Sugar rush: Bridgerton's sweet tooth
Forget the handsome faces of its cast—Bridgerton's real treat for the eyes was in its lavish desserts, says Gillian Rhys.
Bridgerton, Netflix’s hit Regency romp based on the romance novels series by Julia Quinn, may be garnering attention for its steamy sex scenes but there’s another aspect I can’t keep my eyes off. For this visual feast of candy colours also includes a profusion of delectable looking confectionery that matches vivid hues of the show’s costumes, interiors and flowers.
Cakes, puddings and other sweet treats can be spotted in what feels like every other scene throughout the series set among London high society in 1813. Tables are crammed with candied fruits, marzipan, jellies, meringues, moulded blancmange, pyramids of macarons and towers of profiteroles. Children dart between them at picnics and receptions, grabbing a drop scone here and there. At a royal garden party, footmen offer trays of creamy syllabubs in glass dishes while at the final ball of the season, maids descend the stairs carrying icing sugar-coated sponges.
Delights laid out at the Queen's garden party
Not only is confectionery incorporated into the show’s signature voice over—the Regency version of Gossip Girl, Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews), narrates; “The fastest courtship upon record secured a betrothal over a plate of sugared almonds and liquorice in just four and a half minutes”—at times it’s part of the plot itself (spoilers ahead).
"Tables are crammed with candied fruits, marzipan, jellies, meringues, moulded blancmange, pyramids of macarons and towers of profiteroles"
When debutante Daphne Bridgerton, and the eligible Simon, Duke of Hastings, meet alone in public for the first time it’s at Gunter’s Tea Shop, purveyor of tantalising advertised “Cakes and Biscuits, Jellies and Candies, Syrups and Caramels”. Although filmed on location in Bath, Gunter’s was a real-life fashionable Georgian establishment on London’s Berkeley Square where the ton (Regency high society) flocked for ices.
History does not record whether any Regency buck lasciviously licked his ice cream spoon as Simon did, much to audience’s delight, while Daphne looked on like the cat who got the cream. At this point, we’re convinced their attraction is not just a show as they claim it is, yet in a later scene outside Gunter’s Simon abruptly calls off “the arrangement” with Daphne.
Tea at Clyvedon
The sophisticated and wealthy Bridgerton family’s “Wedgewood blue” drawing room is a constant source of confectionery. Daphne’s feminist sister Eloise finds comfort sitting in the middle of the blue and gold sofa tucking into a matching tin of sweets. Not a coincidence since each family in the series was assigned a colour scheme by the production designers.
Daphne’s mother Lady Bridgerton greets her daughter’s first suitor, Lord Berbrooke: “May I help you to some freshly prepared biscuits?”
"Pineapples were so expensive and covetable, that aspiring classes would rent the fruit for display when entertaining"
Tea sets including silver tiered cake stands always seem to be laid out in the Bridgerton House drawing room and it’s the setting for Lady Bridgerton to ostensibly entertain Lord Berbrooke’s mother. But while Lady Berbrooke gorges on biscuits, below stairs in the kitchen Daphne’s lady’s maid gets the low down that will extricate her mistress from the lord’s unwanted advances.
Eloise (left) in her signature colours
Mission accomplished, when Daphne becomes chatelaine of Simon’s country estate, Clyvedon, she tries to bond with her frosty housekeeper over tea. Noticeably there’s a Charlotte Royale and a Charlotte Russe on the table. The former (a dome made up of jam and cream-filled swiss rolls) is thought to have been created in honour of Queen Charlotte by Antonin Careme, dubbed the first celebrity chef. Careme later created the Charlotte Russe, a mousse decorated with sponge fingers, probably for the Queen’s namesake granddaughter.
Queen Charlotte herself appears to have more elaborate, bigger and brighter coloured creations at her gatherings. And her tables include an abundance of hothouse fruits most significantly pineapples—a sign of extreme wealth and status at the time since a single one cost several thousand pounds in today’s money. So expensive and covetable were they that aspiring classes would rent a pineapple for display when entertaining.
Sweets are often used to amusingly emphasis the end of a scene throughout the series. The female characters pop cake into their mouths to mark displeasure (the Queen) or despondency (Daphne) while many a biscuit is crunched to mark the end of a decisive statement by the men—mostly by Viscount Bridgerton.
"Characters pop cake into their mouths to mark displeasure or despondency"
In a more overt use of humour, pretty yet poor relation Marina Thompson responding to her cousin Penelope Featherington’s question about how she became pregnant with a shrug: “it was because of cake”. They both happen to be eating a slice in the scene, but it leads to a story about baskets of cake, biscuits and hidden love notes. In an attempt to unconvincingly explain away her niece’s sudden weight gain to the dressmaker Lady Featherington says; “Miss Thompson has a fondness for cake”.
Confectionery is also used as the subject of (lighthearted) reproach. Lady Bridgerton looks aghast at the Queen feeding her lapdog with a spoonful of cream and then returning it to the bowl. And Lady Bridgerton herself is admonished by her daughter Daphne at Buckingham House when she proclaims waiting for the Queen will have all the guests fainting of hunger so steals a morsel from the sweet laden buffet. “No one’s looking at me dearest,” she reassures before declaring it delicious.
While the French pastry chef at Bridgerton House is slathering fondant onto Daphne and Simon’s wedding cake the housekeeper snaps: “The icing should be as white as lilies—this is a proper family!” The resulting towering, three-tiered cake, iced with the Bridgerton and Hastings family crests, takes centre stage at the wedding reception.
The New Year usually marks the time for following the latest diets following the excesses of Christmas, but as this winter is a particularly gloomy one, we could all do with hanging onto the escapism of the sugar-spun world of Bridgerton just a little longer.
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All images courtesy of Netflix
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