THE CHECKERBOARD CONUNDRUM
The concept of a checkerboard cake has always intrigued me, but my brain just couldn’t wrap itself around its construction. Kind of like studying actuary tables – start explaining them to me and my head goes fuzzy and leaves the room. But back to the kitchen…
My task for this past St. Patrick’s Day celebration with our foodie friends was to make a “green” cake. The creative side of me immediately went to the checkerboard – two shades of green revealed in a lovely pattern once the cake was sliced. It would make a stunning presentation. But how was it accomplished?
After studying several recipes, mostly from the U.K. where the checkerboard cake is known as a Battenberg Cake, I decided to jump in. Within minutes I knew I was off piste – going down a slippery slope and heading for trouble!
American baking tins DO NOT coordinate in size with British sizes.
Americans like a fluffy cake. The British are used to a drier version. I think the drier cake allows the stacking action to hold tighter.
My food coloring didn’t include green, so I had to go back into my “art class mode and concoct the green out of blue and yellow.
All that withstanding, I did manage to make a cake. It was pretty, albeit a bit dry. And the apricot jam just didn’t cut it with my taste. Next time – raspberry jam is being used as the “cement” between layers.
So, here goes: the recipe and the building blocks. Please send me photos of your creations so we can all have a good chuckle together!
While the original recipe was British, and used a smaller baking tin than we have in America, I’m doubling the ingredients so the cake you make will be larger than you need. Just trim away and nibble on the leftovers! My recipe also included a wrapping of marzipan which I bought at my local British store. You may opt to eliminate this step if marzipan isn’t in one of your favorite food groups. Go directly to the buttercream frosting!
Mise en Place:
What You Need:
FOR THE CAKE:
8 ounces (2 sticks) very soft butter plus more for swiping onto baking tin
1 ½ cups sugar
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs plus
3 large egg yolks
1 cup buttermilk
FOR THE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter – very soft
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons whipping cream
Utensils and Tools:
Square baking tin – not too big – not too small – just right!
Measuring spoons and cups
Stand mixer with large bowl
Piping bag and petal tip
Jug to set piping bag in
PREHEAT OVEN TO 350F
Spread butter over base and sides of baking tin.
Cut a piece of foil to place in the tin. In the exact middle, lift the foil to create a divider. The tin should be in two equal parts, separated by the foil wall. If you break through the foil with your fingers while placing it, just smear more butter into those holes.
Flour. Baking Powder. Baking Soda. Salt.
Whisk in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Beat on medium in the stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Turn the speed to low and slowly add the eggs, one at a time and then then yolks.
Add vanilla and mix thoroughly.
Start adding flour and alternate with buttermilk until all are incorporated into the batter.
Separate half the batter into a medium bowl.
Add extract to the batter in one of the bowls and mix thoroughly.
Add coloring of your choice to one bowl and mix thoroughly. Or if you’re being really colorful, color both batters differently!
Spoon one batter into the baking tin, being careful to keep the foil wall straight. Then spoon the other bowl of batter into the other side. Smooth the surfaces and be sure the batter spreads into the corners.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cake is risen and the sides start to separate from the edge of the baking tin. Remove from oven and let cool a few minutes before turning the cakes out onto the cooling rack.
When the cakes are cool, cut the edges so they are straight, and then cut the cakes into 4 strips of equal size. Use your fingers to brush away any crumbs on the strips of cake.
Heat jam slightly. When warm, use the pastry brush and spread the jam over the tops of the 4 strips.
Stack the strips on top of one another, alternating the colors and creating your checkerboard.
Spread the jam on the sides of the strips and on the ends.
Set aside while you make the frosting.
Mix on low in the stand mixer until soft and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Turn to medium speed and mix for another 2-3 minutes.
Vanilla Extract. Whipping Cream.
Add to bowl and mix on medium for 1 minute. Mix for a bit more if you want a thicker frosting.
Separate frosting into two bowls and add food coloring to one, or both, depending on your decorating desires!
Coat the cake in your base color of frosting.
Place a piping bag fitted with the tip into a jug for balancing. Turn down the top of the bag to create a sleeve, and fill it with the decorative colored frosting. Open the sleeve, twist it closed and use one hand to guide the tip while using the other hand to push the frosting through.
The surprise to your guests is revealed when you slice into what looks like a simple cake. But you know the truth – the checkerboard cake is hardly simple!