Sunday, April 13, 2014

Recipe: An Easter Simnel Cake

Anyone who has been following my writing here or following my posts on Twitter will know how much I like my old skool baking. Whether it's a Coffee Cake with Irel coffee, Chester cake with a thick glossy coating of icing, or a simple Victoria Sponge; you just can't go wrong with the classics. When it comes to an Easter classic, the humble Simnel Cake has all but disappeared off the radar. It's a real shame as Easter wouldn't be the same without a nice slice of Simnel cake served up with a nice pot of loose leaf tea after a delicious Sunday roast dinner.

Traditionally baked by servant daughters who were working away from home, Simnel cake was baked as a gift for home on the fourth Sunday of Lent, traditionally known as 'Mothering Sunday', or 'Simnel Sunday'. The girls would bring home a Simnel Cake with fresh Spring flowers to their mothers (usually primroses or violets which are often seen decorating the cake too).

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 (the apostle who betrayed Jesus). In some recipes, you'll see the top of the cake decorated with 11 small mini Easter eggs which works very well to get kids involved in Easter baking. When baking for friends, I tie a little Easter ribbon around the outside and give it as a gift to family or friends on Easter Sunday which is always a welcomed change to chocolate!



This recipe is an old favourite which I still turn to every Easter. It's a method where you soak the dry fruits over night leaving you with more flavoursome and plumped-up mixed fruits. Once baked, rest the cake in an airtight container to allow the cake to mature before for a few days before decorating. The best thing about this recipe is you can have the cake ready days, or even weeks ahead of Easter Sunday leaving you to focus on the rest of your Easter planning. It is very simple to bake so enjoy and remember to double line the deep cake tin to prevent the cake from drying out while baking.


(Serves 10)

Ingredients

- 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

Decorating

- 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 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).

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.

- 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!