‘B’ is for Battenburg
The Battenburg cake. A cake of my childhood and a weird eating ritual I still abide by today; peel off the marzipan and save that for last, break apart the cute little squares of cake and then eat them alternating between pink and yellow. Finally fold up the strip of marzipan and eat that too. Childish? Of course. Bothered? Not in the slightest. Eating in a way that would have my mum cursing aside, where does the Battenburg cake originate from, and who thought layering cake in pretty colours would be so popular? Personally I always thought the Battenburg was a cake made up in the minds of commercial bakers to tempt children and stand out from the crowd. It’s always there on the shop shelves, but not necessarily something you think to put in your trolley. When you do though…delicious! So where does this funny named cake come from?
To be honest I really didn’t have any idea of where to start. A simple internet search leads you many pages all with the same generic description; pink and yellow cake in a chequered pattern, held together with jam and marzipan, origin unknown. Not really anything we didn’t know already, and hardly giving me the information I desired. There is a town in Germany called Battenburg and so my search began there. The town was named after a rich family who split up and ‘decided’ if you will that they would be known as counts and countesses of Battenburg. They even ‘decided’ that they would create a town, build a castle and live there. Like you do. Interestingly this family then went on to have marriages and births and other “I declare myself rich” etc etc’s and eventually became royal. They descended upon England and during World War I denounced the fact they were German and magically turned the name Battenburg to Mountbatten; supposedly more Anglican and more fitting with the English dynasties. And yes, it is THE Mountbatten family that we all know and love as THE royal family. Prince Louis of Battenburg married Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, also Victoria, in 1884 and their grandson is Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. Little fact for ya right there. So why is this cake, with royal roots not being celebrated more? Royal cake! Maybe the Queen doesn’t like marzipan.
I have heard before that Battenburg cake was invented for this wedding, their wedding cake to be precise (although, perhaps one of the cakes at the wedding, as I have also heard that cakes used to be savoury, and even made from bread, but that’s another interesting read and I fear I will digress a little; I already have six internet pages open on the subject!). I did come across a very interesting food blog by a gentleman called Ivan Day who has written three whole articles on the Battenburg cake. His findings were that there were three original recipes for a similar cake (a Domino cake by Agnes Marshall, a Battenburg cake by Frederick Vine and a Neopolitan roll by Robert Wells) all having the distinct chequered pattern, but two of the cakes had nine ‘squares’ and only one had the four that we tend to see today. All three did however have the marzipan, otherwise known as almond paste, coating. The recipes for these cakes were published in 1898, only fourteen years after the royal wedding, and so I can see where the link came from, if not the original idea. In the 1930’s it would also appear quite popular to build on the nine panels and increase them to over twenty, as can be read in Mr. Day’s blog. Although I do not find this particularly different to baking in the 2010’s; it is not unusual to see patterns and even pictures in todays loaf cake, cupcakes or swiss roll!
As I had already baked my Battenburg before finding ‘older’, more authentic recipes I used a fairly standard sponge recipe:
175 g butter/margarine
175 g caster sugar
3 eggs, whisked
175 g self-raising flour
3 tbsp milk
pink food colouring
raspberry flavouring (optional)
yellow food colouring
jam (I used strawberry as that’s what we had, but more apricot is traditional)
500 g pack of marzipan (I used the rather unnatural bright yellow, but any colour will do)
icing sugar for dusting
Preheat (fan) oven to 160 degrees Celsius
Beat together the butter and sugar
Add the whisked egg and flour, and finally the milk to achieve a batter with a dropping consistency
Divide the mixture equally between two bowls. To one bowl add a small amount of yellow colouring, and to the other, pink colouring (and if using, the raspberry flavouring)
I baked my Battenburg cakes in two 6 x 3 inch tins, but you could easily use one 6 inch tin with a piece of folded foil down the centre to act as a divider
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean
Allow to cool completely
Roll out the marzipan to around 4 mm thickness, and in a pan heat the jam until it is runny
Spread a thin layer of jam over the marzipan to cover an area just over the size of one cake
Trim the top off the yellow cake so you have a neat oblong shape to work with. Cut the cake lengthways down the centre, and again horizontally so you have four equal strips of cake
Repeat with the pink cake
Take a strip of yellow cake and place on the marzipan, lay a strip of pink cake next to this, with a layer of jam in between. Spread a layer of jam over the top
Repeat again with two more strips of yellow and pink cake, this time layering on top, but so the colours alternate
Wrap the marzipan around the cake and trim the edges. Flip the cake over so the join is hidden and cannot be seen
I hope you have success with your Battenburg and enjoy it as much as I do. The romantic in me would like to believe the story of its origins being owed to a royal wedding, but I am afraid we may never know. Perhaps the conundrum of its history is just as complex as its design. I would like to say a massive thank you to Mr. Day who very kindly let me reference his blog with regard to the history of the Battenburg cake. I would also like to apologise to him for the bumbling email I sent when asking his permission. I had no idea at the time who I was writing to; readers this very kind man is in fact a highly regarded food historian and you can see for yourselves if you search his name on a popular internet video site. I wholeheartedly urge you to sit down with a cuppa, perhaps a slice of Battenburg, and immerse yourself in his blog. Not forgetting to come back and see me of course! Plus he wears bow ties. ‘Nuff said.
Happy caking, One Egg xxx
P.S. You can actually BUY a Battenburg cake tin. It has dividers. DIVIDERS!!!
*adds to online wish list and hints to anyone that will listen*