Simnel cake is traditionally made for Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent. Mothering Sunday in the UK is what we call Mother’s Day here in Australia, except we mark this day in May. A bit confusing!
I’ve been very interested in the Simnel cake, what it’s made of and its history. It’s a light fruitcake with two layers of marzipan, one layer baked in the centre of the cake, and one layer placed on top of the cake. The cake is adorned with eleven balls of marzipan, representing Jesus’ Apostles, minus Judas Iscariot. This last reference reminds us that this is an Easter cake, and can also be eaten during the Easter period and on Easter Day.
So I decided to make a Simnel cake for Mothering Sunday this Easter, Sunday 14 March. I have read many recipes for the cake, and eventually decided to adapt a recipe from the Hairy Bikers. I made a few changes to create my version of the cake. Whatever way you look at it, there are not that many ways you can make a Simnel cake – actually there is pretty much only the one basic recipe with a few adaptations! The link to the Hairy Bikers original recipe is here.
My version is baked in a slightly bigger tin than most recipes specify. I wanted a cake with a bigger diameter to serve more people. I used quite a lot of marzipan in order to get good coverage on the cake. I also went with blow torching the cake rather then putting it under a grill, as this was so much easier and you can control the heat source.
335 icing sugar
260g caster sugar
525g ground almonds
3 large free-range eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons apricot jam (to stick the marzipan onto the cake)
Juice and zest of an orange
Juice and zest of a lemon
500g sultanas, raisins and currants, in any mix you prefer
150g glacé cherries
225g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon each of nutmeg, ginger, allspice – any or all of these are fine, use what you prefer
3 large free-range eggs
175g soft butter
175g brown sugar
Make the marzipan first, as this needs to rest for an hour or so before it goes into the cake.
Sift the icing sugar and caster sugar into a large bowl, and then mix through the ground almonds.
Beat the eggs with the almond extract and lemon juice in a separate bowl. Stir into the dry ingredients with a large spoon or spatula to make a rough dough. Use your hands to continue to turn the mixture into a dough that is able to be rolled out.
Put some icing sugar onto a work surface – bench top or ideally a large wooden board. Knead the marzipan for a couple of minutes until it’s a smooth dough.
Put the marzipan dough into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave for at least an hour, preferably two, to allow the ground almonds to swell and absorb some of the moisture from the eggs.
For the cake, put the orange and the lemon juice in a small saucepan and add the dried fruit and cherries. Bring to a simmer over a medium heat and heat for two minutes, stirring until the liquid disappears. Be careful not to burn the fruit by cooking it dry. Remove from the heat and leave to completely cool. Putting the fruit into a bowl and sticking it in the fridge can speed things up if you’re short on time.
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C non fan forced, or 140 degrees fan forced.
Grease a 22cm spring form pan and line the base with two layers of baking paper.
Put the flour and spices in a large bowl. Whisk the eggs in a smaller bowl.
Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer such as a KitchenAid until light and fluffy and well mixed. Make sure all the mixture, even at the bottom of the bowl, is well incorporated.
Add the whisked eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. To stop the mixture curdling – this can easily happen when adding eggs to butter and sugar – mix in a tablespoon of flour after each egg addition.
Gently fold in the flour to the rest of the mixture by hand. Stir in the dried fruit and the orange and lemon zest. Spoon half of the mixture into the springform tin, trying to get a smooth surface.
Working with marzipan. Divide the marzipan into three equal balls. Weighing them is probably the best way to do this. Wrap two of the balls in plastic wrap to prevent them drying out.
Place a large length of baking paper on your work surface and dust with icing sugar. Put the remaining ball ono the baking paper and cover with another length. Roll the ball into a circle that’s bigger than the springform tin. You can check this by putting the cake tin on top of the rolled marzipan and making sure the marzipan is 1-2 cms bigger than the tin.
Now peel the top layer of baking paper off the marzipan and put the marzipan circle carefully on top of the cake mixture in the tin, then peel off the remaining base paper.
Put the rest of the cake mixture on top of the marzipan and smooth the surface.
Place the springform tin into the preheated oven and bake for about approximately 1 hour 30 minutes, or until the cake is golden-brown, and a skewer inserted into,the cake comes out clean. If the cake is browning quickly but is obviously not cooked, cover the top with some aluminium foil.
Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave it to cool in the tin for 15 minutes. Then remove from the tin, peel off the lining paper, put the cake on a wire rack and leave to completely cool.
Marzipan topping. This cake is best decorated using the bottom of the cake as its flatter. Turn the cake upside down and put onto a plate or board to allow you to decorate.
Place a length of baking paper onto the work surface with more icing sugar. Put one of the marzipan balls onto the paper and cover with another piece of baking paper. As before, roll the ball into a circle that’s bigger than the springform tin. You can check this by putting the cake tin on top of the rolled marzipan and making sure the marzipan is 1-2 cms bigger than the tin.
Heat the apricot jam in a microwave on low, or in a small saucepan on low heat for a couple of minutes.
Brush the surface of the cake with the warm jam and cover with the marzipan circle. The circle should just hang over the edge of the cake. Press the marzipan gently onto the cake, easing out any lumps. You can neaten up any overhang that’s too long with a sharp knife.
Now take the remaining marzipan and roll it into eleven balls to represent the Apostles. Weigh the balls to make them uniform – 20g for small balls or 25g for bigger ones. In either case you will have marzipan left over – always welcome as a sweet treat.
Dip each ball into the warmed apricot jam. Position them round the outside of the cake.
Now for the fun part – get out your cook’s blowtorch and lightly scorch the marzipan topping and balls! Be careful not to overdo it. If you haven’t got a blowtorch, put the cake under the grill for a couple of minutes until scorched but not burnt.
Place the cake onto a serving plate or board. Put a yellow ribbon – traditional – around the cake. I went for a green ribbon, with its associations of the renewal of life, appropriate for the Easter season.