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One of my husband's favourite cakes is a Battenberg - it's a British teatime classic, with its distinctive checkered pattern. Traditionally, the cake is almond sponge, half yellow and half pink, sandwiched with apricot jam and wrapped in a layer of marzipan. In its standard form, it is a rectangular loaf, sliced to reveal the checkering and easily eaten with your hands, thanks to the marzipan acting to give firmer structural integrity to the slice. Due to the assembly, many people seem to be put off making Battenberg at home and think that it is more complicated than it actually is - in truth, it is one of the most basic cake recipes you will make. There is no sifting or complex mixing involved and it really doesn't matter how you incorporate your ingredients, so long as they are beaten together well to form the batter. The only potential difficulties arise in the preparation of the pan and then the patience required for putting everything together at the end - I'm not going to lie, there is a fair bit of trimming involved, lots of offcuts and a bit of stickiness when working with marzipan and jam. But overall, it is worth attempting and good fun to make!
My recipe below is for a slightly different take on the classic - pistachio and coconut, rather than almond - made into eight miniature single serving cakes, rather than one full-sized sliceable Battenberg. The same recipe can be used for the full-sized version instead, if your time and patience would prefer less trimming and cake wrapping.
How to Line a Pan for Battenberg Cake
To start you will need to ready your pan. I personally find pan preparation a bit of a fiddly job at the best of times, so in honesty, this is probably the bit that I find most problematic about the whole recipe. I hate lining cake tins...absolutely despise cutting parchment paper to fit just so... It's not something we ever did when I was growing up. I'm not sure if this is a cultural divide or just a family idiosyncrasy, but in any case, loads of British recipes call for lining the tin, often in place of greasing and flouring. For most, I just disregard this and revert to my old customs of butter and flour, but for Battenberg, the lining is pretty essential, especially if you're aiming to make a Battenberg using just one cake tin.
Since the charm of a Battenberg is in the checkered pattern, which requires two different coloured cakes, you have two options. You can either make two full cakes, each baked in a 20cm (9") square tin (doubling the cake recipe below), or you can use aluminium foil to split your single 20cm (9") tin down the middle. I usually opt for this latter method, since I'm normally aiming to only make one Battenberg at a time. To split the tin, I would recommend taking a long piece of foil (around twice the length of the cake tin), first fold this in on itself, so that it is a long rectangle, the width of the tin, but still double the length. Then, fold in half width-wise creating a central crease, which will act as your tin's divider. Using the centre crease, position this roughly in the mid-point of your tin and then press into the tin creating the base liner (you can measure this if you prefer, but given the cake trimming you'll do later, I find just eyeing it to work fine). You're aiming for the crease to be a divider about as high as the sides of the tin, but in the centre. With my method of lining, you will have extra foil, overhanging the two sides - I like to fold these over the outer edges as an anchor for the liner, but its really a personal choice, you could cut or fold these down so that it just fits within the base of the tin. This will create the effect of two roughly equal loaf tins next to each other within one square cake tin. Then line each of these with parchment paper (two overlapping pieces) covering the base and up the sides.
Making Your Two Batters
Once you've succeeded in lining the tin, the cake recipe itself is quick and pretty painless! Preheat your oven to 180C/160C Fan (350°F) and put your butter, sugar, flour, coconut, baking powder, eggs and vanilla all into a bowl. I used a stand mixer, but any bowl will do if your butter is softened enough. Beat this together until you've formed a well incorporated batter. You'll then want to split this in half - the recipe forms about 650g of batter, so if you pour about 325g into a second bowl, you should be fine. In one bowl, add a tablespoon of pistachio paste and a couple drops of green gel food colouring - beat until well incorporated. In the second, add the almond extract. You could also add some yellow food colouring if you're wanting a more distinctive shade to the cake, but I prefer to leave it natural.
Pour the two cake batters into the two sides of the cake tin and bake for about 30 minutes, until skewers inserted in both sides come out clean. I'd recommend checking more towards the centre divider, rather than only in the centre of each individual cake. The cakes will get a bit browned on top, but you will be trimming this off, so do not worry too much! Once baked, allow to cool in the tin for about half an hour before removing and peeling off the parchment paper. These should now be ready for assembly.
