How to Bake a Battenberg Cake

Battenberg cake is a traditional British teatime treat. Its chequerboard squares of pink and yellow sponge, and bright yellow marzipan icing, make it look as if it’s complicated to make at home – so Battenberg cake from a packet was a feature of childhood teas in ‘60s and ‘70s Britain. It then fell out of fashion, but the recent revival in interest in British foods and home baking, has given this cake a real retro appeal.

Royal Origins

Despite its name, this is a thoroughly British creation – with royal origins. It is said to have been invented in 1884 for the marriage of Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Victoria of Hesse-Darmstadt, to her German cousin Prince Louis of Battenberg. The four pink and yellow squares of sponge are said to represent the four Battenberg princes: Louis, Alexander, Henry and Francis Joseph. In 1885 the cake got another royal seal of approval when Queen Victoria’s daughter Beatrice married Prince Henry.

If you want to impress people with your home baking, this delicious little cake is well worth making. This recipe comes from Fiona Cairns’ lovely cookery book Bake and Decorate (hardback pub. Quadrille £19.99, photographs Laura Hynd) and appears here with permission. As Fiona Cairns says in the book, this home-baked cake beats the shop bought version any time. Even the marzipan is homemade.

Battenberg Cake Recipe

Ingredients – Serves 8

175g unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the tin

175g self-raising flour

½ tsp baking powder

175g white caster sugar

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 or 2 tbsp milk, if needed

A little pink (or red) food colour

4 tbsp apricot jam

Icing sugar, to dust

250g yellow marzipan (or natural if you prefer)

To make the marzipan (makes around 600g, so you can store some in the fridge for other cakes):

190g icing sugar

380g ground almonds

3 tsp lemon juice

3 egg yolks

4 drops almond essence


For the marzipan:

In a bowl, mix the icing sugar and almonds. In another bowl, mix the lemon juice, egg yolks and almond essence. Add the egg mixture gradually to the icing sugar and almonds and knead everything just until forms a stiff past. (It will become oily if overworked.) Store in a polythene bag in the refrigerator (use within a week).

For the Battenberg cake: Preheat the oven to 170˚C/fan160˚C/340˚F/gas mark 3½. Lightly butter a 20cm square tin and line the base with baking parchment. Also cut out a rectangle of baking parchment, as long and deep as the tin, to act as a divider lengthways between the 2 colours of sponge.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, or in a large bowl with a handheld whisk, first sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the butter - cut into knobs, the sugar, eggs and vanilla. Beat until smooth, adding a little milk to loosen the mixture if it seems too stiff. Weigh out half the batter and place the divider down the centre of the tin.

Carefully place half the batter into one side of the tin. Tint the remaining mixture pink – it’s much better to do this not too exuberantly, so take care! – and stir until blended. As neatly as possible, spoon the pink mixture into the other side of the tin.

Bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean and the cake springs back to the touch. Remove from the oven, leave in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack. When completely cold, slice each colour lengthways into 2 equal blocks, then trim off all the rough edges.

Warm the jam in a small pan, push it through a sieve, then use it to glue the strips of cake together lengthways, so the natural and pink colours form opposite quarters.

On a work surface dusted with icing sugar, roll out the marzipan into a rectangle the length of the cake and wide enough to wrap around all four sides. Trim it to size. Brush the remaining jam all over the cake and wrap the marzipan around the cake. Seal the join by gently pressing it together, then turn so this seam is hidden on the bottom. Trim the ends with a sharp knife, then score a criss-cross on the top surface.

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