Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Daring Bakers June Challenge: Battenberg Cake

Hello, readers.  I have joined another baking group!  This one is called Daring Bakers.  The group started in 2008  with just a couple of people challenging themselves to make a particular recipe each month, and the group has grown to over 9000 at last count!  There are Daring Bakers and Daring Cooks, which started in 2009 (and whose numbers are included in the totals above).  I found this group when checking out a blog of another TWD baker, Mireia of Baking in Spain.  Thank you, Mireia!  So after you read about my take on this month's challenge, click over to Mireia's blog and see what she is up to!

Daring Bakers has a new challenge each month, which is secretly revealed on the first of the month (to members only!)  There are recipes and details provided as to what are mandatory parts of the challenge and what variations might be allowed.  Then everyone posts on their blog about the challenge on the 27th of the month.  The amount of information provided for each challenge is massive!  This month I printed 13 pages!  I am super excited to be part of this new group!

For the Daring Bakers June Challenge, Mandy of What the Fruitcake?! came to our rescue at the last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge!  She highlighted Mary Berry's techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease.

Before this challenge, I didn't know anything about Battenberg Cake, so just in case you feel the same, here are some little tidbits that I have learned:  The first Battenberg cake was made to celebrate the marriage of Queen Victoria's granddaughter, Princess Victoria, to husband Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884.  The cake is a light sponge cake, traditionally flavored with almond.  When cut on the cross section, it displays a 2 x 2 check pattern traditionally colored in yellow and pink, said to represent the four princes of Battenberg.  The sponge strips are glued together with jam, usually apricot, and the entire cake is covered with marzipan.

The cake is actually very simple to make.  And it makes a little bitty cake so you could make several of different flavors, colors, etc. for an event and people might think you are super fancy!

The first important step is to prepare a pan to make the two different colors of cake.  Unless you happen to own a Battenberg pan, this takes a little bit of prep.  Take some aluminum foil and fold it around itself several times to make a rectangle to fit in an 8x8 inch cake pan.  Put the foil rectangle inside a long piece of parchment (trimmed so it is 8 inches to fit the pan) and fold the parchment over the foil.  Butter your cake pan.  Stick the parchment covered foil in the center of your pan and press the parchment down into the bottom of the pan.  Easy, huh?

Grind some almonds in a food processor until they are like powder.  If you intend to make your own marzipan to cover the cake (as opposed to purchasing some ready-made), you will want to grind up a bunch!  Make sure they are ground pretty fine, especially if you are making marzipan later!  Then whisk or sift 1/2 of the ground almonds with flour, sugar and baking powder.

Mix in butter, eggs, vanilla extract and almond extract.  Cake batter is done!  Since one half of this cake is colored pink, you need to get half of the batter out of the bowl so you can tint the other half.  My method of doing this is:
weight of mixing bowl with batter - weight of empty mixing bowl = weight of batter
batter/2 = amount of batter for each half of the cake
weight of empty bowl + amount of batter for half of cake = weight of bowl once appropriate amount of batter is gone.
Here is my example:
my batter in the bowl weighed 3 lb 7 oz or 55 oz.
my empty bowl weighs 1 lb 11 oz or 27 oz.
55-27=28, thus my batter was 28 oz.
Divide 28 by 2, and each half of the batter was 14 oz.
27oz (bowl) + 14 oz = 2 lb 9 oz.  
So I knew to keep scooping batter into the cake pan until the scale said 2 lb 9 oz.  Then I added the pink gel color and put the rest of the batter in the other half of the pan!

Here you have my unbaked batter in the pans (on left) and the baked cake on the right!

The parchment/foil divider worked!

Since I am a bit nutty about baking, I decided to try making my own marzipan.  I had never made marzipan before, nor had I ever worked with it, so I had absolutely no idea what I was doing!  I followed a recipe and hoped for the best!

First add sugar, water and cream of tarter together and let it boil until it reaches "soft-ball" stage, 240 degrees.  So far so good!

Then put the saucepan in a bowl of cold water and stir constantly until the mixture becomes thick and creamy.  Add ground almonds and egg whites and put the mixture back over low heat until the mixture is thick.  This should take about 2 minutes over the heat. 

Then spread the mixture over a marble slab, wooden cutting board, or large baking sheet that is covered with powdered sugar.  Spread the mixture around until it is cool enough to touch.  You might notice that my marzipan is brown colored.  I ground whole almonds instead of blanched ones.  I think marzipan is usually white, so I was probably supposed to use blanched almonds, but I don't mind the brown color.  Once the mixture is cool, put a bunch of powdered sugar all over your hands and knead the marzipan until it is "smooth and pliant". 

This is where I began to worry.  I kneaded and kneaded and had a big sticky mess!  I read that if the mixture is too sticky to add powdered sugar and boy oh boy did I add a bunch of powdered sugar!  I also read that finished marzipan should not be sticky, dry, or hard to work.  It should feel like playdough.  Hmmm.  My marzipan could not be described in that manner at all.  The powdered sugar helped but it was still very sticky.  And it was also getting dry, probably because there was TOO much powdered sugar.  I added some almond extract (which should probably be added with the eggs) to moisten it a little and add more almond flavor.  This helped but it still didn't seem right.  I had read that heat and humidity are not friendly to marzipan and I worried that this would never work.  It was getting late and I was getting discouraged, so I wrapped up my ball of marzipan, put it in the refrigerator, and went to bed.  The next day I bought a can of pre-made marzipan "just in case" my marzipan wouldn't work.

