No doubt some of you might be surprised to see the subject of our Traditional British Dishes article; heck, we were quite surprised to see that the featured treat is, supposedly, of British origin… But yes, it seems we did indeed invent the Battenburg Cake, despite the name.
Before going into the history of the cake itself, we need to cover what it is. A Battenburg Cake is comprised of a combination of two kinds of separately baked Sponge Cake- traditionally one coloured pink, and the other coloured yellow- that are cut and arranged into a checker-board pattern, held together with Apricot Jam, and then further covered in a layer of Marzipan. The resulting cake is an incredibly sweet that is something of an acquired taste.
Perhaps the most well known variation on the Battenburg is the American treat known as Checker-board Cake, so named because the cross-section of sponge cake that make up it’s inner pattern resemble a Draughts Board- or “Checkerboard”, in accordance with the American name for Draughts, Checkers. Key differences between a Checkerboard Cake and a Battenberg Cake are chiefly that the sponge checker pattern of the former alternates between Vanilla flavoured and Chocolate flavoured sponge, and the outer layer is a thick, buttercream based one instead of Marzipan. On the subject of naming conventions, the type of markings frequently seen on the side of emergency vehicles such as Police Cars or Ambulances are sometimes called Battenberg Markings, after the cake.
Supposedly, the name for the cake comes from the fact that the marriage between Princess Victoria and Prince Louis in 1884 was commemorated with a Battenberg Cake, the name being adopted from the town of Battenberg, Hasse in central Germany; both Prince Louis’ then-current seat, and likewise an ancestral seat of the aristocratic Mountbatten family. The actual term itself is said to have first appeared in 1903, according to The Oxford Companion to Food, but a mention of it appears in Frederick Vine’s Saleable Shop Goods for Counter-Tray and Window, which was first published in 1898. It also appears under several other names in cookbooks or recipes from the very same year, including some of the following: Agnes Berthe Marshall’s “Domino Cake” recipe, Robert Wells’ “Neapolitan Roll” recipe, and an uncredited recipe named “Church Window Cake”.