I am not sure whether Simnel cake was originally a cake made for Mothering Sunday in the UK or for Easter celebrations – whatever it's history it is a very yummy light fruit cake. Less dense with fruit than a traditional Christmas fruit cake, it also has a marzipan layer baked into the centre in additional to the covering. if you want to keep it truly traditional for Easter it has 11 marzipan balls around the edge (depicting the apostles, minus Judas, I believe) but I went down a jelly bean Easter egg route! I couldn't lay my hands on my blow torch to fire the top, so painted it will gold glaze.
There are tons of simnel cake recipes out and I have experimented with a lot of them. It is nice to make your own marzipan- especially for the inside layer. I actually have a lot of marzipan left over from my Christmas cake making marathon so I used that for the top and have to admit that it is easier to plait.
A dear friend bought me Fiona Cairns book Seasonal baking the other week for my birthday, so I dipped into that and tried her take on this classic. I made the marzipan in the Thermomix, and in truth the fruit cake could have been made in that too- just remember to switch the blades to reverse action once you have added the fruit!
If you are making your own marzipan, prepare this first. I think this makes enough, bought if you want to overload on marzipan you might want to increase the quantities!
Mix 200g ground almonds with 140g icing (powdered) sugar and 140g caster sugar. Bind together with an egg and drops of almond extract and lemon juice. You will need to divide it up and roll it into at least two 20cm discs. Keep some aside if you want to have decoration on the top.
for 20cm cake you'll need:
- 200g sultanas
- 80g currents
- 150g glacé cherries, chopped
- 50g fine mixed peel
- Finely grated zest of a lemon and an orange
- 50ml brandy ( or liqueur of your choice, or juice of the orange )
- 230g unsalted butter
- 230g light brown soft sugar
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 170g self raising flour
- 1 tsp each baking powder, cinnamon round ginger,
- 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
- 80g ground almonds
Soak the dried fruit, cherries, mixed peel and zest in advance. The longer the better, but at least 30 minutes.
Sift flour and spices together while beating the softened butter and sugar.
Gradually add the beaten eggs, followed by the flour mixture and soaked fruit.
Transfer half to a prepared pan, place marzipan disc on top followed by remainder of mixture.
bake for about 2 hours 160°C/325°F . Mine cooked for 1 3/4 in baking oven aga with cold shelf in place.
Keep a close eye on it towards the end, and cover if you think it is burning.
Once cool, spread with sieved apricot jam and place the other marzipan disc on top. Then use your imagination to decorate. Place under a grill if you like that effect or use a kitchen blow torch.