Sunday, April 13, 2014

Recipe: An Easter Simnel Cake

A Simnel Cake is steeped in tradition with its origins dating as far back as Victorian times. Traditionally, a Simnel Cake was baked by servant daughters who were working away from home and would return home on the fourth Sunday of Lent, known as Mothering Sunday, or Simnel Sunday. On returning home, they would bring a Simnel Cake and fresh Spring flowers (usually primroses or violets which are often seen decorating the cake). In recent times, a Simnel cake has become associated with Easter Sunday, with the distinctive feature of this cake being the eleven rounds placed on top. Each round represents an 'apostle', excluding Judas Iscariot, who of course betrayed Jesus. In some recipes, you'll see the top of the cake decorated with 11 small Easter mini eggs (which is a great idea if you're baking this cake with kids). I bake the cake using the recipe below, tie an Easter ribbon around the outside and give it as a gift to family or friends on Easter Sunday (which makes a welcomed change from giving Easter Eggs!)

There are so many recipes for Simnel Cake but the recipe I use is an old one my grandmother shared in her small recipe book which I still turn to from time-to-time around at Easter and Christmas. Granny's method of soaking the dry mixed fruits in whiskey overnight before baking the cake is a tip I use too when baking Christmas Cakes or Wedding Cakes. It leaves more flavoursome, plumped up mixed fruits and you need to rest the cake in an airtight container to allow the cake to mature before decorating. This is great because you can have the cake ready days or even weeks ahead of Easter Sunday while decorating it last minute. It's a really simple cake to bake and it looks super served up with a nice pot of tea on Easter Sunday surrounded by family.

(Serves 10)

Shopping List

- 150ml Irish Whiskey
- 250g Plain Flour
- 175g Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
- ½ Tsp Baking Powder
- 1 Tsp Mixed Spice
- Finely grated zest of 1 Orange (or lemon if you prefer)
- 75g Glacé Cherries (quartered)
- 75g Chopped Candied Peal or Mixed Peal
- 450g Dried Mixed Fruit (Sultanas, Raisins, Currants)
- 150g Brown Sugar
- 4 Free Range Eggs (room temperature)
- 1 Tsp Almond Essence
- 200g Almond Marzipan

The Topping

- 400g Almond Marzipan
- 1 Egg Yolk (lightly beaten for glazing)
- Apricot Jam


1. Soak the mixed fruits in the whiskey for at least four hours but preferably overnight (stir the mixture regularly for an even coating). Preheat the oven to 150°C / gas mark 2. Double line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper and very lightly dust with flour. Discard any excess whiskey which may be left over in the bowl from soaking the fruits.

2. Sieve the flour, baking powder and the mixed spice into a bowl. Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the almond essence, gradually beat in the eggs one-by-one using an electric hand whisk, adding a teaspoon of flour with each addition to avoid the mixture from curdling. The mixture should be a soft dropping consistency (you may need to add in a tablespoon or two of milk to loosen the consistency).

3. Fold in the orange zest, cherries, candied peal and mixed fruits. Carefully spread half of the mixture in the tin before smoothing out the mixture with the back of a spoon. Roll out 200g of the marzipan on a lightly floured marble surface using the 20cm loose circle of a similar sized cake tin as a guideline. Gently place the rolled marzipan on top of the mixture in the tin and gently smooth it out evenly with your fingertips. Cut any excess marzipan from around the outside to leave an even layer of marzipan with no double layers.

4. Spoon in the remainder of the mixture. Level the top and make a very slight indent in the centre of the cake. Bake for 2¼ to 2½ hours until golden brown. The cake is ready when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean (inserted at an angle as there is a layer of marzipan in the centre). Allow the cake to completely cool in the tin before removing to finish the surface of the cake.
[At this point you can put the cake into an airtight container for a few days or even longer to allow the cake mature and get to know the flavours].

5. For the surface: weigh eleven pieces of marzipan each weighing 15g and roll each piece into eleven rounds. Place the rounds on a piece of greaseproof paper on a plate and allow to chill in the fridge until needed. Next dust your worktop and rolling pin lightly with icing sugar or cornflour before rolling out 200g of marzipan. Warm the jam, brush the top of the cake gently with the warmed jam and gently place the marzipan over the cake, cutting the edges with a sharp fruit knife to form an even single layer of marzipan on the surface.

