I supposed there comes a point in every couple’s life together when they have to have ‘the’ conversation. We’d been dancing around the topic for a while, half talking about it without really acknowledging what we meant until, eventually, we sat down about a month ago to come to some sort of decision.

I am, of course, referring to the decision about where we are going to spend Christmas this year.


For the last few years, my boyfriend and I have settled into a very satisfactory Christmas routine. We spend a few days together at his parents for his birthday on 23rd December and then, on Christmas Eve, I’ve tended to return home for a few days with my family.  While it means that we’ve never spent a proper Christmas together, it has given us enough of the festive season as a couple and still allowed us to take part in our respective families’ traditions.

I had assumed that we’d do something similar this year not least because I’m not quite ready to cut the ties with the Christmases of my childhood yet.  It seems, however, that it hadn’t occurred to my boyfriend that we wouldn’t spend the whole thing together.

And so, whilst we will follow our usual routine of a couple of days with his family pre-Christmas, on Christmas Eve we’ll both travel back to London. We aren’t totally abandoning his parents though as they will come and join us with my extended family on Christmas Day.


While some may argue that moving in together or getting a mortgage are fairly big steps, this whole combining our families at Christmas thing is a whole new level of commitment.  It’s the final confirmation that we come as a package these days.


As regular readers will know, my contribution to the Christmas meal is something suitably indulgent for dessert.  Last year, it was this chocolate and salted caramel bundt cake which is still being talked about (by me, if no one else).  This year, as I’ll not just be serving my family but my boyfriend’s too, the pressure is really on.

There are a few requirements when it comes to our Christmas dessert – it has to be gluten free, it shouldn’t involve any kind of dried fruit (ugh), it should be both decadent enough to befit the finale to a Christmas feast but also light enough that everyone goes away feelingly only mildly uncomfortable.

Normally fancy-looking cakes are really not my forte. I have neither the skill nor the patience to recreate those works of art that I slavishly pin.  This year, I have decided to set my sights slightly higher.

My vague plan is for something like this but less pink and with less marzipan.   Alternatively, I’m just going to stick to the tried and testing traditional battenberg approach that you see in the pictures here.

A battenberg, for the uninitiated, is a fairly light, normally a bit almondy cake made from alternating squares of pink and white sponge all covered in marzipan. My Christmas version will be alternating squares of chocolate and vanilla (or maybe orange, I haven’t quite decided) sponge, all smothered in my favourite chocolate and sour cream frosting.


The finished cake looks fairly impressive when you slice into it but it’s actually not too much of a challenge, even for someone as unable to follow simple instructions as me.  I think the key to a successful battenberg is the little spell that the cakes spend in the freezer to firm them up. This makes cutting equal sized branches that much easier. The only other tricky part is ensuring that you divide your cake tin in two with enough layers of protection to stop your cake batters merging into one. A few bits of silver foil really comes into their own here.  Once you’ve done that though, it’s just a matter of simple construction work and a frosting that hides a multitude of sins.

chocolate and olive oil battenberg

I served this version when my boyfriend's parents came round for the tea and cake a couple of weeks ago (before it had been decided that they would come for Christmas) and we agreed that it worked very well. There is a lightness to the sponge which is a nice contrast to the richness of the frosting and a little dust of icing sugar over the top gives it a nice festive look.


    For the cake:
  • 135ml (1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon) extra virgin olive oil
  • 175g (7/8 cup) demerara sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 125g (1 cup) gluten free flour
  • 50g (1/2 cup) ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons apricot jam
  • For the frosting:
  • 100g (4 oz) milk chocolate
  • 50g (2 oz) dark chocolate
  • 120ml (1/2 cup) sour cream
  • A pinch of salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F (fan). There's no way I'm going to adequately describe how to divide a 20cm square baking tin into two but I'll give it a go... Take a piece of kitchen foil and fold it in half. Measure it so it's the same width as your baking tray and trim it so it will fit down the middle and hold its shape firmly. Using a few other small bits of foil, line the corners where the foil meets the baking tray to prevent any leakage. Finally, line each side of the tin with well-greased baking paper. There's undoubtedly a more professional way to do this but whatever.
  2. Hopefully, after all that, you haven't lost the will to live and you still want to make a cake. If so, whisk together the olive oil and sugar, add the eggs and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Fold in the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt.
  3. Divide the cake batter into two bowls of equal weight (or, you know, just sort of the same amount). Add the cocoa powder to one of the bowls and fold it through the mixture.
  4. Pour the vanilla batter into one half of the tin and the chocolate batter in the other half of the tin. Bake for about 20 minutes until firm to the touch and when a knife will come out clean if you poke it in the middle. Cool the cake in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
  5. At this point, I stuck my cakes in the freezer overnight. It makes the next stage way easier...
  6. Heat the apricot jam in a small pan until melted. Take your two cakes and trim them so they are the same width, length and height and then cut each piece into half, lengthwise. Using the apricot jam as your glue, place one of the chocolate cakes on the plate and stick one of the vanilla cakes next to it. Spread both cakes with more jam and place the remaining vanilla cake on top of the chocolate cake and vice versa. Wrap the cake up tight in a piece of baking paper and chill for half an hour.
  7. While the cake is chilling, make the frosting by heating the milk chocolate and dark chocolate in a pan over a very low heat (take it off the heat before it has fully melted and let it sit to finish the job to prevent is splitting. Add the sour cream and salt to the melted chocolate and beat until smooth and shiny.
  8. Frost the chilled cake with your sour cream frosting. Sprinkle with icing sugar/whatever you like before serving.


