Friday, 24 October 2014

Bat 'n' Bird Cake... A ghoulish treat for Halloween???

Ok ... so my title may be a little misleading, but every time I hear Bat 'n' Bird Cake, I cannot help but laugh ... and in all truth this alternative version to a classic Battenburg Cake, which is based around the flavours of pistachio and vanilla has nothing specifically to do with Halloween other than the fact that bats and spooky bird-like creatures may be out and about on that particular night!

A classic Battenberg Cake consists of pink and plain sponge cake sandwiched together with apricot jam in a chequerboard pattern and encased in marzipan. (Have a look at my recipe for traditional Battenberg cake here). When you say Battenberg really quickly, and often when children say it - it sounds like Bat 'n' Bird Cake, which in many ways appeals to me far more than it's correct title!

For my Battenberg, I wanted to do something a little different to the usual pink and yellow version. Given that I am still experimenting with the big tub of pistachio paste that I recently bought, I knew that pistachio would definitely feature and that I would follow it through to flavour the marzipan. But I wasn't sure what would best complement the pistachio. Inspired by some books on Middle Eastern cookery, I toyed with the idea of using rosewater, but as I have mentioned in previous posts, I still remain to be convinced of the wonders of this particular flavouring! In the end, I decided to keep it simple and opted for vanilla.

Traditional Battenberg Cakes employ apricot jam to sandwich the sections of cake together and to attach the marzipan. I am a great lover of raspberry jam, so I used this instead for 'gluing' the cake together, but as I didn't want the marzipan to become stained by the colour of the raspberry jam, I used apricot jam to attach the marzipan.

Some recipes for Battenberg Cake use ground almonds in the cake batter and whilst these keep the cake from drying out, I find that they don't add much in terms of flavour to this type of cake. The batter that I use here, made by the creaming method with flour, eggs, butter and sugar, is light and moist and when wrapped in the pistachio marzipan keeps extremely well.
Assembling this cake is a little tricky, but I will admit that I have the ultimate 'cheat' as I have a special Battenberg tin which bakes the cake strips separately and to an exact width and length. This is such a great tin, and whilst it is not absolutely essential to have one, it does make assembling the cake so much easier.
I was delighted with how this cake turned out. It looks so pretty, but more importantly tastes delicious with its wonderfully intense pistachio flavour. I used pistachio paste for making the cake, but you can grind your own pistachios and use them instead (I give the various options in the recipe below). You won't get such a beautifully intense green colour, so you could add a scant drop of green food colouring/gel instead.
I have made my own pistachio marzipan here, but you can use standard marzipan, even a purchased version, if you'd prefer!


175g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
3 medium eggs
175g self-raising flour, sifted
25g pistachio paste OR 50g ground pistachios
1 tsp vanilla extract/paste
A drop or two of green food colouring if using ground pistachios
225g granulated or caster sugar
75ml water
100g ground almonds
75g ground pistachios
20g pistachio paste (optional)
1 egg white, lightly beaten
To assemble:
4tblsp raspberry jam, warmed and sieved
4tblsp apricot jam, warmed and sieved


1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.

2. If using specialist Battenberg tin, base-line with some baking parchment cut to size. Grease this and all the internal sides of the tin with a little butter and then lightly flour, shaking out any excess. If you don't have a specialist tin, grease and line the base and sides of a 20cm square cake tin, using baking parchment, but make a fold in the centre which stands upright and created a division so that the two differently coloured sponges can be baked separately but beside each other. Set aside Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Finally fold in the sifted flour, making sure that it is fully incorporated.
3. Put half of the mixture into a separate bowl and mix through the vanilla extract/paste. Mix the pistachio paste (or the ground pistachios and food colouring) through the other half of the cake batter.
4. Spoon the vanilla batter into one half of the prepared cake tin and the pistachio batter into the other half and bake in the pre-heated oven for 23-25 minutes until well risen and cooked through. Allow to cool in the tin and then turn out onto a wire rack.

5. Put the sugar and water into a medium-sized, heavy based saucepan and bring to the boil. Allow to bubble until the mixture reaches the 'soft-ball' stage (116C on a sugar thermometer). Remove the saucepan from the heat immediately, but stir continuously with a wooden spoon as it starts to cool and becomes a little cloudy. Tip in the ground almonds, ground pistachios, pistachio paste and egg white and mix well until everything is thoroughly combined. You should have a very stiff paste-like mixture at this stage. Allow to cool completely and then knead briefly on a work surface, lightly dusted with icing sugar and form into a ball. Cover with cling film and refrigerate until required.
To assemble:
6. Trim the cake so you have four even shaped strips or long-rectangle shaped pieces of cake (two of
pistachio and two of vanilla).

7. Brush the long side of one of the sponges with some raspberry jam and sandwich together with a strip of cake in a contrasting colour. Do the same with the other two pieces of cake. Sandwich the two pairs of sponges together to create a chequerboard pattern.
8. Roll out the marzipan (on a work surface dusted with a little icing sugar) into a large rectangle, roughly 40cm x20cm so that it is large enough to wrap around the outside of the Battenberg leaving the ends exposed.
9. Using the warmed and sieved apricot jam this time brush the top, bottom and sides (not the exposed ends). Wrap the marzipan around the cake, pressing it gently onto the sides of the cake brushed with apricot jam. Press the edges together so that they are firmly joined. Place the cake so the seam is on the bottom and trim to neaten by cutting a thin slice from each end of the cake leaving the chequerboard pattern exposed. Serve.

Serves 8-10.