Battenberg cake is made with an almond flavored butter or sponge cake stacked to form a pink and white checkerboard pattern. The cake is held together with apricot filling and then wrapped in marzipan. I have added a bit of cherry juice to the pink cake to give it just a mild fruity flavor. This cake blends the flavors of cherry, vanilla, almond, and apricot in each flavorful sweet bite.
As a final touch, I dressed the cake in Vanilla Butter Frosting and added pink and white pearl dragees to continue the checkerboard color scheme.
Tip: There are a few steps in making this cake and you will want to allow enough time to make and assemble the cake. The cakes can be baked ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen until ready to use. The marzipan and frosting can also be made ahead of time and refrigerated. Once all the components are made it is easy to assemble the finished cakes.
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- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup milk (preferably whole milk)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon pure almond extract
- 1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- ¼ cup red cherry juice, such as maraschino cherry
- Few drops red food coloring (optional)
- About ¾ cup apricot jam
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- ½ cup vegetable shortening
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 4 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
- 2 tablespoons milk, plus additional if needed
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- ⅔ cup water
- ⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 4 cups blanched, finely ground almonds
- 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
- About ½ cup confectioner’s (powdered) sugar (for kneading)
- Pink and white Pearl Dragees
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; sift or whisk together to mix. Set aside.
- In a small mixing bowl, stir the milk, vanilla extract, and almond extract together. Set aside.
- In a large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Tip: To cream, start by placing the butter in the bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed begin by beating the butter about 1 minute until it is smooth and light in color. With the mixer still on medium speed, slowly add the sugar to the butter, either one tablespoon at a time, or in a very slow steady stream, taking from 4 to 8 minutes to add all of the sugar, and beating until the butter and sugar are fully incorporated and the mixture is a light, or pale yellow color, with a fluffy texture. While adding the sugar, stop the mixer occasionally to scrape the mixture off the paddle and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula so the mixture blends evenly.
- Add eggs one at a time, beating until thoroughly mixed. Tip: For each egg, crack the egg into a small bowl and whisk with a fork to thoroughly break up the egg before adding to the creamed mixture. Start with the mixer on low speed so the liquid from the egg doesn’t splatter, once the egg is partially mixed increase the speed to medium. Each egg should be fully incorporated into the mixture before adding the next egg, taking about one minute to blend in each egg.
- With the mixer on low speed, add about one third of the flour mixture, mix just until the flour is almost completely blended. Scrape the bowl down, and add about one half of the milk mixture, blending just until mixed. Scrape the bowl down again and continue alternating with the flour mixture and milk mixture, ending with the last portion of the flour, and stirring just until blended.
- Remove ½ of the batter and place in a medium size mixing bowl. Add the cherry juice to this batter; using a rubber spatula stir until well blended. Add a few drops of red food color if desired to make the batter pinker; stir until well blended.
- Bake: Spoon the white and pink batters separately into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with a small offset spatula or the back of a large spoon. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a long toothpick, wooden skewer, or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place pans on a wire cooling rack to cool for 10 to 15 minutes then remove cake from the pans and place the cake on the wire cooling rack to finish cooling.
- Trim the tops of the cooled cakes, if necessary, to make a flat top. On a work surface, stack the two cakes on top of each other. Trim off the outer hard edges and trim so both cakes are the same size. Cut the cakes lengthwise in half, and then cut each half in half lengthwise to make 4 strips of each cake, 8 strips total. Each finished cake uses 4 strips. At this point you can cover the cake in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or wrap tightly and freeze for up to 1 month if desired. Tip: For a classic Battenberg cake, each strip is cut just as wide as they are high to make square. Or you can leave the pieces more rectangular in shape to reduce wasted cake.
- Coat one side of one white strip with apricot jam, spreading the jam about ⅛ inch thick. Set a pink cake strip on top of the jam coated white strip, forming a white and pink sandwich. Repeat with another white and pink strip. Lay one of the cake sandwiches on its side, and spread jam over the top of both strips. Place the other cake sandwich on top of the bottom cake sandwich with the pink strip lying on top of the white strip, and the white strip lying on top of the pink strip, forming the checkerboard pattern. Repeat with the remaining 4 cake strips to make a second checkerboard cake. Cover checkerboard cakes and refrigerate while making frosting.
