Battenberg Cake (aliases: Domino Cake, Church Window Cake, Neapolitan Roll) is an unapologetically and uniquely British confection, having morphed into a confectionery symbol of the country since its creation in the late 1800s. The charming checkerboard sponge cake interior and jam-laced marzipan wrapping makes it fit for both fancy occasions and tea time.
Sponge Cake, Bakewell Tart, Simnel Cake, Madiera Cake, Swiss Roll
Spotlight Ingredient: Marzipan
Marzipan, a thick paste created of ground almonds and sugar, is more widely known for its ability to be morphed into whimsical shapes than as a covering for cakes. The paste originated in Persia, but not for today's culinary purposes. According to the records of Rhazes, a well-reputed doctor who lived from 850 to 923, it was originally used as a healing salve .
The first recorded instances of marzipan in England appear around the middle of the 15th Century, when it was known as marchpane. (Marzipan arrived in the Mediterranean much sooner, perhaps even prior to the Middle Ages.) The confection even makes an appearance in Romeo and Juliet, as a Servant remarks, "Good thou, save me a piece of marchpane!" Eventually, the German spelling as we know it today, marzipan, won out.
The use of marzipan on a Battenberg cake has a two-fold purpose. First, it plays into the cake's clear German heritage (the country fancies itself the marzipan capital of Europe) and also enables the sweet to have an ornate, decadent touch, as marzipan was fairly expensive to use even in small amounts.
Spotlight Region: Battenberg, Germany
It's quite curious, at first glance, that a quintessentially English cake has a name that pays tribute to a small German town. However, European politics and royal marriages can sometimes make the implausible have (somewhat) sense.
The cake was created as a wedding gift for Prince Louis of Battenberg and Princess Victoria (granddaughter of Queen Victoria) and paid tribute to England's newest royal family member by using his last name as the title of the confection. Due to the rise of anti-German sentiments across England during World War I, the prince eventually changed his family name to Mountbatten. The Battenberg Cake, however, lives on.
According to popular lore, in 1884, the marriage of Queen Victoria's granddaughter, Princess Victoria of Hesse-Darmstadt, to Prince Louis of Battenberg called for a celebration cake of royal proportions. The sweet created, Batterberg Cake, spoke to both British taste and German aesthetics, with a design that reflected German rococo architecture and ingredients (such as apricot jam) that were popular with the English palate. The interior pastel colors—yellow and pink—are still traditionally seen in cakes today, with the four checkered blocks said to represent the four princes of Battenberg.
While this tale is the general consensus around the cake's origins, newspapers and cookbooks indicate that there were a number of similar, checkerboard-style cakes emerging around the same time. Gateau à la Domino is a look-a-like baked good which makes an appearance in the Victorian housekeeping magazine, The Table, in 1898.
The checkered emblem displayed on the front of emergency vehicles across England are commonly referred to as "Battenberg markings."