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Battenberg Cake Looks Complicated, But Isn't

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When I was young, Battenberg cake was sold at the food hall of a department store my mum used to take me to. With its pink and yellow checkerboard pattern of light sponge cake, thin layer of apricot jam, and marzipan coating, it drew me in. The store-bought version was a delight to look at, but sickly sweet and often refrigerated, leaving the light sponge more dense than fluffy.

It looks unremarkable when uncut, but the insides look like church windows/checkerboards/dominos.
It looks unremarkable when uncut, but the insides look like church windows/checkerboards/dominos. Photo by Rocky Luten

This cake comes from the UK, though its origins aren’t all that clear. Battenberg cake has also been called church window cake, checkerboard cake, and domino cake. One theory of the cake’s origin is that it was created in honor of the marriage of Princess Victoria to Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. Despite an undecided history, Battenberg cake has become a British classic.

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The food hall I used to be able to find this cake at is no longer around, but I’ve realized that making this cake at home produces a much better tasting cake than I remember from my childhood. Plus, homemade marzipan is so easy to make at home, and is truly delicious when made from scratch.

First, make the cake batters. Use a square pan, but make a loaf.
First, make the cake batters. Use a square pan, but make a loaf. Photo by Rocky Luten
Once baked, you want to cut them into 4 rectangles like these.
Once baked, you want to cut them into 4 rectangles like these. Photo by Rocky Luten
Stack 'em up in alternating colors, slathering it all in apricot (or any) jam.
Stack 'em up in alternating colors, slathering it all in apricot (or any) jam. Photo by Rocky Luten

Battenberg cake is the perfect sized cake to make at home, enough to last a full week of afternoon snacking. Plus, the marzipan coating works double duty—keeping the cake fresh, while being a tasty contrast to the light sponge cake. Also, making both colored sponges in one square tin makes for quick a clean-up. Who wouldn't want that?

Once you've made the marzipan, get the cake snugly in there. And trim!
Once you've made the marzipan, get the cake snugly in there. And trim! Photo by Rocky Luten
This ugly thing shows it's what on the inside that counts.
This ugly thing shows it's what on the inside that counts. Photo by Rocky Luten

You can easily change the flavor and type of sponge you make while keeping the technique the same. A vanilla-chocolate checkerboard cake would work well with raspberry jam, or a coffee and hazelnut blend would be a great variation, stuck together with hazelnut-chocolate spread. If marzipan isn’t your favorite, you could always whip up a basic buttercream icing and add a bit of almond extract, or just coat the cake in lightly sweetened whipped cream. No matter what flavor combination you land on, the effect will be the same—a treat to look at and the perfect sized slice of cake to eat.

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Battenberg Cake

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Serves 8-10

Cake

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup apricot jam
  • Red food colouring

Marzipan

  • 2 cups almond meal
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
Go to Recipe

Think you'll attempt Battenberg cake? The original—or some variation, perhaps Holiday season–related? Let us know in the comments!

Tags: teacakes, british food