Bake

Battenberg Cake

January 12, 2022
4 Stars
Photo by Rocky Luten
Author Notes

I grew up on British cakes and treats thanks to my mum. We had everything from tea cakes and digestive biscuits to Yorkshire puddings and toad in the hole. One of my favorite cakes was a Battenberg cake—not only was it pretty to look at, the homemade marzipan was a total treat.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Enjoy this cake with a big mug of tea or coffee in the afternoon or as a sweet treat after dinner. —Miranda Keyes

  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Serves 8 to 10
Ingredients
  • Cake
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup milk, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • Red food coloring
  • Marzipan & Assembly
  • 2 cups almond meal
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup apricot jam
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Make the Cake: Place a rack in the middle of the oven; heat to 350°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-by-8-inch square baking pan. Cut out a piece of parchment paper to divide the batter in half down the middle. Fold a strip in half and fold out the flaps at the bottom to look like an upside-down T (see the photos above). This will keep both batters separate from one another while the cake bakes.
  2. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream the sugar and butter on medium speed for about 1 minute, until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, almond meal, baking powder, and salt. Add one-third of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and gently mix to combine. Add half of the milk and mix to combine. Repeat adding the flour mixture and milk, ending with the flour mixture. Mix in the almond extract.
  4. Evenly divide the batter between 2 bowls (I like to use a scale). Color one batter with a few drops of red food coloring. Pour into the prepared pan, with the plain batter on one side and the pink batter on the other. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
  5. Make the Marzipan: In a large bowl, combine the almond meal, granulated sugar, and powdered sugar. Mix well to combine. Add the egg and almond extract and mix until the mixture starts to bind together. Knead with your hands until the marzipan is smooth. Shape into a rectangle and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the fridge until ready to use.
  6. Assemble the Cake: Trim the ends, top, and sides of the cakes so they're the same size. Slice each cake in half lengthwise to make 4 long rectangles.
  7. Warm the jam in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Press through a fine-mesh sieve. Brush the long side of one of the cakes with jam. Sandwich it together with a cake of the opposite color. Brush the tops of both cakes with jam and top with a piece of cake of the opposite color. Brush the jam on the inside long edge to make the cake stick together. Brush the top and sides of the cake with jam.
  8. Roll out the marzipan between 2 sheets of parchment paper into a large rectangle about ¼ inch thick. The rectangle should be large enough to wrap around the cake completely, leaving the ends uncovered. You can measure the width of cake with a piece of string and roll out the marzipan to the same size, trimming the sides for a neat finish.
  9. Place the cake upside down on the marzipan rectangle and wrap with the marzipan, pressing the sides gently to adhere. Try and have the marzipan seal in the bottom corner of the cake and press the edges together. Turn the cake upright and trim the marzipan on each end of the cake, if there's any excess.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Danuta Gajewski
    Danuta Gajewski
  • Jan Sheehan
    Jan Sheehan
  • michelle
    michelle
  • Eileen F
    Eileen F

4 Reviews

Jan S. April 1, 2021
I'm planning on making this this weekend, and just noticed that the marzipan contains raw egg. Has anyone else had any concerns about this, and is their any workable substitute?
 
michelle May 5, 2019
Tried this recipe today -- came out really good!

Quick question... Do cakes with a Marizpan frosting need to refrigerated or can they be stored at room temperature ? Thanks!
 
Danuta G. October 19, 2017
I've been making this cake for years as I too, loved the commercial version as a child (good ol' Marks & Sparks!). If I may make a suggestion, save the outer coating of apricot jam until you're ready to wrap the cake in marzipan, and then only coat each side as you roll it. It makes it less messy, and easier to handle. I also enforce the parchment divider with a few folded layers of foil, which makes it easier to pour in the 2 batters. I would love to get my hands on a speciality battenburg baking tin. Maybe one day!
 
Eileen F. March 15, 2021
Why not try baking it in two loaf pans?