Frosting adapted from this chocolate and sour cream cake
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40 Responses to "chocolate and olive oil battenberg {gluten free}"
  1. This is gorgeous, Kathryn! I love the battenberg style – I’ve never made one before. If you do want to go for marzipan I made some chocolate marzipan years ago that I remember as amazing – though the icing here looks (and I’m sure tastes) lovely. I could dig straight into that top picture – is that whipped cream?

    & congratulations on the Christmas-merge!

    • kathryn says:

      Thanks Emma! Chocolate marzipan sounds interesting; I might see if I can fit in a trial before I need to actually make the cake! I think I actually dolloped creme fraiche all over the cake rather than whipped cream; I love the slight tartness against the richness of chocolate.

  2. Beautiful cake, Kathryn! As it happens, I’m having the exact opposite Christmas experience this year as Paul and I won’t be spending Christmas together – any of it – for the first time ever in our decade together. I’m traveling back to Canada to be with my family as my mother faces a complicated surgery in the days before Christmas, and I’m sending Paul off on our planned holiday by himself (at my insistence). It’s going to be a strange one, on many levels. The silver lining is that my siblings – all four of us – are going to be in the same place at the same time for a handful of days, and much, much cake will be eaten. I’ll definitely add this cake to the list of potentials.

    • kathryn says:

      Oh Katie, what a tough way to have to spend the holidays. You definitely need all the cake you can get your hands on xo

  3. Ooh, it’s like a battenburg chocolate log! Amazing :-)
    I’m totally with you on the no dried fruit for Christmas thing so this looks right up my street. And I’m spending my first Christmas with Luke’s family so it’s all change for me too, eek! x

    • kathryn says:

      Ah! Christmas is such a time of routine & tradition in my family that the idea of changing what we usually do seems so overwhelming!

  4. Sophia says:

    Dang that is a pretty cake! And love the ingredients too – you cannot really go wrong with olive oil, almonds and cocoa powder for me! I also like how this elevates such a classical cake to something really elegant and modern while still stunning to look at.

    As for Christmas, we have the same discussion every year, not helped by the fact that my family lives in Germany while my bf’s family lives in Italy. Last year we were both in Germany but this year it looks like I will be heading home by myself and he will stay here – like you I cannot yet imagine Christmas without my parents and while for him it seems less of a big deal his mum is definitely happy to have him home again this year!

    • kathryn says:

      Thank you Sophia : ) I think it’s always difficult with trying to balance what you want to do with what parents etc might want you to do. I’m sure my boyfriend’s parents are sad that he won’t wake up there on Christmas Day but hopefully we’ve come up with some sort of compromise.

  5. This is so pretty! And looks awesome. Love the recipe!

  6. Beautiful beautiful cake. And I know what you mean about the ‘coming as a package’ thing as well. It’s a weird moment, that’s for sure.

  7. Tieghan says:

    Such a gorgeous cake. It is perfect for any Christmas party!!

    And congrats on taking that extra big step! :)

  8. Erika says:

    This cake is so lovely! Congrats on the “big step”! I remember the first xmas that my husbands family (who is extremely conservative) and my family ( who are by all accounts extremely strange) spent together. It was a bit awkward at first but it turned out to be one of my best xmas memories and that was almost 12 years ago.. :)

    • kathryn says:

      Ha, I think my boyfriend is quite worried about how it will all turn out but I’m hoping that everyone just embraces the Christmas spirit and it turns into one big joyful occasion!

