I really like fruit cake and marzipan, but I’ve never made a Simnel cake before. These are traditional in the UK at Easter, apparently since Roman times, and the 11 marzipan balls on top are supposed to represent the 11 apostles (minus Judas).
Mildred is obviously a one-woman cake-baking factory. Her recipe makes two or three cakes depending on size, so I adapted it slightly, since for one thing I only have one suitably sized cake tin. I halved the recipe and then converted it to metric since my scales don’t do pounds and ounces. Note: if you are doing this with a recipe, always sit down and do the sums on paper first, then check your maths, and keep the paper by you when you are measuring. I have messed up a couple of times by doing this in my head as I go along and forgetting to halve some vital ingredient!
Then I twiddled the fruit a bit to suit what I had: no glacé cherries, so I used a mixture of sultanas, raisins, a few chopped dried apricots and prunes, candied lemon and orange peel, and dried cranberries. Then in a flight of fancy I popped in some diced candied papaya. We don’t give sweet sherry house room here, so instead I soaked the fruit overnight in lemon juice and a glug of Monbazillac — it smelled gorgeous while it was soaking. Oh, and I didn’t make my own almond paste — you can buy very good soft marzipan here, so I used that.
If you want the original recipe in pounds and ounces, pop over to Fiona’s blog. If you want to see loads of cute photos of guinea pigs and hedgehogs, visit Mildred’s site. Otherwise, read on for the recipe.
Makes 1 7-inch cake
225 g butter at room temperature
225 caster sugar
3 medium eggs
110 g raisins
110 g sultanas
110 g other dried fruit, chopped if necessary (currants, cranberries, apricots, prunes …)
55 g glacé cherries or dried cranberries
55 g mixed candied peel
2 tbs sweet sherry or dessert wine
juice and grated zest of 1/2 a lemon
200 g plain flour
55 g ground almonds
1/2 tsp mixed spice or 4-épices
2 tbs apricot jam or jelly
225 g soft marzipan
Put all the dried fruit, including the peel and roughly chopped cherries, in a bowl with the finely grated lemon zest. Marinade the fruit by pouring over the sherry or wine and the lemon juice — ideally leave it overnight, but you can use it straight away.
Preheat the oven to 160 C. Line a deep 7-inch cake tin with greaseproof paper (I used a spring-form tin and lined it with silicon liner).
Stir together the flour, ground almonds and mixed spice in another bowl. Lightly beat the eggs in a jug together with a teaspoon of cold water.
In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar until pale, light and fluffy. As Mildred says, you need to do this very thoroughly, so sit down and work at it! Then add the eggs a little at a time, beating well. If the mixture starts to curdle, add a few tablespoons of flour between each addition of egg. Stir in the rest of the flour/almond mixture followed by the mixed fruit, stirring thoroughly to distrinute it evenly. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top.
Place the tin on a baking sheet. Mildred advises tying a strip of brown paper round the outside with string to stop the cake burning, but I didn’t have any, so I just trusted to the silicone liner. Put the cake in the oven and set a timer for 1 hour. Check at this point and if it’s browning already the oven is a bit too hot — turn it down a little and cover the top of the cake with a circle of greaseproof paper. Continue to cook for an hour; test for done-ness with a skewer and cook for another 15 minutes if the skewer doesn’t come out clean.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly on a wire tray before removing from the tin and allowing to cool completely. When cold transfer to an airtight tin for storage.
You should really make the cake a couple of weeks before Easter, and “feed” it a couple of times by brushing sherry or wine over the top and sides, as you would with a Christmas cake. I made mine just a few days before, but still fed it once.
To decorate for serving: take your marzipan and roll it out into a circle about 4mm thick, a bit bigger than the cake (if necessary use a very little icing sugar to stop it sticking to the surface or the rolling pin). Warm the apricot jam and brush a thin layer over the top of the cake. Lay the circle on top and roll it lightly with the rolling pin to make it stick. Trim flush with the edge of the cake using a sharp knife. Use the trimmings to make 11 small balls, by simply rolling pieces in your hands. Arrange them as symetrically as you can round the edge of the cake, using a little dab of apricot jam to keep each in place. Then use a blowtorch to very lightly brown the top of the cake and the apostles. If you don’t have a blowtorch, you can put the cake under the grill, but be very careful because it will burn easily.