Raspberry + Lemon-Poppyseed Battenberg Cake

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I’ve made lots of recipes for this blog now. Something like, 90, I think! But, I’ll be honest, some are way more interesting to me. Battenberg cake has been on my list now for years. I mean, it’s just so pretty!! The perfect spring cake. I finally got around to looking up what it’s all about, found out that it had royal connections, and decided now was the time to share it. So what is Battenberg cake? The famous checkerboard teacake is a beautiful dessert, and its design, reminiscent of a coat-of-arms or a flag, is fitting of its royal history.

Though we don’t know the exact origins of the Battenberg cake, it is believed that it was created for the marriage of Princess Victoria of Hesse, a granddaughter of the English Queen Victoria. Princess Victoria married her first cousin, once removed, Prince Louis of Battenberg, a German nobleman serving in the British navy.

The couple were to become the maternal grandparents of Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Phillip. But before the wedding, Princess Victoria’s father did not approve of the marriage, believing that the Prince of Battenberg couldn’t financially support the lifestyle his daughter had grown up accustomed to. Victoria paid little attention to this, and married Prince Louis on April 30, 1884, in Darmstadt, Germany. (A bit of irony on the side here: Princess Victoria’s father, though unapproving of his daughter’s marriage to a man he thought of lesser status, took the opportunity of her wedding day to marry his second wife, Countess Alexandrina Hutten-Czapska. The Countess was certainly not of equal rank to her husband and, due to the disapproval of his family, their marriage was annulled within three months.)

(And if the only royalty you like is the terribly tragic, or the terribly Disney, kind, you should know that one of Princess Victoria’s sisters would marry Nicholas II of Russia, becoming known as the Czarina Alexandra, who eventually lost her life in 1918 during the Russian Revolution, along with her husband and five children, including the well-known Anastasia.)

The Battenbergs would eventually change their last name in response to the anti-German sentiment brought on by World War I, to the English translation of Battenberg: Mountbatten. (The British royal family would change their last name too, from the extremely German-sounding “Saxe-Coburg and Gotha,” to the much more English sounding “Windsor.”)

The Battenberg cake, which was said to have been created for the wedding, and which is also sometimes called domino cake, or church window cake (for its resemblance to stained glass), was to become a British teatime classic. Battenberg cake is traditionally composed of pink and yellow sponge cake, arranged in a checkerboard pattern, held together with jam, and wrapped in a layer of marzipan. The new teatime delicacy was a complicated step forward in the evolution of a fairly recent invention: Sponge cake as we know it today became popular during Queen Victoria’s rule, when eggs began to be used in cake baking, which allowed for a fluffier texture. The invention of baking soda in 1843 allowed for an even lighter and taller cake. It was also during Queen Victoria’s rule that English teatime became popular. (Queen Victoria herself was said to have been a fan of sponge cake during tea time, so much so that sponge cake in Britain would become known as “Victoria Sponge.”)

But just why the Battenberg cake is checkered is unknown. Some suggestions say it’s possible that the cake was used as a welcoming symbol to the German prince. It has been said that the four quadrants of the cake represent Prince Louis and his three brothers (an older sister was omitted).

Another unknown is why the the Battenberg Cake is pink and yellow. Perhaps it was because it was made for a spring wedding. Perhaps the pastels represent Easter colors, as the bride was born on an Easter Sunday.  I was able to find a reference to a “new Battenberg Cake” in a Scottish newspaper from November of 1885, the year after the wedding, which lists the confection as “flavored by fresh fruit.” It may have simply been that sponge cake, using additional eggs, naturally made for a yellow cake, and fruit was added as contrast.

As for why the cake was wrapped in marzipan, it may have been to celebrate the German union. Lubeck, in northern Germany, is considered the marzipan capital of the world. Marzipan would have been immensely popular in both England and Germany at the time.

This cake looks a lot more difficult to make than it is. For the longest time, I couldn’t even wrap my head around how anyone would make it. My brain just doesn’t work that way.  But just walk through the steps (there are a lot of them!), and don’t rush the process. It will all make sense in the end, and by then you’ll have a pretty pastel cake!

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Raspberry + Lemon-Poppyseed Battenberg Cake
Makes one 7-inch cake.

Ingredients: 
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup, plus 1 tbsp of sugar
1 egg white, plus 2 whole eggs
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup whole milk (room temperature)
1 2/3 cups flour
1 tbsp poppyseeds
1/2 tsp lemon zest
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup raspberry jam, warmed and strained through sieve to remove seeds, separated
2 drops red food coloring, optional
7 ounces prepared marzipan
Confectioner’s sugar, for rolling marzipan
Freeze-dried raspberries, optional

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease an 8×8-inch square pan with oil. Crisscross two sheets of parchment paper over each other in the pan.

Take an 8×6-inch piece of foil and fold until it is a two-inch tall strip. Place down the center of the pan, cutting down if needed.

Beat together softened butter and sugar until fluffy and light in color. Add in the egg white and stir in until just combined. Add the additional two eggs, one at a time, mixing each in fully. Stir in the vanilla extract, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the vegetable oil and milk. Finally, add the flour, all at once, stirring until just barely combined (as you will continue to stir when adding flavors).

Equally separate the batter into two bowls. To one bowl, add the poppyseeds, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Stir together until just combined. In the second bowl, add three tablespoons of raspberry jam, plus two drops of red food coloring, if you want to enhance the color. Stir until just combined. Pour the lemon-poppyseed batter into one half of the pan. Pour the raspberry batter into the other half.