  9. Skye says:

    There is just so much about this cake that I love that I don’t know where to start… For what it’s worth – yes, yes, yes, to the peekaboo cake and a no, no, no to the funny pink colour (and slightly stale looking icing). And then, oh my goodness, love chocolate and olive oil. Oooh – and the addition of the almond flour. All so very exciting.
    There is a square tin that they sell at Lakeland that has these nifty little dividers so that you can make multiple smaller cakes of whatever rectangular/square shape you like in it all at the same time – might help with the keeping the two colours of cake batter separate?

    • kathryn says:

      Ooh that does sound useful! If I decide to keep it log-shaped, I might well invest as that sounds so much easier than faffing around with bits of silver foil!

  10. Ha! I didn’t see the Christmas talk coming when I read the first few lines, but it makes total sense now. And this cake! stop it. so gorgeous.

  11. Angharad says:

    Beautiful! I’ve always wanted to try my hand at a Battenberg. This one looks so classy. Love the colours – and much prefer the idea of this flavour combo. Yum.

    • kathryn says:

      I admit the flavour combination is mainly because I find it hard to embrace any kind of cake that doesn’t involve chocolate somewhere ; )

  12. This is beautiful!! I remember the first holiday that Ben and I spent ENTIRELY together – it was a huge step in my eyes. I love my family traditions, but I think you’ll find your new traditions will be just as special. :) Especially if it involves this stunner of a cake!

  13. First, this cake is beautiful!
    But second, congrats on figuring out the BEST way to spend the holidays together. I think figuring out how to holiday is the most stressful thing for couples. You’ve got it right: combine the two!

  14. Caz says:

    It’s years since I had battenburg. This looks gorgeous and since I am also gluten free it’s wonderful to see a recipe I can easily make. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with your boyfriend!

  15. Ashlae says:

    I can’t part with the Christmases of my childhood, either (nor can my Oma as she still hires a dude dressed up as Santa to come hand out gifts) (mind you, we’re all in our mid-late twenties) – but I totally lucked out because Thom’s family is scattered across the States so they rarely get together. Which means we go to my family every. single. Christmas.

    Also, I really want to eat that photo with the splash of creamy white goodness. COME TO MAMA.

  16. This looks fab Kathryn! I’m with you on the no mincemeat – blurgh!

  17. Erin says:

    Holidays are so hard to figure out when you have more than one family to consider! Luckily, both of our families live in town, although this has created some pretty crazy Christmas Days trying to see and open gifts with everyone!
    This cake is so gorgeous and looks delicious! Seems like a perfect holiday dessert to me. :)

  18. It’s always difficult trying to fit in two families into all of the holiday celebrations, and at some point combining them together seems like the perfect solution. Congrats on big step!
    Now this cake, it looks fab! I have memories of eating battenberg cake that we would purchase a Marks and Spencer’s which has closed here in canada probably at least 2 decades ago. But still to this day I can almost taste it…however, I’m positive yours tastes a zillion times better!

  19. I loved reading about how you and your boyfriend have worked out the whole situation. Every year we have the same discussion in my family because everyone wants to spend Christmas at home but also wants to see their boyfriends/ girlfriends. Up until now we’ve all spent Christmas at home, but I think things will change soon because me sister got engaged last month. So I assume, in the future, she will want to spend the holidays with her husband. I’m already excited to see how my mom will deal with the fact that one of kids might not be at home for Christmas.
    Anyways, this is such a lovely recipe. Reminds me a bit of a cake my mom and sister made many years ago which was a pain to make.

  20. Whoaaaaa! This is one awesome cake, lady. I really want to try this over the xmas break… and then eat it all in bed. Too gluttonous?

  21. Joanne says:

    The.Boy and I had THAT talk first for Thanksgiving and then again for Christmas. It’s more stressful than almost any other talk!! We are going to my mom’s for Christmas Eve and his parents for Christmas day, though my mom is invited there also. So we shall see! I’m also a bit anxious about what dessert to bring. This Battenberg is quite a beauty once cut into!

  22. I’ve never heard of this cake but it sounds like something I would love! I also am devoted to a sour cream chocolate frosting. Good luck with combining your families this Christmas :) Happy holidays!

  23. Kasey says:

    My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas so this whole dance was a bit easier for me, but I’ve always cherished Christmastime with my friends – when everyone ‘comes home.’ Since Matt’s family is from the Midwest, I inevitably miss this time, and at the beginning it was really tough and sad. But, bringing families together is a pretty special thing. I, too, am always in charge of the sweet. This looks delicious! x

  24. Awww, the Christmas merge is definitely a huge step! And this cake is absolutely stunning! Chinese take-out is on the way but I’d much rather stuff my face in this!

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