Friday, December 28, 2012

Battenberg Cake

by Sheila Connolly

Funny how cooking over the holidays usually pushes us to extremes.  Either we put together a multi-course meal for twelve distant relatives, or we throw up our hands and say, "eat leftovers" or "let's order Thai."  Even if it's only your nearest and dearest, many of us (myself included) feel that we should make a special effort for the big holidays—drag out grandmother's china and real cloth napkins, roast a (fill in the blank), bake cookies and bread.  I persuaded my husband to bake a ham for Christmas this year (that was his family's tradition; mine preferred turkey or roast beef), so I volunteered to make dessert.

Rather than sticking to one of the family favorites, I decided to try making one that I discovered in the supermarket in Ireland, although I find that the recipe is English:  Battenberg Cake.  It's a boxy little thing, and I thought it looked like a holiday present, all neatly wrapped.  And the recipes I found  did not result a huge final product, which we would have to consume over the next few days—there are only three of us at home at the moment, and we don't need to eat a mountain of cake.

Here's the supermarket model
Battenberg cake dates back to the reign of Queen Victoria, although she kind of imported it from Germany.  It consists of layers of sponge cake, white and pink, cut and assembled (with a bit of jam for glue) to resemble a checkerboard, and then wrapped in marzipan.  I'm a sucker for marzipan, and besides, you just buy that readymade and roll it out to wrap your cake.

I confess up front:  I have never made this before, and I ran into a few snags.  One:  the only recipes I could find were English, which meant the measurements were given in ounces (weight, not liquid), and I had a few issues converting to American measurements.  I should have known that a recipe with equal parts butter and flour was doomed from the start.  For my second attempt I recalculated and arrived at something that resembled cake.  Good thing I allowed plenty of time to make this, and had lots of butter on hand!

Two:  the recipe called for a six-inch-square cake pan with straight sides.  Raise your hands, all of you who have a six-inch cake pan.  Uh-huh, I thought so.  I didn't, although I have eight-inch and nine-inch ones.  But increasing a recipe to work with a larger pan is complicated, so I crafted my own six-inch insert for a larger pan, using…roof flashing.  Cover it with plenty of foil and brush with butter and it works fine. (Oh, did I mention you have to split the six-inch pan into two parts, so you can dye half of the batter pink?)

"too much time on her hands, eh?"
you're saying about now

By now you are thinking, was she insane?  Ah, 'tis the season for insanity.  I crafted a make-shift cake pan, I figured out the right measurements for the ingredients, and I was off to the races.


Once I had actually managed to bake the cake, I was faced with making the pieces of cake match up so I could achieve the right checkerboard pattern.  My biggest fear was that I would shave so much off to make it perfect that the final cake would end up about two inches across (in that event I planned to call it petit fours.  So I sacrificed precision, just a bit.  As a whole, it worked—and it tasted good. 

So if you're ever in the mood to make a simple complicated cake, here's the recipe (translated from the English):


2/3 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)

2/3 cup granulated sugar

3 eggs (room temperature). beaten

2 Tblsp whole milk (room temperature)

1 tsp vanilla extract (or a mix of vanilla and almond)


1¼ cups flour

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt


Pink or red food coloring

½ cup seedless jam (apricot or raspberry)





Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line your baking pan or pans with foil and brush with melted butter.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt. In the large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs, vanilla and milk.  Add the flour mixture and beat until smooth.

Divide the batter into two equal batches, and add red food coloring to one batch.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool in the pans (with the foil, the cakes will be easy to remove).

Melt the jam in a small pan with a little water, to make it thin and spreadable.


Trim the cakes to equal size, then cut in two lengthwise.  Take one pink piece and one white piece and "glue" them together with the jam.  Repeat with the second pair. Paint the top of the joined pieces with jam, and "glue" on the second pair.


Roll out your marzipan (one recipe called for a single 7-oz. package, which is what you see most often in stores, but I wasn't sure how far it would go so I used two).  Paint the outside of your joined cake pieces with the rest of the jam, then wrap it in marzipan.  Stick the edges together on the bottom with a bit of jam. (If you like, you can press interesting patterns onto the marzipan with whatever tool you want.)


Trim off the raggedy ends. Wrap in Saran wrap and chill for at least half an hour (overnight is fine).


To serve, slice carefully with a sharp knife.

Coming February 2013, the first in my new County Cork Mystery series.


  1. You had me laughing out loud with the caption, "'too much time on her hands, eh?' you're saying about now". Looks great-but I know I'll never attempt it. As much as I like the look of checkerboard cakes-I'm much to lazy to try to actually make them!

  2. That's adorable Sheila, but I totally agree with Katreader--I can't imagine making it. But thanks for the fun reading and beautiful photos!

  3. Add a third to the consensus-great entertainment, but too much work Thanks for the fun

  4. Huzzah!!! You are my hero, Sheila. What a great post. I applaud your sticking with your goal, despite the English-American/pan-challenged obstacles. There must be a Navy S.E.A.L. in you somewhere--adapt and overcome (with singular ingenuity), which makes for an inspiring run-up to the start of any new year.

    Battenberg or bust!
    ~ Cleo

  5. Sheila, I chuckled all the way through this. Especially when you made your own pan to suit the cake. That's Yankee determination! Love it. Okay, I admit that I would have done the same thing. Looks like a lovely cake. And as you say 'tis the season!

    ~ Krista

  6. Would it work with two loaf pans?

  7. It probably would, Anonymous--I was looking at little ones this week, and they measured just about 3x6". Of course, you can always trim them to square (and eat the trimmings!).

  8. Sheila, it's a pretty cake, yes, just like a present! Nice.

    Daryl/ Avery

    (PS Always eat the trimmings!) LOL