Monday, March 18, 2013

Recipe: An Easter Simnel Cake

A Simnel Cake is steeped in tradition, with origins dating as far back as Victorian times. Traditionally, a Simnel Cake was baked by servant daughters working away from home who would return home on the fourth Sunday of Lent, known as Mothering Sunday, or Simnel Sunday, with 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 strategically placed on top. Each round represents an 'apostle', excluding Judas Iscariot, who as we all know betrayed Jesus. 

In some recipes, you see the top of the cake decorated with 11 small easter mini eggs which is a great idea if you're baking the cake with kids. I bake the cake as per the recipe below, tie a ribbon around and give it as a gift to family or friends for Easter Sunday which makes a 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. Granny used to sell cakes at the local Country Market every Friday and I still claim her cakes to be the best I've ever tasted! My grandmother's method of soaking the dry mixed fruits in whiskey overnight before making the cake is a tip I use too when baking Christmas 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 means you can have the cake ready days or even weeks ahead of Easter Sunday. It's a really simple cake to bake and it looks  sensational served up with a nice pot of tea on Easter Sunday.


(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



Method

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 by hand 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.

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 lightly with icing sugar or cornflower, roll out 200g of marzipan. Gently place 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).

7. Store 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.


Notes:

- 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.

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Photography: Jakub Walutek Photography