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Easter baking tradition seems to be much poorer than the Christmas time – or perhaps that’s just my limited knowledge. There is the wonderful Colomba which is the Easter equivalent of Panettone, but that’s about it, or is it?
Oh yes – the Simnel cake. Marzipan, dried fruit and syrup again, after the Lent abstinence. Traditionally it has marzipan inside, marzipan on top and even features eleven little marzipan balls or eggs to boot, apparently meant to represent the eleven apostles, Judas excluded. You can have the twelfth ball in the middle for Jesus.
On the other hand it transpires that the balls are a newer enhancement to the original recipe, which only had marzipan in the middle – sensibly so as it was probably pre-grill times, let alone blowtorch times. I decided to forgo the double marzipan whammy for fear that it would make an impossibly sickly end product – also I don’t have confidence in my grill, and my homemade marzipan needs to be cooked. A thinnish layer of cheerfully coloured icing went on top.
I must admit I didn’t trust this cake up till the moment of a forkful in my mouth. The (Guardian 'How to cook the perfect Simnel cake') recipe was too close to Christmas cake for comfort – which is not my favourite, to say the least. But this one is really tasty – and I’ve yet to make the alternative version with yeasty dough.
simnel cakeServings: 12-14Time: 3 hours
- For the marzipan:
- 100g (1 cup) ground almonds
- 100g (just under 1 cup) icing sugar, plus extra to dust
- 2 free-range egg yolks
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice
- For the cake:
- 5 tbsp. milk
- a good pinch of saffron
- 150g (5oz.) raisins
- 150g (5oz.) sultanas
- 40g (3 tbsp.) brandy, vin santo or white rum
- 50g (2oz.) bleached almonds
- 175g (1 1/3 cup) plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 45g (½ cup) ground almonds
- ½ tsp fine salt
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- 180g (1½ stick) butter, at room temperature
- 180g (1 cup) soft, light brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 tbsp. golden syrup
- zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
- 50g (2oz.) glacé cherries, halved
- 50g (2oz.) mixed peel
- apricot jam, to brush over the cake
- For the icing:
- 30g (2 tbsp.) caster sugar
- 25g (2 tbsp.) butter
- 20g (1½ tbsp.) lemon juice
- 110g (1 cup) icing sugar
1. Put the raisins and sultanas in a mixing bowl or a small zip lock bag. Heat up the spirits to almost boiling, pour it into the fruit and mix well. Seal the bag or cover the bowl and leave for a few hours, best overnight, to soak.
2. Make the marzipan: put the ground almonds, icing sugar and egg yolks in a bowl. Mix with a spoon, gradually adding the lemon juice, until the marzipan is smooth with a doughy consistency. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate.
3. Butter and line with parchment a 20cm (8 in.) deep cake tin. Prepare another disc of parchment the size of the tin to place on top of the cake, to stop it from burning. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/gas 2.
4. Warm up the milk and put the saffron strands into it to soak. Toast the almonds in a dry frying pan or in hot oven on a baking tray for 10-15 minutes until they turn golden. Cool and chop roughly.
5. Mix the flour with the baking powder, ground almonds, salt and mixed spice and put to one side. Beat the butter in an electric mixer, add the sugar and beat well until the mixture turns pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating continuously, alternating with a little flour mix. Beat in the rest of the flour, golden syrup, zest and the milk with saffron.
6. Drain the soaked fruit if necessary – but all the liquid should have been absorbed. Stir them into the cake batter together with the chopped almonds, peel and glace cherries.
7. Take the marzipan out of the fridge and roll it out on a surface dusted with icing sugar to a disc the size of your tin. Spoon half the cake batter into the tin, place the marzipan disc in and spoon the rest of the cake mix on top.
8. Smooth the surface with a spatula and place the parchment disc on top. Bake the cake for about 1¾ - 2 hours until a skewer inserted in the middle (not too deep because of the marzipan layer) comes out clean. Cool in the tin, unmold and brush the top and sides with the apricot jam warmed up slightly in a small pan.
9. To make the icing, bring the butter, caster sugar and lemon juice to the boiling point then pour over the icing sugar. Whisk to a smooth paste, add some yellow food colouring for extra Easter cheer. Spread the icing over the top of the cake with a palette knife, making sure no crumbs mix into the icing and spoil the effect. Leave to set.