Baking challenge: a technical coffee-walnut Battenberg

I am falling slightly behind on the baking challenge – I have actually mostly caught up to my posts and now I just have to press on with the actual baking. However, I have been distracted by watching the actual Great British Bake-Off, series four, and by September, which is a busy month at work and personally (birthday!). It’s good fun, even though I kind of regretted starting this challenge when I saw they had to make filo pastry in this series. It looks so hard to roll it out thinly! Surely making filo at home is only for the slightly mad?

Unlike filo pastry, the Battenberg cake – a Mary Berry recipe and the technical challenge for the first episode, second series of GBBO – was actually quite easy to put together, even if my result wasn’t entirely even. I have seen The Hairy Bakers make Battenberg cake in a dedicated specialist tin with metal strips dividing the pan. Although I am not really one who needs much convincing when it comes to buying single use kitchen appliances and accessories, I mentally drew the line at a Battenberg cake tin. I do not like Battenberg cake very much and only made it for this baking challenge. Fortunately, Mary Berry is made of sterner stuff and provides instructions in her recipe for constructing your own cake divider out of baking paper. She says baking paper, but I think that you will need some foil-lined baking paper to create a sturdier divider, just as they used on the show (you can buy it at Lakeland, as noted below, which also appears to stock half the show just based on a brief glance at the GBBO set and Lakeland shelves). Presumably Mary recommended plain old baking paper as it’s easier to get hold of.

Despite the need to construct things with baking paper and string (I didn’t bother with the string. String? Do people keep that around? I may be adult enough to wipe up spills, recycle empty wine bottles and keep a little stash of rubber bands in my cabinets…but not enough to hoard kitchen string. Sorry Mary).

Incidentally, I thought I’d mention my favourite GBBO round-ups from the Internet. GBBO, by its nature genteel, charming and likeable – with equally likeable ‘characters’ whose loveliness is often approvingly contrasted to contestants on The Apprentice – with fairly low stakes (I mean, we are talking baked goods rather than heart surgery, and winning a trophy and a bunch of flowers) lends itself to some pretty funny, good-humoured writing. The dramatic incidental music and editing also leads to wry commentary, as does Paul Hollywood’s oft over-the-top judging. Some of the funniest writing on the GBBO has come from forums and blogs.

Most of the main newspapers do round-ups/summaries/recaps/what-have-yous of the GBBO, but I like The Guardian’s the best: funny, affectionate, and lacking the occasional sneering that some recaps from other newspapers have featured (not mentioning any names, of course…). The Guardian’s blog reads like it was written by someone who actually likes the show, whereas some of the others seem to be written by people who disdain it rather.

I really enjoy the episode summaries from Stuck in a Book, which is primarily a literature/book-y blog. The writer started rounding up series three quite late in the series, showcasing a love for Sarah Jane, the vicar’s wife, and Cathryn ‘Oh-my-giddy-aunt’ Dresser, but it was worth the wait, and series four has been recapped. A blogging break was recently announced but there are plenty of episodes to catch up on. A favourite feature is the Official Andrex Puppy Most Adorable Mary Berry Moments.

A devastating though sadly short and one-off description of GBBO is available on a forum. Although only a paragraph, it’s a description that I have come back to time and time again. Paul Hollywood described as “a chubby bloke with a beard […] with a mafia-like ‘Do I amuse you’ stance” pops into my head every time they zoom in on him chewing. I can’t even read this out to my boyfriend because I laugh so much.

Coffee-walnut Battenberg
A few instructions changed and no faffing about with string, but this is Mary Berry’s recipe from the BBC site.

You will need a 20cm square baking tin, foil-lined baking paper (you can get this, apparently, at Tesco, though I got mine at Lakeland) and string (I didn’t use the string – I didn’t have any)

For the cake

  • 100g margarine
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g self-raising flour (I actually used self-raising because we randomly had one)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 50g ground almonds
  • a few drops vanilla extract (I used a capful)
  • 25g walnuts, chopped

For the coffee butter icing

  • 100g icing sugar
  • 40g soft butter
  • ½ tsp instant coffee
  • 1 ½ tsp milk

For the cake decoration

  • 225g white marzipan (I used natural as it just happened to be what I bought)
  • 5 small walnut halves
  1. Preheat the oven to 170C; grease the bottom and sides of a shallow 20cm square cake tin. Cut out a piece of foil-lined baking paper that is 7.5cm longer than the length of the tin and fold the paper in half widthways. Open out the paper and push up the centre fold to make a 4cm pleat (er, what? I did this by keeping it folded in half and then folding in half again). Line the base of the tin with this, making any adjustments to ensure the pleat runs down the centre of the tin making in effect two rectangular ‘tins’ within the tin. You may need to trim the baking paper with scissors for it to fit the tin properly.
  2. Beat the margarine, sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder and ground almonds with an electric mixer in a large bowl for about 2-3 minutes, or until smooth, slightly lighter in colour and glossy looking.
  3. Spoon slightly more than half the mixture into a separate bowl and stir in the vanilla extract and 1½ teaspoons of the milk. Set aside.
  4. Mix the coffee in the remaining 1½ teaspoons of milk, stirring until it has dissolved (you don’t need to heat the milk), then stir this into the other bowl of mixture along with the chopped walnuts. Spoon the vanilla mixture into one half of the tin and the coffee-walnut mixture into the other half. Level the surface of each half with a palette knife. Check the paper divider is still straight and in the middle.
  5. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is well risen, springy to the touch and has shrunk slightly from the sides of the tin (this took me about 25 minutes). Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then loosen the cake from the sides with a palette knife, turn it out, peel off the parchment liner and finish cooling on a wire rack.
  6. For the butter icing, sift the icing sugar into a medium bowl. Add the butter. Mix the coffee and milk together until the coffee has dissolved, and pour into the bowl. Beat everything together with a wooden spoon until soft and smooth. Set aside.
  7. Trim the crispy outer edges off the cooled cake with a serrated knife, then cut in half along the middle. Cut into four equal strips, trimming if necessary Lay one vanilla and one coffee-walnut strip next to each other, then use a little of the butter icing to stick them together. Spread a bit more icing on the top. Stick the remaining two strips together with icing and place them on top to create a chequerboard effect.
  8. Spread a little more icing over the top of the assembled cake using a palette knife.
  9. Roll the marzipan out, on a work surface lightly dusted with sifted icing sugar, into an oblong the length of the cake and sufficiently wide to wrap around the cake. Lay the butter iced side of the cake on the marzipan, positioning it so that when you lift up one long side, it perfectly covers one side of the cake (this way the join will be neatly in the corner) (eh, what? I did something vaguely resembling this, I reckon).
  10. Reserve a teaspoonful of the icing and spread the rest over the remaining three sides of the cake (not the ends). Brush off any crumbs from the marzipan and work surface. Roll the cake over in the marzipan, pressing to neatly cover it, then brush the corner join lightly with water, pressing it to seal. (Try to avoid touching the marzipan with wet fingers as they will mark it.) Turn the cake over so that the join is underneath. Trim a slim slice from each end of the cake to neaten and show off the chequerboard effect. Smooth the marzipan over with your hands so their warmth will give it a smooth finish.
  11. Sift over some icing sugar to lightly dust the top, then lay the walnut pieces down the centre, securing with the reserved butter icing. The original recipe suggests doing fancy things to crimp the marzipan but I was tired so I smoothed it over and went to bed.
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