6. Score the top of the cake to make diamond shapes, brush the top of the cake evenly with egg wash and place ten rounds around the outside of the cake and one in the centre of the cake. Brush the tops of each round lightly with egg wash before placing on a heat resistant plate in the oven for 7-10mins. Keep a close eye on the cake for the final few minutes as it can turn from golden to black very quickly. (Alternatively, place the cake under a low grill or even use a blow torch but I find using the oven gives a better, cleaner and even finish).


If you don't want to use whiskey, plump up the dried fruits use boiling water instead and leave for an hour. Either way, plump up the dry mixed fruits otherwise your cake will become too dry.

- Ensure you are doubling lining your cake tin which will ensure the cake does not burn on the outside as it will be in the oven for over two hours.

- Store the cake in an airtight cake tin for at least 3 days but ideally a week before serving. The weekend before Easter Sunday is an ideal time to bake but it does keep for a month in an airtight cake tin.

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Contact me here if you want to chat about this recipe.
Photography: Jakub Walutek Photography with food styling from myself!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Recipe: Chocolate Mousse & Pistachio Biscuits

A classic Chocolate Mousse is a sweet treat which everyone enjoys and is so simple to whip-up the night before leaving you plenty of time to get on with other things. It's a treat which works well after a cosy romantic dinner for two, a small stress-free dinner gathering for friends or even an indulgent midweek comforting treat watching your favourite movie. This recipe calls for just three simple ingredients; cream, eggs and chocolate but it's good quality local free range eggs, good quality cream and quality chocolate such as Lindt which will give you a really good chocolate mousse. If you're really out to impress then you can make it even more delicious by dipping homemade shortbread biscuits into your chocolate mousse. I've included a very simple recipe for pistachio shortbread biscuits below too which keep well for up to a week in a Kilner jar. A classic recipe made up of chocolate, pistachios, sea salt and some freshly baked biscuits - now there's a taste sensation. 


For the Chocolate Mousse:

- 125g Green & Black's Organic Milk Chocolate
- 125g Green & Black's Dark Chocolate
- 250ml Glenisk Organic Cream
- Pinch of Sea Salt
- 6 Free Range Local Eggs (separated)

For The Pistachio Shortbread:
(Makes 18)

- 150g Odlums Plain Flour
- 100g Kerrygold Irish Butter (Cubed)
- 50g Tate & Lyle Caster Sugar
- 75g Unshelled Pistachio Nuts (Roughly Chopped)
- Sprinkle Sea Salt to decorate

Chocolate Mousse:

1. Bring a saucepan of water to a fast boil before turning down to a simmer and place a Pyrex bowl over the water ensuring it is not touching the water. Melt the chocolate in the Pyrex bowl completely and when melted allow to cool slightly before whisking in the egg yolks one by one until it becomes quick thick.

2. Whip the cream until it is softly whipped before gently folding in the chocolate mixture. In a spotlessly clean bowl whisk your egg whites until they form silky smooth stiff peaks and you can place your bowl over your head without any of the mixture dropping out. The egg whites will give air and a light texture to the mousse so it is important to ensure you are gently folding in the egg whites otherwise you will loose the light, airy consistency (try to use a glass Pyrex bowl when folding in the egg whites so you can see the bottom of the mixture).

3. Pour the chocolate mousse mixture gently into six glasses and place in the fridge for a few hours or better still over night because the longer you leave the mousse in the fridge the thicker your mousse will be.

Pistachio Biscuits:

1. Sift the flour with the sugar into a large wide bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture comes together (alternatively, just place everything into a food processor and whizz). It will come together just give it time but don't be tempted to add water or egg because it's really not needed.

2. When the mixture comes together form into a disc shape, cover in a single layer of cling film and place in the fridge for 30 mins to firm (or in a freezer for 10 minutes if you're in a hurry).

3. Preheat the oven to 180C or Gas 4. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper before rolling the mixture in between two layers of cling film to a width of around half an inch.

