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Bite of History: Victorian Tennis Cake

Bite of History: Victorian Tennis Cake

Tennis Cake, a Victorian Charmer

Victorian Tennis Cake, anyone?
I have to admit, I’m a big Great British Baking (or Bake-Off) fan. And I especially like it when they do theme weeks. In the series that’s showing in the U.S. right now, they have a ‘Tudor’ segment airing tomorrow, and I can’t wait.

However, a season or two ago, they did a Victorian bake-off, and one of the things  they made was Tennis Cake. This was something I’d never heard of  before, but it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. That is,  a cake made to look like a tennis court.

Oh, how those Victorians loved whimsy!

Tennis Cake side view with net
Layer of almond paste and green fondant cover the cake.

Now, I have a confession to make. The ‘cake’ portion is supposed to be fruit cake. However, when I told my husband this he immediately made a face. The kind one does when fruit cake is mentioned.

Initially, I was going to go with the disliked cake anyway, because it is the authentic way…but then my sense of waste not, want not, kicked in, and I opted out of the candied fruit confection because I knew we wouldn’t eat it. Instead I used a dense espresso cake, and it worked pretty well as a substitute. Plus I have no doubt it tasted better.

Tennis Cake with net and racquets made of royal icing.

If you happen to be a GBBO watcher, you know in the series they baked the Tennis Cake in one, deep, adjustable pan. Well, I didn’t one of those. I did find it on Amazon, but I quickly reminded myself that I was taking a truckload of stuff to Goodwill this weekend, and I surely didn’t need another pan to squeeze onto the shelf.

However…I still wanted the height I saw on the show. Because of this, my cake has two layers.

So the cake structure goes like this: base cake, layer of rolled out marzipan (almond paste), then atop that, a layer of fondant, colored to a green. The court lines, net and racquets are made with royal icing, and dried before putting them atop. The pink and autumn orange piping is royal icing as well.

Tennis Cake full court shot.

I would imagine this cake was popular because the sport was popular during the Victorian era. However, tennis was far from invented at this time. The game as we know it today, is derived from a game called Royal Tennis or Real Tennis, and was played with the palm of one’s hand. Henry VIII, before he started putting on the pounds, was an avid player.

So did the Victorians come up with the racquet part of the game?
Tennis with racquets has been around since the 16th century.

Would you like to make a Tennis Cake?

Here are a few tips I can give after my experience baking it:

Be sure you add enough green coloring to make it ‘green enough.’ What I mean is, the racquet and net will really stand out better if you get your green just a bit darker than mine. You don’t want it neon, but if there’s one thing I could do over with this cake, that would be it.

Be patient and let your royal icing and net decorations dry to a complete crispiness, otherwise, you’re going to be doing them over. My net took about an hour to dry, the racquets took longer. The more delicate your piece, the easier it will break (obviously).
Also, make extras…just in case.

One thing that fruit cake will give you is a little more texture decoration on the bottom, so you decide, and if you want to be really authentic, go with the fruit cake.

I didn’t use the fondant recipe from the BBC GBBO site because it calls for gelatin leaves and I have a harder time finding those around here, so I used an ‘easy fondant’ recipe I found and it worked great, I’m including it in the resource links below.


Easy Fondant Recipe

Interested in the Victorian era? You might like these posts:

Food History Bite: Charlotte Russe


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