Battenberg cake was created to honour the marriage of Queen Victoria’s granddaughter to Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. The squares represented the four Battenberg princes: Louis, Alexander, Henry and Francis Joseph. Owing to anti German sentiment, many Battenbergs changed their name in 1917. It was anglicised; the Mountbattens were born, ‘berg’ meaning ‘mountain’ in German. Who knew that the humble Battenberg had such noble origins?
Although most are unaware of its roots, I think that many of us nonetheless have historical associations with Battenberg. I don’t know about you, but few things evoke the kitchen table of my childhood more than ‘window cake’.
Whether it’s your history cake- or just a cake with history- I dont think it’s an exaggeration to describe Battenberg as a minor British institution.
If it’s possible, then making Battenberg as an adult is even more fun than it was dissecting and eating it as a child. And believe it or not, it’s not a great deal more complicated. Construction is just dissection in reverse, after all.
If good, old- fashioned fun isn’t an end in itself, rest assured that the result tastes infinitely better than the shop bought stuff. In contrast to many modern day items, shop bought Battenberg is notable for its uniformity- I have yet to see a ‘finest’ range or fresh Battenberg in the bakery section.
It is precisely because of this uniformity that you don’t realise you are missing out until you try homemade. Principally, it is much more moist, so the marzipan and cake components meld together better.
You didn’t think the relationship was on the rocks, I hear you cry. And you won’t- until you see this happy matrimony.
Mary Berry has a recipe for a coffee and walnut Battenberg, which was the object of a Great British Bake Off technical challenge. My feeling is that if you want coffee cake, then you should make coffee cake: there is no need to bring the Battenberg into it. That said, I would not sniff at some mild colour bastardisation. Battenberg is meant to be colourful, and I personally am looking forward to creating a jubilee version, in red, white and blue.
The recipe I followed promises- rather curiously- that grown men will weep at your feet when you make this. I had better be selective: tomorrow I will serving this cake- among others- to hundreds of hungry farmers.
Cutting the two square cakes into 4 sections.
Rolling out the marzipan.
The final product: imperfect yet proud.
Top tip: when transferring the cake mixture to the tins, try to get the mixture as even as possible. This helps to prevent the cake from developing sloping sides as it cooks, meaning that the squares that later form the ‘windows’ are even in size.
Battenberg Cake (makes 2)
Adapted from ‘Cake Magic’ by Kate Shirazi
8oz self raising flour
8oz caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pink food colouring
Apricot jam (at least half a jar)
500g marzipan (ready rolled will make it easier)
1. Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees Celcius
2. In a mixer, beat together the flour, sugar, margarine, egg and vanilla.
3. Divide the mixture in two (it helps to weigh it out) and dye one half of the mixture pink. Spread the pink mixture into one 20cm square tin. Then spread the plain coloured mixture into another. Smooth the mixture so that it is as even in thickness as possible.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cakes are firm and springy to the touch. Leave to cool on wire racks.
5. Sieve the apricot jam. Spread the jam over one cooled cake and then place the other on top of it. Trim the edges so that they have sharp, straight edges.
6. Cut the cake into four equal strips. Take one strip and brush some jam over the long cut edge. Tip it on it’s side so the jammy edge is facing upwards. Take another strip, invert it and lay it on top of the jammy edge. The cake should now resemble a Battenberg. Repeat this process to make the other cake.
7. Dust a worktop and your rolling pin with sifted icing sugar. Roll out half the marzipan to about 18x 28cm. Brush the whole outside of the edges of the cake with jam and then wrap in the marzipan. Trim the ends so that the edges are nice and sharp. Repeat with the second cake.
8. Lastly, wrap the cakes tightly in clingfilm. This allows the sponge and the marzipan to stick together properly.