4. Shape with a biscuit cutter, sprinkle pistachio nuts on top, a sprinkle of sea salt and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown in colour but keep a very close eye on them after eight minutes as they go from light to golden very quickly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking tray before moving to an airtight container until ready to serve.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Recipe: A Classic Fish Pie

A warm comforting fish pie is one of the easiest and healthiest ways to feed a hungry family during these colder months. It's a recipe which is tasty, nourishing and best of all  it's possible to feed a family of four for under €12 using good quality ingredients. It's very easy to plan ahead too; if you want to make the fish pie mix the night before, place it in the fridge when the mixture is completely cooled and it will be ready to pop into the oven after a long day at work.

Sourcing fish direct from your local fishmonger is great value for money too and is the best place for the finest, freshest fish. A good fish mix with a selection of cod, paddock and salmon, coupled with a smokey selection of fish such as smoked haddock will give great results but only use about a third of smoked fish in the mix otherwise it will overwhelm the fish pie.

In this recipe, the fish is gently poached before adding in a simple béchamel sauce made using infused milk then thickened with a simple roux. It might sound like a bit of work but really it couldn't be simpler. What I like most about this recipe is that it has no artificial additives, preservatives or anything processed making it an ideal healthy meal. The final part of this recipe really finishes off this fish pie; it's the addition of two golden free range egg yolks into the potato mix leaving a really crisp, crunchy, golden brown topping.


Fish Pie Mix:

- 600g Fish Mix (eg: Cod, Salmon, Hake, Monkfish)
- 350g Smoked Haddock
- 2 Leeks (white part only, keep the green parts for vegetable stock)
- 125ml Glass White Wine (optional)
- 1 Tbsp Flat Leaf Parsley (chopped)
- 1 Tbsp Chives or Dill (chopped)
- Salt & Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Béchamel Sauce:

- 900ml Glenisk Organic Milk
- 1 Medium Onion (Sliced)
- 1 Carrot (Sliced)
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 5 Black Peppercorns
- A few Springs of Flat Leaf Parsley
- Roux: 65g Butter & 65g Plain Flour

Potato Topping:

- 1kg Potatoes
- 50g Butter
- 150ml Glenisk Cream
- 2 Free Range Egg Yolks (use the egg whites for a meringue)


1. Preheat your oven to 200°C /Gas Mark 6. Remove the pin bones from the fish and cut into small equal sized chunks (best to ask your fishmonger to do this for you). Bring the milk, carrot, onion, bay leaf, a few sprigs of flat leaf parsley and peppercorns to a fast boil before turning it down to simmer for a further 5mins. Take it off the heat and allow the vegetables to infuse for a further 10mins before straining through a sieve. Place the infused milk back on a high heat until it just reaches boiling point, add in the fish and turn down to a gentle heat for a further 10mins until the fish is gently poached. Using a slotted serving spoon, remove the fish from the pot and place in the pie dish.

2. While the fish is poaching, sweat the leaks by placing a dollop of butter in a pan and when it forms up add the leeks in with a little seasoning over a gentle heat for 5-8 mins until soft. Add in the white wine if using and allow it to reduce by half (add to the béchamel sauce later).

3. Boil the potatoes by bringing a large saucepan of water with a pinch of sea salt to a very fast boil. Scrub, wash and peal the potatoes cutting them into equal sizes and tip them into the boiling water and boil for about 12 - 15 mins until soft. Strain the potatoes, return to the pan adding in butter, the cream and mash well. Place the mashed potatoes through a ricer (if you own one) before mixing in the egg yolks with a wooden spoon.

4. While the potatoes are boiling make the béchamel sauce by melting the butter over a gentle heat, then add the flour and stir to a paste. Slowly whisk in the 600ml of infused milk and then stir with a wooden spoon until thickened. Add in the chopped herbs then the leaks and pour over the fish (if you think the sauce is too thick just add in a small bit more milk).

5. Spread the mash evenly over the fish mixture then shape the surface of the potato mixture with the tip of a folk and bake for 40mins. The fish pie is cooked when the surface is golden brown and the mixture is bubbling over the sides. Sometimes if I'm looking for a really comforting dish I sprinkle some cheese on top maybe some Parmesan, cheddar or Gruyère before baking for a really nice finish.

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Winter Warmer Recipes:

- Cream of Spinach, Rosemary & Blue Cheese Soup Recipe.
- Potato Gratin Recipe.
- Jerusalem Artichoke Soup Recipe.

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Copyright & Food Styling Dermot O' Sullivan