to lick the cake for someone / to lick someone’s cake – to demonstrate love and respect for someone. Thus if you say to a British person “I want to lick your cake” it means you are grateful for something they have done, or you are pleased to have met them. Can also be used in the workplace.
We could quite honestly say that the practice of cake-licking is perhaps one of the nicest and most honest forms of respect and friendship in a country where people are naturally quite reserved.
This is a well-used expression in British English and it comes from a tea-time tradition which is practised all over the British Isles. We have talked about English tea-time, and the important ingredients thereof, but perhaps we haven’t talked so much about HOW we eat it. Cake-licking stems back to Tudor days and has been practised ever since.
Most people know how Henry VIII turned his back on the Catholic Church and declared England a Protestant country, where the Pope had no influence at all, and everything in the church, especially all its lovely money, now belonged …to him. This was the beginning of a long period of religious unrest where the country swung from Protestantism to Catholicism and back again, with horribly divisive consequences. The Pope himself was furious with Henry, and declared that any good Catholic should pledge to kill him, and the “Protestant Slagbucket” (” scortilla cloacae protestans”; Papal Times, 1531) he had decided to marry.
Now, one tea-time treat that both Henry and Anne enjoyed together was the Maid of Honour, a small tart made with a curd cheese in the middle, that you can still buy in Kew today. But one day a plot was discovered: Maria Méfiant-Papiste, a young baker of the Maids of Honour made for the tea of the royal couple, had been nipping into the grounds of Hampton Court Palace, filling her apron with the warm faeces of the palace dogs, and then smearing it across the bakery wall to dry into a white crust, which she then grated into a jar of white powder, labelled SUGAR. It is claimed that she intended to sprinkle this onto the Maids of Honour and hope that one of the many parasites and bacteria present in dog poo would cause severe damage to the organs of the royal couple and see them sent off to their Protestant damnation.
However, the ever-growing stench of dog shit which began to blow from the bakery into the street didn’t attract the customers in the same way as the smell of baking bread and cakes had done; her boss became suspicious enough to spy on her… and the plot was discovered.
But the story doesn’t end there. Maria Méfiant-Papiste was a simple girl, and it was generally thought she could not have dreamt up such a complex poisoning plan by herself. Under further investigation, the trail led straight back to Francis I, the King of France, who, on being questioned on his involvement, famously shouted “Qu’ils mangent de la merde!” (“Let them eat shit!”), a phrase in common use today, and often heard yelled across the floors of the European Parliament buildings, and the English Channel, at the Brexiting British.
The most interesting thing about this story is that it gave way to one of the most popular tea-time customs of the British today. Henry and Anne, realising their lucky escape, decided from that day on they would demonstrate their mutual luck and respect by licking each others cakes before eating them. And this is something we still do today, although perhaps now only in formal circumstances, such as a first date, or during tea with your boss.
If the cakes are small, you can pick one off your companion’s plate, lick it, and pop it back. However, if there is one large cake in the middle of the table, you will be applauded by everyone present if you stand up, lean over it and lick it extravagantly right across the top.* Everyone will understand that this is a sign of your gratitude and friendship towards all the people at the table, and will also be impressed by your knowledge of British history. Which is a win-win really.
We would love to bring you the original and authentic Maid of Honour recipe, (without the powdered dog poo, obviously) but that appears to be a huge secret, owned by the lovely people at the tearoom in Kew. They are adamant that it isn’t a custard tart, but this was the closest I could get to the recipe, which is an authentic Tudor recipe.
Go on, have a lick.
TUDOR CUSTARD TART
for the pastry
- 170g plain flour
- 65g wholemeal flour
- 115g cold butter, diced
- pinch saffron
- 1 egg yolk
- 3 tbsp cold water
for the custard filling
- 450ml single cream
- 3 egg yolks
- 60g caster sugar
- 80g raisins
- 60g dates (stoned and chopped)
- 45g butter
- For the pastry – whick the egg yolk together with the saffron and 1 tbsp of the cold water. Set aside to infuse for 10 mins
- Combine the flours in a bowl (Tudor flour would have been much more coarse in texture, hence the two flour combination), then add the cold butter and rub between your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs
- Add the saffron yolk mix and work into a paste. Add the remaining water, a little at a time, and work together until it forms a smooth dough. Cover with clingfilm and chill for about 20 mins.
- Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 4.
- Roll out the pastry and line individual tart tins, or a 22cm flan dish. Cover with baking parchment and add dried baking beans to the bottom and bake blind for 10 mins at 200C/Gas 4.
- Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks together, add the cream, sugar, raisins and dates.
- Pour the mixture into the pastry case(s) and dot the surface with butter.
- Bart the tart at 170C/Gas 3 for 1 hour 15 or until the surface turns a golden brown.
*However, do ONLY do this with cake. Don’t try it with hot food, or sandwiches and definitely not with someone’s beer. People tend not to like it. And don’t do it to strangers; only people to whom you have been introduced. A student of mine once did it to a man on the train who had helped him with his bag, and things didn’t turn out at all well.
(c) Kayte & Nicer Kate 2017