TRADITIONAL EASTER SIMNEL CAKE
Simnel cake is a traditional cake, rich in fruit, spices and marzipan. Its consumption signifies the end of Lent. It is a symbolic cake, with marzipan balls representing the disciples, and, in some instances, an extra marzipan ball in the centre of the cake represents Christ too. Let’s start with the topping (no, it’s not an upside down cake, it’s just nice to get this part done first!):
- 450g marzipan (homemade or purchased)
- 450g finely ground almonds
- 2 cups (500ml) icing sugar
- 3 Tbsp (45ml) honey or syrup
- 1 tsp (5ml) lemon juice
- ½ tsp (2.5ml) vanilla essence
- 3 Tbsp rum, brandy or other liqueur of your choice
- Combine the ground almonds with the icing sugar. Add the syrup, lemon juice, vanilla and liqueur, and mix well. Add more icing sugar until the mixture holds together.
- Dust a cutting board with icing sugar and put the marzipan onto the board. Knead the mixture until it has the consistency of a stiff pie crust. Cut into three pieces and, one at a time, roll them out into circles.
- Place an 18cm cake pan on top of each circle and cut around the bottom of the pan. Take the last section and divide it into 11 pieces, rolling each into a little ball (each ball represents one of the disciples minus Judas). Use the marzipan offcuts to roll another ball which will be placed in the centre (to represent Christ).
- Now, let’s get to the baking:
- Preheat the oven to 140°C (275°F)
- 175g butter, softened
- 175g soft brown sugar
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 225g flour
- 75g glace cherries, cut into quarters
- 450g raisins, currants or mixed dried fruit
- 1 Tbsp (15ml) lemon zest
- 1 Tbsp (15ml) orange zest
- ½ tsp (2.5ml) each of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg
- pinch of salt
- 1 Tbsp (15ml) marmalade, warmed
- Place the cake pan on top of a piece of greaseproof or baking paper. Trace around the bottom of the pan and cut out a circle. Cut a strip of paper long enough to go around the inside edge of the pan and just to the top of the rim. Butter the bottom and sides of the cake pan. Place the paper on the bottom and around the sides of the pan.
- In a mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and brown sugar (using an electric beater if you have) or a wooden spoon. Add a beaten egg with 1 teaspoon of flour and mix well. Repeat this process twice more. Gradually add in the rest of the flour, a little at a time. Fold in the dried mixed fruit, cherries, spices, salt and citrus zest, mixing thoroughly. Add a little milk if the mixture is too thick.
- Put half of the cake batter into the cake pan and level the top. Cover the batter with one of the marzipan circles. Add the remaining cake batter on top of the marzipan and level again. Bake the cake for about 2 hours. If the cake seems to be browning too quickly, use a piece of aluminium foil to cover the cake until finished baking. Let the cake cool in the pan.
- Brush the cooled cake with some of the warmed marmalade. Place the second marzipan circle on top and brush with more warmed marmalade. Place each marzipan ball on top of the cake, around the outer edge. Put the cake into a hot oven (about 190°C) until the tops of the balls and marzipan circle begin to brown.
- Simnel cake is traditionally decorated with either fresh flowers or sugar flowers, or with Easter Bunny Icing Decorations or Easter Chick Icing Decorations.