I’m starting with a disclaimer again this week – I will not be eating any of this cake, so cannot faithfully report on what it tastes like. I can’t abide marzipan, so the very idea of this one turns my stomach. But the husband – and, it turns out after considerably testing during the baking process, the daughter – loves the stuff. I’ve been promising to make him this cake for years. This year seemed like a good one to actually keep that promise.
Simnel cakes date back centuries, possibly to medieval times. Steve Roud, in his excellent book, The English Year, quotes a poem from 1648 that mentions them in connection with Mothering Sunday. Traditionally, these cakes were taken home as gifts by girls working away, who were allowed home to visit their mothers on the mid-Lent Sunday.
These days, they’re more popular at Easter, often decorated with eleven balls of marzipan on top, to represent the disciples, minus Judas. And since we have a family gathering on Easter Sunday this year, I thought it would be a good time to make it for lots of other people to eat, so that the husband and daughter don’t feel obliged to gobble all of it. Aren’t I kind?
I used the recipe I found on a British Food website, but there are loads of variations on the cake around.
- 560g ready made marzipan
- 450g dried mixed fruits
- 80g candied chopped peel
- 225g plain flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 175g butter
- 175g caster sugar
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- Heat the oven to 325°F/170°C/Gas 3
- Line a 7 inch cake tin with parchment or greaseproof paper.
- Divide the marzipan into 3 and take one portion and roll it to a round the size of the cake tin.
- In a large roomy baking bowl mix the mixed dried fruits, peel with the flour, salt and spices.
- In another large bowl cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the beaten egg to the butter mixture a little bit at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Carefully fold in half the flour and half the fruit into the egg and butter mixture, once incorporated repeat with the remaining flour and fruit.
- Put half of the cake mixture into the tin, smooth and cover with the round of almond paste. Put the remaining cake mixture into the tin and smooth the surface carefully. Bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour.
- Lower the heat to 300°F/150°C/Gas 2 and bake for 3 hours until the cake is golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.
- Roll another third of marzipan, again to the size of the tin. Make the remaining marzipan equally into 11 tiny balls.
- Once the cake is completely cool, remove from the tin and brush the top of the cake with apricot jam and cover with the disc of marzipan. Place the 11 tiny balls evenly around the edge. Brush the marzipan all over with a little apricot jam and place under a hot grill until lightly browned.