the butter with the golden syrup in a heavy-based pan. Do not let it boil.
  • Remove from the heat and add the cocoa powder, dark chocolate and vanilla.
  • Stir until you have a very smooth, glossy mixture.
  • Slice the figs and crush the biscuits.
  • Add the pistachios, figs and crushed biscuits to the chocolate mixture and mix well.
  • Line the base and sides of your chosen shape of cake tin with baking parchment or plastic wrap.
  • Place the mixture into the tin and press it down well into the corners.
  • Leave to cool thoroughly at room temperature before covering and chilling in the fridge. It will take about two hours to set completely firm.
  • When set remove from the tin and place it on a cooling rack.
  • Melt the dark chocolate and white chocolate separately.
  • Spread the dark chocolate all over the cake.
  • Decorate with the Maltesers before the chocolate sets, so that they stick to the cake. Position chocolate sticks as desired and drizzle with the white chocolate.
  • Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Keeps for up two weeks, although it seldom lasts that long, once people know that it is there!

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