Bake for 25-28 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of each half comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to sit in pan for 10 minutes. Then, remove the two cakes to a rack to cool completely.

(From this point on, I found it easiest to work with the cake with some periodic 10-15 minute refrigeration.) Once the cakes are cooled, trim each cake into two equal strips, approximately 1.5 by 1.5 by 8. There should be four strips total, two of each color.

Using the remaining raspberry jam, lightly paint each side of the cake strips with raspberry jam (you should still have approximately 1/4 cup of jam left at this time). Then, place one raspberry strip next to one lemon-poppyseed strip. Next, put the second lemon-poppyseed strip on top of the first raspberry strip, then place the second raspberry strip next to the second lemon-poppyseed strip. This should make one large rectangular cube with a checkerboard pattern. Refrigerate while you prepare the marzipan.

Lightly dust your work space and a rolling pin with confectioner’s sugar. Roll your marzipan out to approximately an 8×12-inch rectangle. Brush the remaining raspberry jam across the surface of the marzipan.

Place the cake lengthwise on the longer side of the marzipan. Carefully pull the marzipan up closely around the cake, pressing the two ends together. Trim the excess off, and carefully rub the seam to smooth it. At this point, you’ll probably have some excess marzipan hanging from each end. This is fine. Refrigerate the cake for another 10 minutes. Then, cut about a 1/2-inch from each end. Score the top of the marzipan with a knife, and sprinkle with crushed freeze-dried raspberries, if you’d like.

Enjoy immediately with tea.

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So, folks, if you’re… I don’t know… planning a British-themed party to celebrate the impending birth of a half-American movie star, half-British prince, member of the royal family… maybe you should consider this cake. Just saying. Happy caking!

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Buckeyes

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My apologies to every sports fan who stumbles upon this blog, only to find that there is absolutely no information about (any) college sports team. The Buckeyes I refer to in the title are not the Ohio State Buckeyes, but the tiny chocolate-covered peanut butter balls that were inspired by Ohio’s state tree. Alex and I were visiting Ohio (his first time to Ohio!) this Memorial Day weekend to celebrate the wedding of our lovely friends, Michael and Deborah, in Cleveland Heights. The ceremony was beautiful and rather dramatic because of a sudden thunderstorm. Plus, it was a Jewish ceremony, which meant Alex and I had to learn a Jewish wedding song and see some new (to us) traditions. On top of that, the bride is originally from Brazil, so there was also samba music and lots of dancing. We couldn’t have had more fun, or celebrated a better couple.

I grew up just across the border from Ohio, in Indiana, but I had seen very little of the state before. As we always try to do, we turned this short trip into a slightly longer road trip. After leaving Cleveland early on Monday, we drove down to Columbus, only briefly stopping to get coffee and to walk around the Short North and German Village neighborhoods. It was really the only urban area that we visited. Most of our road trip was spent driving by rolling fields and through one-stoplight towns, smelling Memorial Day barbecues. Today, we will leave my mom’s house in search of antique stores to buy knicknacks we don’t need.

In honor of our trip, I thought I would make a very traditional Ohio treat (and by traditional, I mean a mid-century invention of Midwest housewives). I’m using my mom’s ancient recipe for peanut butter balls. When mom made them, they were called peanut butter balls, and they were completely covered in chocolate. The only difference is that when you make buckeyes, you leave a tiny cap of peanut butter showing. Ohioans call them buckeyes, because they resemble the nut of Ohio’s state tree, the buckeye. My mom would usually make the treat for family get-togethers. In Ohio, they are often also served during Ohio State games.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Buckeyes
Makes about 30, 1-inch Buckeyes.

Ingredients:
1 cup peanut butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips (or chocolate bar, chopped)

Instructions:

In a large bowl, combine peanut butter, powdered sugar, butter, salt, and vanilla extract with a hand mixture. The mixture will look thick, almost like a cookie batter. Cover with a dish towel and allow to chill in the refrigerator for about half an hour.

Cover a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a small spoon (the large scoop on my melon baller worked well), scoop portions of the peanut butter mixture, roll into a ball and set on parchment paper. Continue until all of the peanut butter mixture has been used. Refrigerate for another half an hour.

Fill a small saucepan with about an inch of water and bring to just a boil. Make a double-boiler by filling a small bowl with the chocolate and setting this on the saucepan, above the water. Be sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water in the saucepan.

Stirring the chocolate often, allow the chocolate to melt above the heat. Once the chocolate has just melted, remove from heat and stir until the mixture is smooth.

Using a toothpick, skewer the refrigerated peanut butter ball and dip into the chocolate mixture. Keeping the toothpick in the top of the ball, slowly rotate the ball in the chocolate until all is covered, except for a small portion at the top. Return to parchment paper and remove the toothpick. If you like, you can lightly pat the the spot where the toothpick was to get rid of the hole.

Continue until you have coated all of the peanut butter balls with chocolate. Allow to refrigerate for at least another half hour before serving.

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Bear in mind, these little candies are very rich. Delicious, but rich. Even as a child, while other family members were gobbling them up a few at a time, I could only eat about half. The recipe above is a slight adaptation to my mom’s original, using slightly less sugar. I first tried to use much less, but didn’t have much success keeping the peanut butter in ball-form for dipping. So they’re still rich, but a little more balanced. They remind me a lot of the Reese’s holiday versions of peanut butter cups. You know the ones: egg-shaped for Easter, hearts for Valentine’s Day, always with a shockingly large ratio of peanut butter to chocolate, just the way I like it. My next plan is to make a batch, freeze them, take them to our next summer barbecue, and win the hearts of everyone.

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