The Great Battenberg Disaster
After trying the doughnut cupcakes, next on my list was a Battenberg cake. I wasn’t terrified by a Battenberg, I thought that the challenge would be in sticking it together. I’m a bit of a slapdash baker, so anything that involves precision and a neat finish is quite daunting. For some reason, I felt pretty confident. I bought a Mr Kipling Battenberg; I had a vague image in my mind of some sort of taste test being carried out by the builders who are repointing the brickwork next door. Obviously, my homemade Battenberg would be a clear winner.
There are numerous recipes for Battenberg cakes in my cookbooks. I decided to follow Mary Berry’s recipe from her Baking Bible. Her recipe for an almond flavoured cake seemed to be the most traditional (even though almond isn’t one of my favourite flavours), and it didn’t have the added complication of making two different flavoured cakes. As an extra challenge, I decided to try making my own marzipan (also following Mary Berry’s Baking Bible recipe).
I started with the cake mixture; I beat butter, eggs, caster sugar, ground rice, self-raising flour and almond extract until smooth, then poured half of it into my cake tin. The Mary Berry recipe doesn’t use anything to divide the two colours of cake. She simply says that you should try to get the join between the two mixtures as neat as you can. I thought I needed a bit more help, so I used a technique I found in the Great British Bake Off’s Big Book of Baking and lined the tin with baking paper with a pleat down the middle.
The next thing to do was colour the other half of the mixture. I added enough red food colouring to turn the mixture the same colour as the pink squares in the Mr Kipling model.
Next for the marzipan. The recipe sounded straightforward. Ground almonds, caster sugar, icing sugar, egg and almond extract. Mix everything together except for the eggs and almond extract, then add them and knead the mixture to a stiff paste.
Could I get the mixture to a form a stiff paste? In a word – no. A sloppy mess was the best I could manage by hand, so I turned to the KitchenAid. It wobbled about a bit on the work top, and then a bolt flew out of it and it started to wobble about a lot.
I gave up on the mixer, took the marzipan out and tried to get to the stiff paste stage by kneading it and adding extra icing sugar. It did come together eventually but, even then, not to a stiff paste. I wrapped it in cling film and put it in the fridge. Hopefully this would stiffen it up a bit.
I checked the cake. The recipe said 35-40 minutes cooking time. It was done at 35 but both sides were same colour (yellow uncoloured cake colour). I checked the recipe. I should have put enough food colouring in to turn the mixture deep pink, rather than the Mr Kipling pastel shade I’d gone for. Oh well. Not to worry, plenty of time to make another pink sponge.
I started again and got as far as mixing everything together whilst keeping a very firm hand on the top of the KitchenAid to stop it bouncing off the worktop. Then I realised that I’d put ground almonds in instead of ground rice. I decided to persevere and added the food colouring. The mixture was definitely deep pink this time.
I use a Neff oven for baking, and it has some cool reflectors in the door that mean that the whole oven is well-lit while you’re cooking. The cake certainly looked pink. I was pretty hopeful when I took it out of the oven. If the ground almonds hadn’t made it taste too funky it was going to be a pretty good cake. It broke in half as I turned it out, only to reveal a yellow coloured cake under a pink crust. Disaster.
I went back to my original one-colour sponge and cut it lengthways into four equal pieces. Better finish what I started, even though it wasn’t going to be a proper chequered Battenberg cake. I put some apricot jam into a pan on the hob to warm and stuck the four pieces together with it. Then came the marzipan. I got it out of the fridge, rolled it out on an icing sugar covered board, and then scraped it off in gooey pieces when I found that I couldn’t lift it up and over the cake. I rolled it out again. The same thing happened. I tried one more time and gave up. There was no way I was going to get my marzipan over that cake. Not in a million years. I put it out for the birds.
Luckily, I’d had half a block of Tesco marzipan in the cupboard for a while. I rolled it out, lifted it easily onto the rolling-pin and covered the cake. Here is the finished version of my anaemic Battenberg.
Was it worth it?
My builders’ taste test never came about. I was too embarrassed. My family did taste it. The unanimous verdict? “Lovely marzipan.” Thanks Tesco!
My tips for my next Battenberg (if there is one):
- Add more food colouring than you think you need.
- If attempting to make marzipan, have patience. Remember that Tesco’s own is “lovely” if it doesn’t work out.
- Cut the top and bottom bits off the cake before assembling it. The recipe does say, “trim the edges”. I only did the sides, but the photographs in the cookbooks (and also the real Mr Kipling) look as though all the sides have been trimmed.
Making this cake was a nightmare, mostly of my own making admittedly. I didn’t follow the recipe correctly, I cocked up the ingredients for my second sponge and my mixer broke. Even if these things hadn’t happened I’m not sure I’d make this Battenberg cake again, but only because of my indifference to almond flavour.
I think if I tried another one I’d go for some different flavours, such as walnut and coffee – another Mary Berry recipe. I would give marzipan another go, it would be good to make a batch, rather than having to buy a large block and have it sit at the back of the cupboard for ages. As far as the traditional Battenberg goes though, I’m afraid Mr Kipling beat me hands down.