- In a medium mixing bowl, use an electric hand mixer or wooden spoon and beat the butter and shortening until smooth. Add vanilla and beat until well mixed. Gradually add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, beating well after each addition. The mixture will appear dry after all the sugar has been added. Add milk and beat until frosting is smooth, creamy, and fluffy. Add additional milk if necessary to make a good spreading consistency.
- Remove cakes from refrigerator. Using an offset spatula, crumb coat one long side of each checkerboard cake by covering with a thin layer of frosting. Let the cake sit, or refrigerate a few minutes, until the crumb coat is dried to the touch. When dry, turn the cakes over so the crumb coated side is on the bottom, and crumb coat the remaining 3 long sides. You do not need to crumb coat the ends of the cake. At this point you can cover the cake in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight if desired. Tip: the crumb coat is a thin layer. Don’t worry if the cake shows through in places, it will be covered again with the marzipan layer.
- Cover unused frosting tightly or place in an airtight container until ready to finish frosting the cakes. Frosting can be stored in the refrigerator up to two weeks. Re-whip frosting when ready to use to bring it back to a fluffy texture, adding a small amount of milk if necessary.
- In a large size heavy saucepan, preferably non-stick, combine sugar and water. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the cream of tartar, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes.
- Remove the lid, and clip a candy thermometer to the inside of the pan. Return the pan to medium high heat and bring the syrup to a boil, without stirring, until the syrup reaches a temperature of 240 degrees F, a soft-ball stage. While the syrup is cooking, wash away any sugar crystals that form on the sides of the pan by wiping upwards with a damp pastry brush so the sugar crystals don’t fall back into the syrup. Remove pan from the heat and remove the candy thermometer.
- Dip the bottom of the saucepan in a large bowl of cold water, and beat the syrup with a wooden spoon until the syrup cools and becomes thick and creamy and starts turning white.
- Stir in the ground almonds and egg whites; the mixture may seem dry and crumbly at this point. Place the pan over low heat and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or until the mixture is well mixed. The heat will help to soften the mixture making it easier to mix.
- Kneading: Sprinkle a large marble board, or large pastry mat with powdered sugar. Turn the marzipan mixture out onto the board.
- Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, begin lifting and folding the edges of the marzipan into the center until it is cool enough to handle with your hands.
- Gather the entire mixture up with your hands or dough scraper into a ball and begin kneading until the marzipan becomes smooth and pliable, 5 to 6 minutes, adding additional powdered sugar 1 tablespoon at a time if the marzipan is too sticky. You will probably knead the entire ½ cup powdered sugar into the marzipan; however it is ok to add additional powdered sugar if needed.
- The marzipan can be used immediately, or wrap in plastic wrap and place in a resealable plastic bag or airtight container and store in a cool place or refrigerate until ready to use.
- Divide the marzipan in half. Dust a work surface with powdered sugar. Roll out one of the marzipan halves about ⅛ inch thick and large enough that it will wrap entirely around one checkerboard cake with about ½ inch overlap, about 9 inches by 13 inches.
- Set one crumb coated checkerboard cake in the middle of the rolled marzipan, and gently wrap the marzipan around the cake, leaving the ends of the cake exposed. Use your hands to smooth the marzipan so it lies firmly against the sides of the cake. Pinch together the ends of the marzipan to seal the seam. Use a pastry brush to brush excess powdered sugar from the marzipan. Turn the cake over so the seam is on the bottom. Using a sharp or serrated kitchen knife and using a gentle sawing motion, slice off the ends of the cake to make a neat edge. Repeat with other marzipan half and remaining checkerboard cake.
- Using an offset spatula, frost the marzipan covered cakes with remaining Vanilla Butter Frosting.
- If desired, decorate the cakes using a pastry bag and decorating tip. I used a #48 tip to make a basket weave pattern on one cake and used the back of a large kitchen knife to press a criss-cross pattern in the top of the second cake and pressed a pearl dragee where the lines cross.
Cairns, Fiona, Bake & Decorate, Quadrille Publishing Limited, London, 2010;
Castella, Drystina, A World of Cake, Storey Publishing, MA, 2010