We all find ourselves occasionally doing crazy and ambitious things for the people that we love. And for me, recently, that meant making a cake. Let me explain – early in our dating time, the Boy and I were having discussions about cake and birthdays because we both had birthdays coming up. I mentioned how I loved nothing more than an old-fashioned funfetti cake. The Boy was a little more classy (as the Brits are wont to do), and told me that his favorite cake was a Battenberg. Apparently his grandmother used to buy them for special occasions.
So being the thoughtful person that I am, I wrote it on my calendar – “Ask the Boy about making a Battenberg cake.” If he were just exaggerating and he didn’t really enjoy the cake that much, I wouldn’t make it. So a few days before his birthday, I asked hesitantly “You’ve got a birthday this week – would you enjoy it if I made a Battenberg Cake?” And his face lit up. And so I made plans.
Now, if you’re like me and had to google what a Battenberg cake is, then you’ll realize it’s not the kind of thing that’s made or sold in the United States very much. Perhaps that’s a big part of why the Boy was excited. Perhaps part of it was that he hadn’t had one in years – potentially even pre-going-to-University. The origins of the cake are not well known. It was likely first baked in the late 1800s in England, perhaps as a celebration of the wedding of Princess Victoria (granddaughter of the Queen) to Prince Louis of Battenberg, but also perhaps not. Whatever the story, it is traditionally a 2 x 2 checker-board patterned cake in yellow and pink sponge. It’s coated in apricot jam, and wrapped in marzipan.
My problems in creation of this cake were many. First – a recipe that we would eat. I’m not a fan of apricot, and the Boy doesn’t like too many chemicals in his food if he can help it. So I found a recipe that used raspberry jam, and the powder of freeze-dried raspberries to color the cake. Much more appealing to begin. Second, the recipe called for caster sugar, which is finer than regular granulated sugar, but less fine than powdered sugar. This would be necessary to make the marzipan AND the cake, and it’s not really sold in stores. I was going to buy it online, but then I “found” it in Whole Foods, and later discovered I’d bought something EVEN FINER than powdered sugar, but it all turned out ok in the end.
Thirdly – Marzipan. I mean…I’ve never used it before. I don’t have a good idea of what the texture or taste is supposed to be. But buying it online would cost me more than $20, so I decided to use the instructions in this recipe after “finding” the caster sugar in the shop. Fourth – timing. Making the marzipan wasn’t going to be a short process, and baking the cakes wouldn’t be either. So I ended up making the marzipan 2 days ahead, and then baking the cakes and constructing the Battenberg a day ahead of time. It kept well in the fridge.
The final challenge was a baking pan. I didn’t have the size listed in the recipe, and definitely didn’t have two of anything appropriate. So I just put a piece of parchment paper in the middle, and winged it, checking the cake early to make sure it hadn’t baked too much since this pan was slightly larger than recommended, and thus the batter would spread out more/bake faster.
The kitchen was a disaster. I’m not sharing the picture here, but I used SO MANY BOWLS. And plates. And forks/knives. There were just a lot of utensils required to keep the things separate that needed to be separate, and to allow me to work on all the different parts at once. I learned how to blanch almonds (it’s kind of fun and cathartic!), and I burned my knuckles pulling the cake out of the oven. I failed a couple times when trying to wrap the cake in marzipan.
But it was all worth it. The Boy loved it. He said it was better than the ones he remembered as a kid, that the texture was perfect, and the marzipan delicious. We kept it in the fridge for a couple days and ate it slowly. He said it got better when the jam soaked into the cake.
It’s not a super-sweet cake. Anything where the flavor is “almond” usually isn’t. But it was very tasty, and it’s so pretty, more so when you cut it than when it’s just sitting like a lump. If you want a pinker color in the pink cake, you could easily add a drop or two of red food coloring. I’ve modified the recipe for American audiences, and it worked, but if you’re on the metric system, or actually weigh your ingredients, take a look at the link to the original, which also has a fun discussion of what makes a good Battenberg, how this kind of cake requires patience and precision (PREACH), and has other homemade examples that make me feel exceptionally good about how mine turned out.
It’s a challenge cake, but a fun one.
Battenberg Cake (Raspberry Flavored)