Battenberg or Battenburg is a light sponge cake held together with jam. The cake is covered in marzipan and, when cut in cross section, displays a distinctive two-by-two check pattern alternately coloured pink and yellow. The large chequered patterns on emergency vehicles in the UK are officially referred to as Battenburg markings because of their resemblance to the cake.
Charles Nevin wrote in The Independent: “Battenberg cake is exemplarily British. The first cake was baked in 1884 to celebrate Prince Louis of Battenberg marrying Princess Victoria, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter and Prince Philip’s grandmother.” Food historian Ivan Day refuted the royal connection, and states the simplification of the four-panelled cake occurred when “large industrial bakers such as Lyons” got in on the battenberg game – “I suppose a four-panel battenburg [a common 19th-century spelling] is much easier to make on a production line”.
Bakers construct Battenberg cakes by baking yellow and pink sponge-cakes separately, and then cutting and combining the pieces in a chequered pattern. The cake is held together by apricot jam and covered with marzipan.
While the cake originates in England, its exact origins are unclear, with early recipes also using the alternative names "Domino Cake" (recipe by Agnes Bertha Marshall, 1898), "Neapolitan Roll" (recipe by Robert Wells, 1898), or "Church Window Cake".
The cake was purportedly named in honour of the marriage of Princess Victoria, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, to Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. The name refers to the German town of Battenberg, Hesse, which was the seat of an aristocratic family that died out in the early Middle Ages and whose title was transferred in 1851 to Countess Julia Hauke on behalf of her marriage to Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine; then first Countess of Battenberg, afterwards Princess of Battenberg, known in Britain since 1917 as Mountbatten. Food historian Ivan Day refutes the royal connection, and states British bakers (“such as Lyons“) simplified the cake by creating “a four-panel battenburg” which “is much easier to make on a production line”.
According to The Oxford Companion to Food, the name "Battenberg cake" first appeared in print in 1903. However, a "Battenburg cake" appeared in: Frederick Vine, Saleable Shop Goods for Counter-Tray and Window … (London, England: Office of the Baker and Confectioner, 1898).
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- "Minor British Institutions: Battenberg cake". The Independent. 2010-11-13. Retrieved 2016-05-03.
- "How to make the perfect battenberg cake". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
- Cook, Sarah (March 2011). "Battenberg Cake". Good Housekeeping. BBC. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
- "Battenburg Cake - the Truth". Food History Jottings.
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- "Battenburg Cake History Again!". Food History Jottings. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
- John Ayto, The Diner's Dictionary: Food and Drink from A to Z (Oxford, England: Routledge, 1993), p. 22.
- Davidson, Alan, The Oxford Companion to Food, 3rd ed. (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 67.
- In the 1907 edition, see p. 136.
- Media related to Battenberg cake at Wikimedia Commons