Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Royal Focus: Battenberg Cake


It started out as a dessert I planned to bring to a party. Little did I know it would become a character building exercise.

When my first attempt failed, making this cake became a mission. I was going to succeed in baking this cake. There it was, perfectly photographed on the internet and I was determined to make a reasonable facsimile. If it happened to taste OK, that would just be an added bonus.

The first incarnation was misshapen and when I tried to trim it to equal sizes, the whole thing fell apart. Trying to find marzipan was harder than I thought, but making homemade marzipan turned out to be harder. So I regrouped.

My second attempt, the taste turned out...well, if you've ever wondered what carpet under-padding tastes like, it might just be close. Trying to trim this cake turned into a disaster. Which I now realize is perfectly understandable considering I cannot draw a straight line to save my life.

My third attempt was a success, mainly thanks to a certain recipe and the technique of using one pan and dividing the batter using a piece of tin foil. The cakes came out almost perfectly. One required a small trim to even it out but otherwise the cake maintained structural integrity while I moved on to the marzipan. My store bought marzipan rolling job is not perfect but hey, that is what photoshop is for.

Ta Dah! And it tastes pretty good too!


Depending on which website you read, the origins of Battenberg cake vary. The most frequently repeated theory is the cake was invented for the 1884 wedding of Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine to Prince Louis of Battenberg. The four squares of the cake are said to represent the four Battenberg princes - Louis, Henry, Alexander and Francis Joseph. It makes for a nice story but it isn't necessarily true. There are knowledgable food historians who cannot find a plausible link between the Battenberg wedding and the invention of the cake. I've included some very detailed posts about the history of the cake in the sources listed below.

Although the definitive origins are lost to the sands of time, the cake did eventually find its way to the royal table. According to an anecdote from in Darren McGrady's book Eating Royally: Recipes and Remembrances from a Palace KitchenSarah Ferguson, Duchess of York loved this cake and would request it whenever she held a tea at Buckingham palace. He once sent up an absolutely perfect Battenberg cake, only to have it returned uneaten, with instructions not to serve her a store bought cake again. With a new appreciation for what goes into making this cake, I shake a virtual fist at Fergie.

The recipe and technique I followed worked charm. The recipe is reproduced with kind permission from Titli from Titli's Busy Kitchen. The video demonstration is entertaining to boot! Note, some of the terms, amounts and temperature have been changed for North American bakers.

Ingredients

  • 450 g (1lb) marzipan
  • 175 g / 6 oz (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 175 g / 6 oz (3/4 cup) caster sugar (superfine granulated sugar)
  • 175 g / 6 oz (3/4 cup) self-raising flour (or plain flour + 1 tsp baking powder)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2-3 tsp apricot glaze (or sieved apricot jam)
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • Red or pink food colouring
  • Icing sugar

Instructions
  1. Cream together butter and sugar
  2. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl together with the vanilla essence. Add half the eggs to the butter and sugar and beat in.
  3. Sieve in half the four and beat well. Now beat in, consecutively, the remaining egg and flour.
  4. Lightly grease and line an 8" (20cm) square cake pan with parchment paper. Make a divider from baking foil and place down the centre of the pan.
  5. Pour one half of the mixture into one half of the cake pan.
  6. Beat in enough food colouring into the remaining mixture to give it a strong pink colour, then pour it into the other half of the cake tin.
  7. Bake at 170°C (338°F) for 25-30 minutes and allow to cool before turning the cake out of the pan.
  8. Carefully trim the two sponge cakes to give neat rectangles of cake. Place one cake on top of the other and cut down the centre so you have four evenly sized oblongs. Using warm apricot glaze, stick the oblongs together into a checkerboard pattern. Trim further if necessary. 
  9. Sprinkle icing sugar onto a flat surface and roll out the marzipan to around 5 mm (1 1/4") thick. spread apricot glaze onto the marzipan and slide the cake into the middle of the marzipan. Fold up the sides and make a neat seam on the top of the cake.
  10. Turn the cake over so that the seam is on the bottom and trim the ends of the cake. Place on a serving plate/board and dust with icing sugar.

Battenberg Cake history sources:

Wikiwand - Battenberg Cake 

Battenberg Cake - The Truth

Battenberg Cake - History Again!

The Queen and Her Cakes

Wikipedia - Battenberg Cake


© Marilyn Braun 2017

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.