The recipe for this colorful sponge cake comes from legendary British grocer Fortnum & Mason’s first cookbook.
Fortnum’s has been serving up this multicolored mélange since 1926. Some say it was created to celebrate the marriage of Princess Victoria (granddaughter to Queen Victoria and mother of Lord Louis Mountbatten) to Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. Others claim it was invented in the Prussian village of Battenberg. While yet another group argues it’s simply an English cake named Church Window, which has been around for years before that arrivisite Battenberg stepped onto our shores. The roots might be murky. But the taste is splendidly straightforward.
During the Great War, though, the Battenberg was an unpatriotic mouthful. The same in World War II, although rationing would have made it difficult to produce. There’s even an aprocryphal story that it was renamed “Russian Sponge” from 1939 to 1945.
You can buy a special divided Battenberg tin that allows you to bake four sponges separately; the colours don’t bleed together and there is no need to cut the pieces to size.
Beware, this fatless sponge doesn’t keep well. Devour as soon as possible. Hardly an onerous task, I know.
Makes one 20 cm cake
- 30g unsalted butter
- 150 mg plain flour
- 5 medium eggs
- 150g caster sugar
- 1 vanilla pod
- Yellow food colouring
- Red food colouring
- 1/3 to 1/2 jar of apricot jam
- Icing sugar, for dusting
- 500g marzipan
Melt the butter over a low heat, then set aside. Sift the flour into a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric beater until they are pale, thick, and greatly increased in volume; the mixture should be thick enough to leave a trail on the surface when the whisk is lifted. In three separate additions, sift the flour over the surface and fold it in with a large metal spoon, being careful to knock as little air out of the mixture as possible. Drizzle the melted butter around the edge of the mixture and gently fold that in, too.
Transfer half the mixture to a separate bowl. Slit the vanilla pod open lengthwise, scrape out the seeds into one of the bowls and fold them in. Then fold a drop of yellow food colouring into the vanilla mixture. Fold a drop of red food colouring into the mixture in the second bowl to give it a pale pink colour.
Butter and flour a Battenberg tin and spoon the pink mixture into two of the sections and the yellow mixture into the others. If you don’t have a Battenberg tin, use a small rectangular baking tin, roughly 20cm x 16cm, and position a strip of waxed card lengthwise down the centre to separate the mixtures. Put the pink on one side and the vanilla on the other. Place in an oven heated to 160 ̊ C/Gas Mark 3 and bake for 20 minutes, until the sponge is well risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.
Put a knife around the edge of the tin and along the dividers. Carefully remove the strips of cake. Trim the tops with a serrated knife, if necessary, so they are flat. If you used an ordinary rectangular tin, cut each piece of cake lengthwise in half and trim as necessary; you need 4 blocks that are exactly the same size.
Gently heat the apricot jam and strain through a fine sieve. Brush apricot jam along a long side of one pink and one yellow piece of sponge and place them side by side. Brush the tops with jam. Place the remaining pieces of sponge on top to create a chequerboard pattern, sticking them together with jam as before. If they don’t all match up perfectly, trim the sides.
Dust a work surface with a little icing sugar and roll the marzipan out into a rectangle about 4mm thick. The width should be the same as the length of the cake and it should be long enough to wrap right round it. Neaten the edges with a knife and brush the marzipan with the remaining warm jam.
Place the cake at the end of the marzipan, right on the edge. Carefully roll it up, smoothing the marzipan on gently as you go. Trim away any surplus, making sure the join is well sealed. Place with the join underneath and brush off any icing sugar. Trim the short ends of the cake. Lightly score the top with a sharp knife to make a diamond pattern.
Reprinted from “Fortnum & Mason The Cook Book” by Tom Parker Bowles. Published by Fourth Estate.