This order was a special birthday request and I enjoyed reading about the history of the Battenburg cake – see here for a fantastic analysis of the myths that surround its history – and trying a technique I had not had good cause to attempt before. Many of the recipes I looked at for inspiration seemed likely to turn out quite dry and besides the obvious visual appeal of a cake in two colours; it is important to me that any cake is as delicious as possible. As there is no icing to speak of other than a little jam, it really was going to be all about the cake so I came up with the following recipe. The pale sponge is almond flavoured and the pink sponge is raspberry flavoured. I find the addition of food colouring to cake troubling (though don’t have the same problem with colouring icing, it can be discarded before eating!), and tend to be a purist about such things though can occasionally be persuaded otherwise. I was able to reconcile this slightly nonsensical hesitation by ensuring the flavour was a reflection of the colour. In fact the raspberry puree contributed significantly to the pinkness of the cake, so very little colouring was needed. This would be lovely served at a tea party or as a children’s birthday cake.
Makes an 8″ x 4″ rectangle cake to serve 8-10 people.
You will need an 8″ square tin, well greased with butter and with the base and sides lined with baking parchment. Line in such a way that there is a folded divider of parchment sticking up in the middle (see picture below) – this way you can bake the cakes in a single pan at the correct height. Strengthen the dividing section with some foil folded underneath the paper.
Lined cake tin and raspberry puree.
250g unsalted butter at soft room temperature
250g caster sugar
250g lightly beaten egg (approx. 4 large or 5 medium)
200g plain flour
2 tsp/8g baking powder
100g ground almonds
250g fresh or frozen raspberries
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp pink paste food colouring (I like Sugarflair claret)
1tsp almond extract
50ml whole milk
1 jar apricot jam
A 500g pack of marzipan – get the nicest brand you can find.
Royal icing to decorate.
A cake board or flat plate of some description, to serve.
Begin by placing the raspberries in a small saucepan with a squeeze of lemon juice or a little water. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally until they collapse in a puddle of bright juice. Remove from heat and push through a strainer (I find a ladle useful for this) into a bowl. Do persevere until as much of the liquid has been pushed through as possible, there should only be some brown seeds in the sieve when you are done. Place the puree back in the saucepan and simmer very gently until it is reduced by about half. You should have 50-80g of bright pink raspberry puree. Allow to cool.
Preheat oven to 170ºC/Gas mark 3
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Stir through the almonds.
Place the butter and caster sugar in a bowl and using a freestanding or electric handheld mixer, cream at a medium high speed until very pale and fluffy; approx. 10 minutes. Scrape down the sides several times during this time.
Reduce the speed of the mixer a little and add the beaten egg in 6 or 7 additions, scraping down as needed.
Fold in the flour and almond mixture gently and thoroughly.
Using scales, place half of the mixture into a separate bowl (should be just under 525g). To one half add the vanilla extract, pink paste colour and raspberry puree. I find it easier to mix the food colour into a little cake mix at the side of the bowl before stirring it through the rest of the mixture. This avoids streaks and knocking too much air out of the batter. When it is well mixed, scrape into one side of the prepared tin.
To the remaining mixture, add the almond extract and the milk. Place in the other side of the cake tin. Level both coloured mixtures with the back of a tablespoon and ensuring the divider is firmly in place, bake for 40 – 50 minutes or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the middle.
When baked, allow to cool for 20 minutes or so before carefully turning out onto a rack. When completely cold you can begin the trimming of the sponges. This will be easier the next day, in which case wrap the cakes in plastic wrap overnight – or wrap and refrigerate for a few hours before working with the cakes.
You need four long rectangles to form the traditional chequered pattern. Use a sharp serrated knife and a ruler. Begin by cutting each coloured sponge longways down the middle. They should be straight on all sides and all the same height. Use a ruler and trim lightly – you want to take off all the uneven and any slightly browned edges while retaining as much cake as possible.
When you have the four rectangles and are satisfied that they are as level and equal as possible on all sides (ridges will show up under the marzipan!), warm up the apricot jam. If it is quite lumpy then push through a sieve while warm before using.
Roll the marzipan into a rectangle on some icing sugar to approx. 5mm depth so that it is large enough to wrap round all four long sides of the cake. Place the cake on the marzipan and use a ruler to trim the long sides to the exact width of the cake – the ends are traditionally exposed (though I covered them on the cake I made as it was not going to be eaten until the following day and I didn’t want the ends to dry out, so this is up to you). Start with one rectangle of sponge and using a palette knife or similar; spread with the warm jam, place on the marzipan at one end using jam to stick it down and then jam the sides of that piece, place the next piece on and continue until the four rectangles are stuck together with jam and the outside of the now assembled cake is covered with jam on the long sides. Carefully roll up the cake inside the marzipan so that it is completely wrapped. Neaten up the join where the marzipan meets, sticking the ends together with a little water. Smooth all over with your hands. Place on the board with the join underneath.
Decorate with piped royal icing or leave plain as you wish.
Store at room temperature in a suitable container.
Trimmed sponge for the Battenburg cake.
Iced cake with royal icing roses.