I still can’t decide which spelling to go with for this cake; the more I think about it the more both spellings end up looking equally wrong (if I was of a more optimistic bent I might have said “equally right”).
It is generally accepted that Battenberg cake was invented in honour of the marriage, in 1884, between Queen Victoria’s granddaughter to Prince Louis of Battenberg. The four squares symbolise the four Battenberg princes. However, that doesn’t help to explain why two of the squares are pink, and two yellow…but they always are (except when a silly baker doesn’t put in enough food colouring...ahem).
When you’re making a classic you have to follow the rules so I used food colouring in this recipe - it simply wouldn’t be a Battenberg without it. Sadly, I didn’t put enough so had an orange rather than pink sponge, but it still looked rather attractive and had that all important colour contrast to achieve the chequerboard effect. Jamming up the sponges is one of the more fun parts of the process:
It’s worth taking the time to make your own marzipan for this cake; it will mean extra work and home made is -in my experience - harder to roll out but it is so superior in taste, and that’s what really matters. Not sure if I made a mistake or the recipe was wrong but I found my marzipan far too soft to roll and had to add a lot more icing sugar. Here’s what it started out looking like:
I find you can get away with a softer marzipan (although not as soft as the photo above!!) if you’re just covering the top of a fruit cake but this needed to be more firm to wrap the sponge. There may have been swearing but I persevered and kept kneading more and more icing sugar into the marzipan and I ended up with something, still sticky, but capable of rolling:
Once I’d cursed everything I could think of and sworn I would never make marzipan again, I tasted it...it tasted good!
The combination of classic sponge, apricot jam and soft almond paste is a joy – every mouthful delivers flavour and texture. While mine may not be the prettiest Battenberg you’ll ever see I will venture it’s one of the tastiest. Just make it the day before you want to eat it – that way the pain of the marzipan will be but a distant memory!
Being a caketinoholic (it is a proper addiction as my cupboards and bank statements prove) I used my Battenberg cake tin which takes the effort out of the process. You could, of course, use a normal square tin and make dividers out of foil.
Sept 2011 – Battenberg update
I made this cake again with pink colouring – if anything I over compensated for my colour failure last time as you’ll notice it’s somewhat lurid!
For the cake:
175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
175g caster sugar
175g self raising flour
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
red food colouring
For the marzipan - see Sept 2011 update above for easier recipe:
115g caster sugar
115g icing sugar, plus a lot more (potentially) to bring into a dough and for rolling
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk e.g. 3 egg yolks and 1 white
2 tablespoons lemon juice
265g ground almonds
Preheat the oven to 190˚C/fan oven 170˚C/375˚F/Gas mark 5.
Grease a Battenberg cake tin or a 20cm square tin. If using the square tin use a rigid strip of foil or baking paper to divide the tin in half.
Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. Don’t skimp on this stage as it’s the most important time to get air into the cake.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
Stir in the flour and vanilla.
Divide the batter into two separate bowls. You can weigh these to ensure the batter is evenly divided.
Add some red food colouring to one bowl of batter – add enough so that the cake is starting to look red, it will bake paler. I didn’t add anywhere near enough and got an orange sponge!
Spoon the batters into their separate sections of the prepared tin and level the surface.
Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the sponge comes out clean. Mine took 30 minutes.
Place the tin on a wire rack and allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes, then turn the cakes out and leave to cool completely.
When cool level the surfaces so that your cake is flat and even on all sides. If you used the square tin with a central divider, now is the time to cut each coloured sponge in two – divide them by cutting down the longest length.
Store in an airtight container until you are ready to assemble the cake.
Now make the marzipan: place a bowl over a pan of simmering water, ensuring that the water cannot touch the bowl.
Place both sugars, egg and egg yolk in the bowl and whisk for about 10 minutes or until pale and thick.
Take the bowl off the heat and stir in the lemon juice and ground almonds. It will be very sticky and not at all like a paste that you can roll! With hindsight, this is where I should’ve added extra icing sugar to bring to a firm dough. You’re aiming for something thick enough that you can roll it out. You may need to add a lot of extra icing sugar – I did.
Wrap the marzipan in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Now prepare the sponges for assembling: warm the apricot jam (about 6 tablespoons) then use to glue the four canes of sponge together.
Cover the outside of the cake with apricot jam and put to one side.
Roll the chilled marzipan into a rectangle big enough to accommodate the sponge – about 30cm x 20cm should do it. I rolled the marzipan between two sheets of clingfilm. If your marzipan is still sticky dust the work surface (or clingfilm) liberally with icing sugar.
Place the cake at one end of the marzipan and roll it up ensuring that the seam is at the bottom and cutting off any excess marzipan.
If the marzipan tears at all you can patch it up with spare marzipan.
Tidy up the edges by trimming any surplus marzipan.
Serve in thick slices.
Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.