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simnel tea bread

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Simnel cake

This is Simnel cake made with yeast dough – it appears that the Victorian version was baked thus, unlike the modern variety which, basically, is just like the Christmas cake sans so much booze and fruit. I am a sucker for yeasty dough – the best festive concoctions including Panettone, Colomba PasqualeStollen and Tsoureki are sweetened, enriched breads. Yeast then comes out, and I’d been very curious to compare this version with the ‘cakey’ Simnel (recipe here) that uses baking powder as raising agent, and not a lot of it.

The outcome? Very good albeit messy to eat, the middle-of-the-cake marzipan layer goes walkies a bit and half melts. When I first cut my still warm Simnel I thought DISASTER: collapsed undercooked squidgy middle. Not so – it’s the blasted marzipan bunched up somehow in the centre, having refused to stay in a tidy layer.

But the taste is great, perfect Easter Sunday breakfast and a good alternative to a buttered hot cross bun.

I borrowed the basics from Dan’s Bread, Cakes And Ale blog and the lovely idea of adding rose water to marzipan comes from The Daring Gourmet.

simnel tea bread


INGREDIENTS

  • For the marzipan:
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp rose water
  • For the cake:
  • 180g raisins or sultanas, or a mix of both
  • 40g port, sherry or vin santo
  • 15g fresh or 1 ½ tsp instant yeast
  • 180g milk
  • 200g strong white flour
  • 250g plain flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 80g light soft brown sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 60g glace cherries, halved
  • 3 heaped tbsp. apricot jam, for brushing
  • beaten egg

METHOD

To make the marzipan, mix the ground almonds with the icing sugar and add the rose water to the beaten egg white. Add the egg white to the dry mix, little by little, mixing it well with a spoon into a thick paste – if the paste looks too sticky, add a bit more ground almonds. Form a log, wrap in cling film and chill.

Marzipan

Heat the spirits almost to the boiling point and pour into a bowl or a zip lock bag with the dried fruit. Seal or cover and leave to soak.

Warm up the milk to body temperature and crumble in the yeast with a spoonful of sugar. Leave it for a few minutes to foam up. Skip this point if you’re using instant yeast – just add it straight to the flour.

In a large bowl or the standing mixer mix the flours, salt, sugar and spices. Crack in the eggs and pour in the milk/milk with yeast. Knead with the dough hook attachment for at least 10 minutes – if doing the kneading by hand start it off with a spatula or dough scrappers – it will be impossibly sticky. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes, then knead briefly, repeat that exercise twice more.

Add the diced butter and keep kneading or mixing until it’s all incorporated – it will eventually become more elastic and stop sticking to your hands or the sides of the bowl. Give it another 10 minutes’ rest and add the glace cherries and drained raisins (there should be hardly any liquid left). Mix the fruit in gently by hand, folding the dough on itself to distribute the fruit evenly but not to crush it. Place it in a bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for an hour.

Butter a large springform cake tin (23cm). Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide in two. Slip one half into the tin and pat down into a round to cover the bottom evenly.

Dust a work surface with icing sugar. Get the marzipan out of the fridge and divide in two pieces, one slightly larger. Roll the smaller piece out to a disc the size of your tin, dusting with more icing sugar if necessary. Carefully transfer the disc into the tin, then place the remaining dough on top and gently flatten to cover the marzipan.

Simnel cake layers

Place the tin in a plastic bag and leave to prove right up to the rim.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 5. Slide a baking tray on the middle rack. Place the cake in the oven on the tray and bake for 20 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180C/350F/gas 4 and bake for 20 minutes longer. Cool in the tin for 15 minutes and remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

Warm up the jam in a small pan and brush the cake all over the top and sides. Roll out the remaining marzipan and cut a disc, using the tin as a measure.

Simnel cake and marzipan topping

Transfer the disc on top of the cake and roll 11 balls out of the marzipan offcuts. Brush the top of the marzipan with beaten egg and stick the balls onto it in a circle. Place the cake under the grill for a few minutes, turning it round so it cooks evenly, taking care not to burn the marzipan. Leave it to set before slicing.

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