I love Easter because there’s a whole host of recipes I don’t get an excuse to make the rest of the year (aside from an excuse to eat mammoth quantities of chocolate). I’m particularly fond of marzipan so love a thick slab of simnel cake. I will confess to having an aversion to glacé cherries (they’re the devil’s work!) and in pretty much every single recipe that requires them I’ll find an alternative. In this instance, I just add some extra raisins or sultanas which I also find makes the cake a little juicier, which can only be a good thing! That said, I’ve included the recipe here in its original form so you can decide for yourself.
- 225g sultanas
- 100g currants
- 50g mixed peel
- juice of 1 lemon (optional)
- 50 ml brandy (optional)
- 50 ml orange juice (optional)
- 225g soft butter
- 225g light muscovado sugar
- 4 eggs
- 225g self-raising flour
- 100g glacé cherries, rinsed in hot water, dried and quartered
- grated rind of 2 lemons
- 2 teaspoons mixed spice
- 450g good quality marzipan
- 2 tablespoons of apricot jam
- 1 egg beaten, to glaze
Two days before you intend to make the cake place the sultanas, currants and mixed peel in a bowl with the lemon juice, brandy and orange juice, mixing it well and leaving to one side for the fruit to soak up the liquid. This will produce a much moister cake when baked, but can be done on the day if necessary.
Pre-heat the oven to 150C/Gas 2.
Line the base and sides of a 20cm deep round tin with silicone paper.
Measure the rest of the cake ingredients in with the fruit and beat well until thoroughly mixed. Put half of this mixture in the bottom of the cake tin and level it off so that it is as flat as possible. Divide the marzipan into three equal parts and roll out one piece into a circle 20cm diameter, and put it on the top of the cake mixture. Gently spoon on the rest of the mixture, levelling the surface again.
Bake for approximately 2½ hours until brown, well risen and firm to touch. Allow to cool for 15 minutes and then turn out to cool on a wire rack.
When the cake is cool, warm up the apricot jam in a small saucepan and brush the top of the cake with it. Roll out half of the remaining marzipan to the size of the top of the cake. Press it down firmly and push the edges down with your thumb to crimp it round the sides. Roll the rest of the marzipan into eleven balls (see Trivia below). Brush the top of the marzipan with the beaten egg and place the balls evenly around the outside, brushing the tops of the balls as well. Place the whole cake under a hot grill until the marzipan turns a light golden colour.
Instead of grilling to get that golden topping, I find it easier to just use a cook’s blowtorch.
The period of Lent anciently observed by Christians as a fast in preparation for Easter meant that eggs were one of the banned foods. Using up the eggs before Easter gave us pancakes, but the hens continued to lay throughout Lent. The egg-rich Simnel cake was one way of using quickly the eggs that had accumulated during Lent. Simnel comes from the Latin simila, the word for fine wheat flour. The decoration of 11 marzipan balls represents Jesus’ Apostles who witnessed his resurrection at Easter (discounting Judas Iscariot who betrayed him).