Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fancy Cake

It was just my 27th birthday. Equal parts yay-exciting and face-palm. So I made a cake. I've been borrowing (read: I've practically hi-jacked) a friend's "Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook." It's a great cookbook- each recipe is prefaced by a bit of contextual history... which I'm a total sucker for, ever since the American Girl Doll (and book) franchise began in the 90's. Several girlfriends and I have been getting together each week to watch Downton Abbey and eat whatever treats I decide to concoct for the occasion. Originally, I viewed them as a neutral audience to test new recipes on, but now I feel like I have to impress them! I should have started out simple with rice krispies treats instead of citrus genoise with almonds. Oops. At any rate, it was time to raise the bar. I've been waiting for an excuse to make the British Battenberg Cake recipe, and I figured my birthday was as good a reason as any.

The cake itself is an almond sponge cake with apricot jam sandwiching the layers. I know. Heavenly. But it gets better. The entire confection gets covered in marzipan. Whaaaaaat? Dream come true, right? Typically, this cake is baked in a square pan and then cut into long strips and ends up like a checkerboard. I plan on making one in the traditional style, which is more appropriate as a tea snack, but I thought for a birthday cake, I wanted a bit of drama.

So, occasionally I'll wake up in the night with a brilliant idea, and this was one of them: hand-painting marzipan with food dye. I'd been anxious (anxious-nervous AND anxious-excited) to try it. I saw the design in my head completely finished before I even started, and I seriously couldn't wait for it to get there. If Declan hadn't taken a picture of it in progress, I wouldn't even know how it got completed. I love that type of creative surge. Nerd alert: my heart was aflutter the whole time I worked on this- like I was getting ready for a first date or something. For a first attempt, I'm fairly pleased with the results. I need more dye colors and I should have used some smaller brushes, but in my defense, I was trying to get the thing decorated and get myself out the door in a timely manner.

I plan on making another one and taking photos all along the way, because I had a total blast working on it and it was way easier to create than it looks.

For reference, here's a link to a traditional style cake.

Recipe after the break!

British Battenberg Cake (as adapted from "The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook")

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 2 6" baking pans and line bottoms with parchment paper, cut to size. Grease the paper as well. (Recipe says 2 8" square pans, but I like to live dangerously.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, and 1 tsp salt.

In a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream (at medium speed) 1 cup of unsalted, softened butter with 1 1/2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in 3 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 1/2 tsp almond extract.

Reduce speed and slowly add in the dry ingredients until incorporated, followed by 2 Tbsp whole milk. Pour half the batter into another bowl and tint to desired color (I chose the traditional light pink) a little food dye goes a long way. Pour yellow batter into one pan and pink into another, leveling off with a spatula if needed. Place both pans on a cookie sheet and bake together.

Bake until lightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean, 25-35 minutes in the 6" pans, less time in larger pans. As always, rotate pan halfway through baking!

Cool in the cake pans for 10 minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely before assembly.

Level off the cakes with a serrated knife (snack time!) and carefully slice them evenly into 2 layers. You should have 4 beautiful cake rounds at this point.

Get some apricot jam (1 cup or so) and heat it until it's smooth but not molten lava hot. Take the bottom half of the yellow cake (because it has a sturdy browned crust) and set it on a plate, cut side up. Brush with jam. Add the top half of the pink, brush with jam, add the top half of the yellow, and brush with jam. Finish it off with the bottom half of the pink cake, this time crust-side-up, so the cake is flat and sturdy on both the top and the bottom. Brush all sides with more jam.

On a flat surface dusted with powdered sugar, roll out 10-12 oz of marzipan. (I plan on making my own at some point, but for now I buy a prepared 5.29 oz log of it at Cost Plus World Market for $3.99.) The larger the cake, the more marzipan it takes to cover it... this could quickly become expensive.

Roll it out thinly and gently blanket it over the cake, pinching closed any gaps, and smoothing it with your fingers. (A bit of ice water is helpful here, since the sugar in the marzipan gets sticky if your hands are too warm. I didn't have trouble with this, but I imagine if I made this cake in warmer weather, it would be more challenging.) Cover all sides, even the bottom. Once it's smooth and lovely you can get to decorating!

I literally used my little pots of Wilton gel dyes as if they were watercolors or acrylics. I used my real-life paintbrushes and they cleaned up just fine in water. I tried not to use too much water (because sticky is my most unfavorite) but you'll figure out what works for you. Just start with lighter colors first and build your design from there.

I'd love to see photos if anyone tries this. <3 Thanks for reading.



  1. Love that you made your Battenberg as a round cake - very pretty!!