It is not surprising that a man of Father's presence held great attraction for the ladies. Every unattached female who came into our home, and many, I fear, who were already safely married, had her flirtatious eye on him. Visitors, pensioners, clients, all fell before Father's Irish charm; but he, to do him justice, was to all appearances quite unconscious of his conquests, while mother was merely amused. (p. 82 of Victorian Cakes)
The passage above is from the enticingly-titled chapter Father's Lady Friends. In it, Caroline introduces us to a variety of women who made frequent visits to the Campion home and were smitten with her father, Robert. All of them are remembered through the cake recipes they contributed to the families collection, but none are quite like The King's Shoelaces.
A Miss Lizzie Dexter can be thanked for bringing this confection to the family table. "An Irish gentlewoman of a certain age," Lizzie was introduced to the family following the Great Fire. Though suffering no loss herself, she volunteered to aid those devistated by the blaze, among them being the Campions, who "barely escaped with their lives." Quickly befriending Mrs. Campion, she soon became a beloved guest and the woman whom Robert jokingly proclaimed to be who he'd like for a second wife (causing much flustering for Miss Dexter and, I imagine, Mrs. Campion as well because, I mean, come on).
Though skilled in many areas that she demonstrated, it was with this cake that Lizzie made her strongest impression. "Its name had a glamorous sound, and the cake was uncommonly good," Caroline remarked. And I have to agree . . . once you get past the sheer oddness of cake served in such a manner, it really is a lovely little bite, redolent with the Orange Flower Water and Lemon used to flavor the strips.
The King's Shoelaces
Adapted from Victorian Cake by Caroline B. King
3 large eggs, divided, at room temperature
1 c (125 g) all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder
Zest of 1 Lemon
2 tbsp. Orange Flower Water
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a half-sheet pan with a Slipat or parchment paper
Separate the eggs and set aside. Whisk together the flour with the baking powder and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitter with the paddle attachment, rub the zest of the lemon into the sugar until incorporated. Add the egg yolks and beat at medium speed until foamy, about 4 mintues. Remove from the mixer and, by hand, fold in the Orange Flower Water followed by the flour. Beat the egg whites on medium-high in a clean bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold into the batter with care.
Spread the batter evenly across the prepared half-sheet pan. Put into the oven and bake for 15 minutes until a cake test comes back clean and the top is faintly colored. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
To make into "shoelaces," lay the cooled cake upside down on a large cutting board liberally dusted with powdered sugar. Carefully peel away the Silpat or parchment, then dust the exposed cake. Using a pizza cutter, slice the cake into long, thin strips, dusting each with powdered sugar before setting aside.
In the book, Caroline remarks that they would enjoy the cake with cold milk or lemonade in the Summer or Hot Cocoa in the Winter, and indeed, any of those accompaniments would be perfect.