Who would have thought that a cake could become an inspiration for a much talked about work of art by a famous contemporary British artist* and be the topic of many an article, including this blog , but it has. Then again we are not talking about just any ordinary cake. This is a cake with its own history and suffice it to say that in Great Britain we do like cakes and we do like history. Lovingly labelled as one of the minor British institutions ( I love that! ) the BATTENBERG CAKE is a favourite of mine. A true classic. Not only does it appeal to my sweet tooth (!) but it evokes many memories of my school days that never fail to bring a smile to my face.
* Brian Griffiths’ work ‘The Battenberg Cake’ was shortlisted for the coveted Fourth Plinth Commission in 2010, sponsored by the Mayor of London. The Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group shortlists and eventually chooses a monument that would be displayed on the ’empty’ fourth plinth on the Trafalgar Square for a year.
For those who have not yet discovered this unpretentious and regal ( and regal it is) cake, a brief description would be befitting. Simply, it is a light sponge cake. Rectangular in shape, it is wrapped with a thin layer of marzipan. No frills. No fancy decorations. The clever thing about this cake is that when cut in cross section it reveals a lovely chequered design of pink and yellow sponge squares glued together with a brushing of apricot glaze. Wonderful and so pretty.
Fast rewind back to the mid 70s…. A comprehensive school in North London. ‘Food and Nutrition ‘ GCE O’level class. Mrs Roberts is teaching us how to bake different types of cakes. Today’s cake is the Battenberg cake. The time is pre Mary Berry and pre Bake off. Mr Kipling is yet to become the household name (it ) is today. As always there is a prep talk. Mrs Roberts is as enthusiastic as always. The origin, the history etc.
The Battenberg cake was first made to commemorate the marriage of Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Princess Victoria of Hessee-Darmstadt to Prince Louis of Battenberg…hence the name. (Confession..had forgotten the names and had to research it). According to Mrs Roberts the pink colouring was probably chosen because of convenience ( at the kitchens of the palace? Surely not… ) as the food dyes were not readily available back then ( it was the late 1880s. Had to fact check that too)
We giggled a lot in those days. At anything and everything.However this story captured our imagination completely.I remember it distinctly. BUT we were not convinced about certain details ! The pink colouring in particular. We just wouldn’t accept that .We decided amongst us that it must have been the princess’s favourite colour. We wanted to hear that it was chosen specially for her…. or perhaps it matched the flowers in her bouquet. That sounded much more romantic. We were teenagers of the 70s after all. Life was more innocent then. Mrs Roberts did laugh at our analysis but if my memory serves me correctly she laughed even more at our failed Battenbergs. In a nice way. We all loved her dearly and she knew it. She loved us and we knew it.
I have baked , more correctly tried to bake a Battenberg Cake several times over the years with varying degrees of success. It makes me happy. Seeing it makes me happy as much as eating it !
It is a HAPPY CAKE. It is more than just a cake…For me anyway. Thank you Mrs Roberts.