How to Make Mini Battenbergs
You'll want a reasonable amount of clear counter space dusted with powdered sugar for rolling out marzipan and a sharp bread knife (or other adequate cake cutting apparatus). With your two cakes next to each other, you will want to start by levelling off the tops, trimming away to even these out - they will need to be quite flat surfaces to stack properly and you're aiming for the two cakes to be the same height. If you're making my mini versions, you'll next want to slice the cake in quarters width wise. This will enable you to work with smaller sections as you fit your mini Battenbergs together. Pair a quarter of the pistachio cake and a quarter of the coconut almond, trim the sides of these so that the two match and then slice in half lengthwise and in half by height. Alternate the slices to form two checkerboarded mini cakes (examples pictured below).
Once you have your pieces, you'll need to heat some apricot jam. This will act as the glue sticking the slices together. I chose to use some of my apricot and vanilla jam (recipe on the blog here), but any jam or even spread (such as Nutella) could work for this. Carefully spread the jam onto the pieces and create your little cakes.
The last step is to fit marzipan around the outside. Roll the marzipan out into a long rectangle on powdered sugar until roughly .5cm thick. You will want to gauge the size of marzipan needed and length required to wrap around the cakes, prior to using any jam for sticking these together as it can get messy quickly. Some recipes will recommend spreading the jam onto the cake and then wrapping the marzipan around this, but I find that it is easier and less messy to spread the jam straight onto the marzipan, which has been cut to fit, and then wrapping this around the cake. Whatever way you feel more comfortable with, the end result will be the same! Press the marzipan snuggly around the cakes (seam side down).
If you'd rather make just one large Battenberg, the general process remains largely the same, just with less slicing! Once you've levelled the tops of your two cakes, simply cut each cake in half lengthwise and alternate these to form the checkerboard pattern. Using the jam, stick these together and wrap the whole cake in your rolled out marzipan (measured so as to fit around the larger block). An example form one of my previous Battenberg bakes is below.
Whichever version, you will have some offcuts and extra trimmed marzipan. If you want to dress up the Battenberg a bit this can make for excellent decorating material. Using a bit of gel food dye, you can blend this into the marzipan for some added colour. Unless you want to dramatically dye your hands in the process, I'd recommend either using gloves or a plastic bag when doing this. I placed pieces of marzipan in a small plastic bag, added a drop or two of food colouring and mashed this together in the bag until it reached a shade I was happy with. I then rolled this out and stamped out a few designs with little cookie cutter stamps. These can then easily be attached to the cakes with leftover jam as glue.
Coconut and Pistachio Battenberg
- 160 g unsalted butter, softened
- 175 g caster sugar
- 140 g self-raising flour
- 50 g dessicated coconut
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 3 eggs
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon pistachio paste
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- 500 g marzipan (or 1kg if making mini Battenbergs)
- powdered sugar for dusting
- apricot jam
- Preheat oven to 180C/160C Fan (350°F) and prepare a 20cm (9") square pan for your battenberg cake baking. The easiest way to do this is to use aluminium foil to create a divider in your pan, so that you will have two roughly equal cakes in one tin. Then line the two spaces with parchment paper.
- In an electric mixer, beat together butter, sugar, flour, coconut, baking powder, eggs and vanilla until a smooth batter.
- Divide batter evenly into two separate bowls - the recipe makes about 650g of mix, so your two bowls should have approximately 325g in each.
- In one bowl, add 1 tablespoon of pistachio paste and a couple of drops of green gel food colouring. Whisk together until well incorporated. In the second bowl, add ½ teaspoon of almond extract.
- Pour the batters into the two sides of your cake tin and bake for about 30 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. Check both cakes at a point near the centre of the tin.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for about half an hour before removing from the tin.
- For assembly - if making a full-size Battenberg, trim the tops and sides of the cakes to be even. Then slice the cakes each in half length-wise and stack these in the classic checkerboard pattern. If making miniature versions, you will need to do considerably more cutting and trimming, but the aim is still the same pattern, more detailed directions in the blog post above.
- Roll out marzipan into a long rectangle, about .5cm thickness. If making one Battenburg you will want this to be a bit over 20cm (9") wide and then long enough to roll around the cake. If making miniature Battenbergs, the measurements will vary, but again have the same goal of wrapping each individual cake.
- Heat some apricot jam (or apricot and vanilla jam) and use this to sandwich together the cakes. Then coat the outside of the cake and fold the marzipan around this.
- Trim the cake ends to finish the cake and decorate with leftover marzipan.