Simnel Cake

April 17, 2014 § 4 Comments

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I am a big marzipan fan. Big. If marzipan was an early 1990s boy band, my walls would be plastered in its posters and I’d be in the front row of all its concerts. But it doesn’t seem to feature in my life very much these days (much like 90s bands and their paraphernalia, thank goodness) – barring an occasional box of marzipan fruits or similar at Christmas. So when my friends requested Simnel Cake for their joint birthday party last weekend, I was more than happy to oblige.

You may be forgiven for never having heard of Simnel Cake, especially if you’re located outside of the UK. To bring you up to speed: it’s a light fruit cake, sandwiched with a layer of marzipan, and then covered in a second layer of the stuff. If you’re being traditional, you include 11 little balls of marzipan on the top too, representing the 12 apostles minus naughty Judas. The cake is commonly associated with Easter and all its sweet treats, but it actually originates from Mothering Sunday, when young girls who had left home to work, often in kitchens or as maids (think Downton…), had the chance to go home to visit family, and took this kind of cake back with them as a treat. So not only is this is a delicious, moist cake, you can pretend you’re in Edwardian England when you’re enjoying it with a cup of tea – from the finest china of course – alongside.

I used a Nigella recipe for my first attempt at this cake, and I can say that I don’t feel any need to try other version, ever. It’s perfectly moist and fragrant, very easy to assemble, and keeps extremely well for a good few days. Make it for this coming weekend as a contrast to all that chocolate, or if you’re in the US, turn history and tradition on its head and make it for Mother’s Day next month while you enjoy a Downton marathon with your mom.

Simnel Cake
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast

A note: Nigella’s recipe calls for 1kg marzipan. 1kg! See above all my comments about how much I love marzipan, and less than half of this amount was plenty for my tastes. Your call.

100g glace/candied cherries (NB I used brandied maraschino cherries)
500g mixed dried fruit (my ratio was about 1/2 raisins, 1/4 currants and 1/4 dried cherries)
175g soft unsalted butter
175g sugar
zest of 1 lemon
225g all purpose/plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
25g ground almonds
3 large eggs
2 tbsp. milk

2 tubes/approx. 400g marzipan
confectioners’/icing sugar for rolling
1 tbsp. apricot jam

1. Bring the butter and eggs to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F. Butter and line the bottom and sides of a 20cm / 8 inch springform cake tin with a double layer of brown baking paper. Finely chop the cherries and set them aside mixed with the rest of the fruit.
2. Using a stand mixer or wooden spoon, cream the butter and sugar until very soft and light, and add the lemon zest. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and ground almonds.
3. Add 1 of the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar with 2 tablespoons of the dry flour-and-spice ingredients, then beat in the remaining eggs in the same way. Beat in the rest of the dry ingredients until just combined, and then the milk – try not to overbeat at this point. Finally fold in the fruit.
4. Dust a surface with a little icing sugar and roll out about 200g of the marzipan. Cut it into a 20cm / 8 inch circle which will fit in the middle of the cake later – keep the trimmings from the circle to one side to use for the little marzipan balls later. Spoon half of the fruit cake mixture into the cake tin, smoothing it down with a rubber spatula, and then lay the marzipan circle on top of it. Spoon the rest of the mixture into the tin on top of the marzipan circle and smooth the top again. Bake for half an hour and then turn the oven down to 150°C/300°F for another 1½ hours or until the cake has risen and is firm on top. Let the cake cool completely on a rack before you spring it open.
5. Unspring the cooled fruit cake, and unwrap the lining from the cake. Roll out another 200g circle of marzipan (again reserving the excess edges), paint the top of the cake with the apricot jam, melted if need be, and then stick it on.
6. Make 11 apostle balls out of the remaining marzipan. Mine stuck onto the cake with no assistance, but if you need you can use beaten egg white to help the balls adhere.

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