When I removed the marzipan from the refrigerator, it was a somewhat solid, dry ball.  I decided to add a tiny amount of corn syrup.  This helped to get the ball working so I could knead it more.  Somehow, I miraculously got it to a point where I thought I could try rolling it out, and it worked!  I sprinkled a fondant rolling mat with powdered sugar and gently rolled my marzipan out into a sort-of rectangle shape that I thought could work for my cake.  Yippee!  Success!  Then I covered it with plastic wrap so it wouldn't dry while I prepared the cake.

Even up the edges of the cakes, and cut them down the middle so there are 4 long strips of sponge cake.  Heat apricot jam to spread on the sponge layers.  I actually had some leftover home-made apricot-almond butter, so I was thrilled to use this instead of jam.  A fruit butter is thicker than jam and it didn't melt the same way, but the purpose of the jam is to stick the layers together, so the butter worked fine.  I also brushed the sponges with an almond simple syrup to help the cake stay moist. 

Brush the long edges with simple syrup and apricot butter/jam and stick them together.  Do this with both sets of strips.  Then brush the top of one set, and place the other set on top in a checkerboard pattern! 

Stick the cake on top of the rolled out marzipan and brush all edges with simple syrup and apricot butter/jam.  Press the marzipan around the sides of the cake by rolling the cake around so all sides are covered.  Trim the marzipan on the bottom edge and trim the square edges so the checkerboard pattern shows.  Personally, I think the marzipan should go over the edges, which you could probably smooth neatly to look like a wrapped present.  This would help the cake stay moist longer.  If I make a Battenberg cake again, this is what I will do. 

Score the top of the cake in the traditional manner (shown above) or however you wish! 

This cake could be made in any flavor, and you could also use fondant or chocolate plastique to cover the cake.  You could even add more colors so it would look more like a rubiks' cube or something!

I had fun making my Battenberg cake.  I would probably make it again, though I might try a different marzipan recipe.  I don't know if it was the recipe or the humidity in Houston that made the marzipan so difficult for me.  At least I know I can get it to work.  It ended up tasting great!

Traditional Battenberg Cake
adapted from Mary Berry

3/4 cup superfine granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup ground almonds
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
Red food coloring, paste, liquid, or gel
1/3 cup apricot jam
1 cup marzipan

Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter an 8" square baking pin.  Line with parchment paper, creating a divide in the middle with foil and parchment (see photo above).

Whisk or sift together the dry ingredients.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and beat just until all ingredients are combined and the batter is smooth.  Spoon half of the batter into one side of the prepared cake pan.  Add a few drops of food coloring to the remaining batter and stir until the color is uniform.  Spoon the colored batter into the other side of the cake pan.  Smooth the surface with a spatula, making sure the batter is in each corner.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the cake is well risen, springs back when lightly touched and a cake tester comes out clean.  The cake should shrink away from the sides of the pan.  Leave to cool in the pan for a few minutes before turning it out onto a wire cooling rack.

Once completely cool, trim the edges of the cake with a long serrated knife.  Cut each sponge in half lengthwise so you have 4 long strips of cake.  Neaten the strips and trim as necessary so the checkered pattern is neat and even. 

Gently heat the jam and pass though a small sieve.  Brush the warmed jam onto the strips of cake to stick the cake together in a checked pattern.

Dust a large flat surface with powdered sugar and roll the marzipan into an oblong shape large enough to cover the length of the cake and completely wrap the cake.  Brush the top of the cake with apricot jam and place jam side down onto one side of the marzipan.  Brush the remaining sides of the cake with jam and press the marzipan around the cake, making sure the join is either neatly in one corner or on the bottom of the cake.

Score the top of the cake with a knife and decorate as desired.  Neaten the ends of the cake and remove excess marzipan by trimming off a small bit of cake on both ends to reveal the pattern.  OR, fold the marzipan neatly over the ends of the cake and reveal the pattern only when ready to serve.
Printable recipe
I am excited about my new baking group!  Make sure you check back to see what next month's challenge might be!


  1. Beautiful job!!! i skipped this recipe because i'm not a fan of marzipan!

  2. That looks wonderful and well done for making your own marzipan! I used to do Daring Bakers so it's lovely to check in and see what you're all up to now :-)

    1. Thanks! The marzipan was tricky (and fairly sticky!) but turned out ok! I am pleased to have made this accomplishment. Thanks for visiting my blog!

  3. What a beautiful job you did - your Battenberg looks great! Welcome to the Daring Bakers, and I look forward to baking with you each month :)

    1. Thanks! I thought making a checkerboard cake was pretty fun. I love the challenges and look forward to trying more!

  4. welcome to the DB's !!! Hope you had fun and will join us for many more. You did a great job. Best, Sandie


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