Food and English history. An ironically delightful combination. At least, in my eyes.
I’ve always found English food appealing, despite its historic reputation for…ignominy. But I mean, for a nation responsible for scones, Sunday roasts, and Harry Potter, the cuisine of England has always emanated an aura of warmth and whimsicalness to me. So to finally try my hand at a recipe that combines aforementioned whimsicality with a historical tale that allows me to pretend I live in Buckingham Palace was a joy.
(Perhaps, though, it’s actually my intense desire to somehow become English, but nuances.)
In any case, I’d seen this lovely dessert flutter rather surreptitiously around Tastespotting on occasion, and, having finally finished up with a fracking exhausting spring term, had been dying to try my hand at it. So I called Tommy up, presented him with the idea, and the two of us met in my tiny apartment earlier this afternoon to make it happen.
Battenberg is the name for this adorable cake, which is thought to have originated under Queen Victoria’s reign in the 1880s. The dessert, German in style with its use of bright colors and marzipan, was made to celebrate the marriage between Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, and Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. The four checkers are, supposedly, meant to represent the four Battenberg princes, though this is debatable (particularly as the original cake may have actually been comprised of nine squares instead of the common four).
But who’s counting, anyway?
In any case, the general consensus seems to be that pink and yellow are the way to go, so we decided to stick to tradition. Not to mention, the combination is beautifully ethereal.
Adapted from Food Swoon.
- 6 eggs, separated
- 2 cups sugar
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup hot milk
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2 cups cake flour
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 – 3 drops red food coloring
- 2/3 – 1 cup apricot jam
- 14 oz marzipan
Preheat oven to 350F and set aside two [ungreased] loaf pans.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg yolks on medium-high speed until pale yellow in color, 5-7 mins. Lower speed and slowly pour in sugar and lemon zest, and beat for another 2 mins, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Meanwhile, heat the milk and combine the hot milk with the vanilla. Pour in the hot mixture and mix for an additional min or so.
In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to egg mixture, beating until just combined. Remove the bowl from the stand and divide the batter evenly among two large bowls. In one bowl, add red food coloring and stir until batter is a light pink color (it will darken whilst baking).
Wash the stand mixer bowl and pat dry. Reattach to the stand along with the whisk attachment. Pour the egg whites into the bowl and mix on medium-high speed until soft peak forms, 4-5 mins. Divide the egg whites evenly among the two bowls and gently fold into each batter.
Pour each bowl of batter into a loaf pan and bake for 35-40 mins, until tops are golden-brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cakes cool for 10 mins, then run a blunt knife around the edges of the pan and overturn the cakes onto wire racks. Let cool to room temperature, and if possible, wrap cakes tightly in cling film and freeze (they will be easier to slice this way).
To assemble the Battenberg cake, take each of the two cooled cakes and trim the edges so that they are rectangular in shape. (A serrated knife is ideal, here.) Slice them in half, longways, so you have two rectangles of each color, about 6×1.5×1.5-inches in size. You should thus have four cake sections: two yellow and two pink. (And yes, there will be quite a bit of scrap cake leftover; use it in trifle or another similarly English dessert.) Brush the tops and sides of each rectangle with the jam and assemble so they are alternating colors, two on top and two on bottom.
In between two sheets of parchment paper, roll out the marzipan into a rectangle about 12×6-inches in size. Brush one surface of the marzipan lightly with jam, and place the assembled cake in the middle of the marzipan. Gently wrap the marzipan around the cake, snugly. Pinch the ends to seal the marzipan and trim any excess.
Rotate the cake onto a serving dish, seam-side down. Using a serrated knife, carefully cut the edges of the cake so they are neat. Cover cake with cling film until serving. Cake will stay good in the fridge for a few days, and up to a few months in the freezer.
This was, truth be told, my first time handling marzipan. It’s quite a lovely ingredient, really (much better than gross ol’ fondant, for certain), and not that difficult to handle.
(That is, of course, after Tommy and I realized that we had failed to brush the marzipan with jam and spent a good 5 mins struggling epically with getting it to stick to the cake, but what’s a baking adventure without a few minor mishaps?)
Nevertheless, it’s an ingredient I hope to use more (and perfect) in future. This cake is a little bit rustic looking, admittedly, but Tommy and I decided that it only adds to the overall charm. And for our first time baking a Battenberg cake, I will count it as a massive victory on our parts.
Plus, the cake itself is delicious: the marzipan pairs wonderfully with the apricot (I wouldn’t suggest substituting the jam with another flavor, if it can be helped), and the soft sponge prevents the cake from being feeling too heavy.
Really, it’s the perfect treat to serve at tea-time (which is something I’ve always wondered why we don’t employ here in the States…).
Now, all the dishes have been washed, dinner has been eaten, and I find myself alone at the apartment once again. I’m only here for a few more days before I head back to the ‘rents’ house (where I’ll be for about 2 weeks before coming back), and plan on spending the rest of my time here losing myself in Neil Gaiman novels and endless amounts of No Reservations.
I have a feeling Sunday is going to arrive much too quickly for my liking. But I have to say, having spent the past 3 days cooking my every meal, I’m ready for mum to take over as my care taker for a little bit.
This is my last free summer to spend at home doing absolutely nothing, after all.