I’m pretty sure that St Nigella herself would wholeheartedly agree with me that if you can’t unleash the kitsch at festive occasions, when can you? And whilst I’m in agreement with Giles Coren’s comments on why Christmas dinners should stay trad, I also think there is room in your Christmas for a little off-piste baking.
Think about it. Battenburg – name of German extraction (home of many a Christmas tradition); dates from the Victorian era (age of many a Christmas tradition); and is covered in marzipan (festive as fuck). Not only is this ripe for a Christmas adaptation but it is also an impressive-looking addition to your Christmas junk intake which is surprisingly low-effort.
Also, do you really need another recipe for mince pies?
Merry Christmas gentle readers, go forth and overeat.
A note on marzipan: I have made this with shop-bought marzipan and also home-made marzipan. Whilst shop-bought marzipan is easier to handle and ideal for covering cakes, home-made marzipan cannot be rivalled in flavour. Any cracks that appear are just going to be dusted over with a snowy drift of icing sugar, so worry not. I was lucky enough to inherit some home-made marzipan (middle-class much?) so it is easy for me to advocate the home-made version.
225g softened butter
225g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt (omit, if like me you use salted butter)
red and green food colouring
2 heaped tablespoons apricot jam
icing sugar, to decorate
Preheat your oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4 and prepare your tin. (This is the trickiest part of battenburg making, so once you get this out of the way you can breathe easy.) Using either a square or rectangular brownie tin, line using greaseproof paper and foil. What you want to achieve is a sheet of greaseproof paper which has a divider for the two coloured batters in the middle which is stabilised by some foil.
Trust me, this works. The sponge is a standard sponge, as used for a Victoria Sponge, which if you’ve ever made one, you will know that it is a not particularly loose or runny mixture. The foil stabiliser should be placed underneath the greaseproof paper (something which only occurs to me after making two battenburgs. They haven’t suffered for my foolish belated realisation, so rest easy, nothing is a baking disaster. Apart from overdoing it with the bicarbonate of soda.)
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract until smooth and fully combined, then mix in the flour and salt. Don’t be tempted to add milk to loosen the mixture – the food colouring will aid with this. Scoop out half of the batter into another bowl and add your red and green food colouring to each half. Be generous – you want the colours to be quite vibrant! Be warned, you will need to add substantially more green food colouring than you will red. An eye-watering amount in fact. Ignore your e-number fears and soldier on valiantly. It is Christmas after all.
Pour your prepared and festively coloured batters into your now-beautifully prepared tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until an inserted skewer comes out cleanly and it is firm to the touch. Leave to cool completely in the tin before removing.
Whilst you are waiting for your sponges to cool, roll out the marzipan to your desired thickness. I find that rolling it out on a sheet of greaseproof paper and dusted with either cornflour or icing sugar helps to defy any stickiness.
Heat up the apricot jam with a little water, either in a pan on gently in the microwave. If you can be bothered to sieve out the lumps, please do so but I have gone without this step and have not endured any sleepless nights or baking-related shame.
Now, to the construction. Using a large bread knife (or any knife with a serrated edge), finely trim off all the edges of the sponges, barring the bottom. Cut each sponge in half lengthwise and you now have your four battenburg squares, ready to be put together. Using a pastry brush and the apricot jam, glue the sponges together and to the marzipan. Add a dab of apricot jam to the joining seam of marzipan – this is the bottom of the battenburg. Using the bread knife, trim off the ends of the battenburg to neaten up.
Plate up, dust liberally with icing sugar and decorate with any garish Christmas decorations you can lay your hands on. I found some edible snowmen in a Christmas sprinkles pack and pushed two of them into the top of my winter wonderland battenburg. Serve whilst wearing novelty reindeer antlers and with mulled wine in teacups.