Lent’s over – crack out the Simnel cake!
There was a time when I didn’t have a sweet tooth. It seems hard to believe now but I know it’s true thanks to a quick flick through some old photos. Boy, motherhood sure does wreak some changes and, for me, a passion for cake (and my son, obvs) has been a major one.
That said, I was always partial to a large piece of Simnel cake at Easter (as opposed to a large piece of cake at any opportunity). It is a truly delicious piece of confectionary, heavy with both marzipan and symbolic meaning. Signifying the end of Lent and all the self-denial it entails, Simnel cake is choc-ful of all those luscious and previously off-limits goodies – sugar, juicy raisins, succulent sultanas, sugar, almonds, spices, candied peel, sugar – you get the picture. The foregoing ingredients are then assembled as a layer of gorgeous fruit cake, topped with a layer of gorgeous marzipan, topped with another layer of gorgeous fruit cake and then another layer of gorgeous marzipan (it’s ok, that’s the last layer, in case the mere idea was making your teeth hurt). The whole is then decorated with 11 little balls of marzipan (each signifying one of the faithful apostles) and any other Easter gimcracks that take your fancy – chicks, rabbits, mini-eggs – go wild, why don’t you!
Simnel cake was also traditionally given as a Mother’s Day gift by girls in service, when the poor little souls were granted a day off to visit said mama and forget all about blacking grates and generally having a jolly hard life. Or at least having a jolly hard life of a different kind to the one their mothers were probably having!
But back to the actual means of acquiring yourself a Simnel cake. You can, of course, always buy one. This holds true whether or not you subsequently make one yourself, as sampling as many different ones as you can makes for a valuable piece of taste comparison data. And who doesn’t love a good statistic?
Otherwise, try this lovely recipe:
• 1 ¼ lbs/ 560g ready made almond paste (***marzipan)
• 1 lb/ 450g dried mixed fruits (currants, raisins, sultanas, glace cherries)
• 3 oz/80g candied chopped peel
• 8 oz/ 225g all purpose/plain flour
• Pinch salt
• 1 tsp ground cinnamon
• 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
• 6 oz/ 175g butter
• 6 oz /175g fine/caster sugar
• 3 large eggs, beaten
• Milk to mix
• 2 tbsp apricot jam
Heat the oven to 325°F/170°C/Gas 3
• Line a 7 inch cake tin with parchment or greaseproof paper.
• Divide the almond paste into 3 and roll one portion into a round the size of the cake tin.
• Mix together the dried fruits and candied peel with the flour, salt and spices.
• In another bowl cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the beaten egg a little at a time – if it curdles simply add a tbsp of the flour and mix again, this should bring the mixture back together.
• Fold in half the flour and fruit and once mixed in fold in the remaining flour and fruit.
• Put half the cake mixture into the tin, smooth and cover with the round of almond paste. Top with the remaining cake mixture tin and smooth. 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 almond paste, again to the size of the tin and make 11 little balls with the remaining paste.
• Once the cake is completely cool, remove from the tin, brush the top with apricot jam and cover with the disc of almond paste. Place the 11 tiny balls of paste evenly around the edge and lightly brush with more jam. Place under a hot grill until lightly browned.
• Add any other Easter decorations you want to use.
And it’s my belief that a cake of this calibre should only be served on pretty china – I particularly like the lovely, spring colours of the Maxwell & Williams Enchante range. It’s available at all good online retailers.