|Traditional Easter Simnel Cake|
Simnel Cake is an Easter classic that comes at just the right time after Christmas to fill the need for a good fruit cake with a generous covering of marzipan on top. If you like marzipan and I fall into the 'love marzipan camp' then this cake is an extra special treat for you. The traditional topping is of 11 round marzipan balls to represent the 11 faithful apostles with Judas Iscariot excluded. Years ago it was baked by girls in service in large houses to take to their mothers on Mothering Sunday, which falls in the middle of lent. As we no longer live in Downton Abbey times it has become a cake to serve a couple of weeks later on Easter Sunday.
As ever I have a few tricks and twists to save save pennies and a little bit of time. Forget about buying separate quantities of currants, raisins, sultanas and mixed peel – the leftovers will end up lingering in our kitchen cupboards and by Christmas will have become a dry sugary mess. Simply buy a packet of mixed dried fruit and have done with it. The cheapest supermarket ranges – value/basics/savers/essentials or whatever else they want to call them – are absolutely fine. Once baked in a cake you will never know the difference.
If you don't use a lot of marzipan then don't bother with buying a whole jar of apricot jam for the glaze unless you really like it and think you are going to use it. Any preserves will work as what you are looking for this something sticky to glue the marzipan. If you have none at all some supermarkets sell the small jars of jams that you find in hotel breakfast rooms and cafés serving afternoon tea.
Equipment: 7in (18cm) loose-bottomed, deep cake tin. Line it with reuseable non-stick liner, paper liner, parchment paper or grease well. Rolling pin for the marzipan.
6oz (170g) Baking spread
6oz (170g) Demerara sugar
3 Large free-range eggs
6oz (170g) Self-raising flour
10oz (285g) dried mixed fruit to include mixed peel
3oz (30g) Glacé cherries, rinsed, quartered, dried and tossed in some of the flour
1 tsp (5ml) Lemon extract
1 tsp (5ml) Ground mixed spice
Filling and topping
A pack of golden marzipan (usually weighs around 454-500g)
Icing sugar for rolling out the marzipan
2 tbsp (30ml) jam
1 Egg white
1. Pre heat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2.
2. In a large bowl put all the cake ingredients in and mix well until all the ingredients are combined. If you find it hard to stir the mixture use an electric whisk on the slowest setting.
3. Cut the marzipan block into three equal blocks.
4. Dust a flat surface with the icing sugar and roll out one of the marzipan blocks so it is the size of the cake tin bottom.
5. Put half of the cake mixture into the tin.
6. Carefully lay the marzipan round on top of the cake mixture. Gently push the sides down so you can't see any more of the cake.
7. The remaining cake mixture should be put on top of the marzipan.
8. Bake for around 1½ hours and then check that the top isn't burning or cooking too quickly. If it is then cover with some greaseproof paper.
9. Bake for another 45 minutes. Check it is cooked through by inserting a skewer and seeing if it comes out clean.
10. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for a bit before turning out and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.
11. Once cooled roll out another block of the marzipan like before as this is going to cover the top.
12. Heat the jam in a small saucepan so it is just warm and starts to get a bit runny.
13. Brush the top of the cake and then place the marzipan on top.
14. With the last block of marzipan roll it out to a long sausage shape and cut into 11 equal pieces. Roll each of these into a ball.
15. Brush the bottom of each of the marzipan balls and place around the edge of the cake.
16. Decorate the marzipan as you wish – you can press the edges down to form a frill or score the top lightly with a knife in a diamond pattern.
17. Beat the egg white lightly to loosen it and then brush the marzipan topping with it.
18. Heat the grill and place the cake under it.
19. Keep an eye on the grill as it burns very quickly!
20. Remove when the marzipan is just coloured.