What’s pink and yellow and rolled in marzipan? Old fashioned Battenberg had been as pretty as a picture long before unicorns came to Instagram.
Battenberg - a strange cake
Battenberg is a bizarre cake: a pink and yellow chessboard made of sponge, stuck together with jam and all of it wrapped in marzipan. My inquisitive mind can’t help but speculate how this may have come about as I am a staunch believer in cooking serendipity.
How was Battenberg invented?
A marble cake gone wrong because the chef forgot to swirl? A Swiss roll made by a geometry obsessive? A Victoria sponge in a fancy dress? And yes, the latter is actually probably the closest to the mark as the cake was allegedly created on the occasion of the marriage of Princess Victoria, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, to Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884.
Homemade marzipan is the key
Whatever its origin, I was distrustful for a long time, mainly on account of the marzipan involved. Shop-bought marzipan was all I knew, which is vile stuff, reeking of almond essence and tasting like a scented candle.
Combine it with the pink (PINK!) sponge pointlessly cut into squares and glued together with jam (MORE SUGAR!!!) and I was inclined to relegate it to the Dessert Overkill category.
But if you try and make marzipan at home – and as I discovered it is neither difficult nor costly – it's a game-changer and the world of marzipan confectionery opens up.
Nor is Battenberg quite such an overkill if consumed sensibly in small quantities. The chequered slices pink and yellow simply look fun and it’s definitely a baking exercise to coax kids into the kitchen.
Do I need a special tin for Battenberg?
You might think a super-special tin is required but it’s surprisingly easy to keep the two coloured sponges separate from each other with just a folded up strip of parchment; it is well-behaved sponge that rises regimentally evenly. If it does not come out perfectly rectangular, you can trim it to shape - and what can be better than bonus cake trimmings for the chef?
How to roll out marzipan
Rolling out the marzipan is the only tricky part: make sure your work surface is liberally dusted with icing sugar – when else will the little ones be told they should spill sugar all over the kitchen? – and the marzipan is at room temperature so if you make the whole cake on the same day, don't chill the marzipan.
Still, it can well be made in advance and even frozen though it keeps very well being a mainly sugar paste, but make sure it’s ambient temperature when you get rolling.