19 March 2012
A Better Version Of Simnel Cake Than My Last Attempt
A year or so ago I made a simnel cake, but it came out rather squat and a tad heavy. The squatness was easily remedied with a smaller baking tin, while the texture was improved through using a lighter recipe with more eggs. I have, also, used an idea that was given to me, and the marzipan is incorporated into the cake itself rather than as a layer between two halves.
I made this cake on Saturday and we tried a few pieces today for Mothering Sunday. The fourth Sunday in Lent in England is Mothering Sunday. This celebration is based on the day's appointed old testament reading (Isaiah 66) for the Church of England, which includes the lines "Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be ye glad with her", combined with the day's new testament lesson (Paul's Epistle to the Galatians) which speaks of Jerusalem as "the mother of us all".
Combined with this, Mothering Sunday was the day when, prior to the First World War, servants were the given the day off to visit their mothers. In the Victorian period, some 50% of all employment was in domestic service, of which a goodly chunk was unmarried girls. These young women were given free rein in the kitchen to make a cake to show off their skills to their mothers, and so they devised a rich, fruit cake that they then carried home and it was stored until Easter, some three Sundays thereafter. This gave the cake ample time to mature nicely ready to be decorated with marzipan. It is worth remembering in these profligate times (if pretty austere economically) that fruits, nuts and sugar were relative expensive items back in the nineteenth century unlike today where they are comparatively cheap.
As for the marzipanning, the cake is topped with rich marzipan that is then baked to a golden brown, and around the top there are either 12 or 11 balls. I must admit to always decorating with 11 balls for the eleven disciples, although Elisabeth Luard says it should be 12 to signify the 11 disciples and Jesus, which may be more correct as it reflects the British superstition for the number 13 and is a lot easier to balance out on the top of the cake. The missing ball is for Judas Iscariot who is no longer a disciple by Easter.
The Steenbergs' Simnel Cake Recipe
250g / 9oz caster sugar
250g / 9oz ground almonds
2 medium free range eggs, lightly beaten
1tsp of almond extract
1 medium free range egg, lightly beaten (keep in mug or cup for the glaze later on)
110g / 3¾oz unsalted butter, at room temperature 3 medium free-range eggs, lightly beaten 110g / 3¾oz soft brown sugar 150g / 5¼oz plain flour Pinch of sea salt 150g / 5¼oz raisins 50g /1¾oz currants 150g /5¼ oz sultanas 55g / 2oz candied mixed peel 2tsp orange extract 2tbsp apricot jam 1tsp mixed spice ½tsp ground cloves 1tsp ground cinnamon
Pre heat the oven to 140C/285F. Prepare an 18cm/ 7 inch and quite tall cake tin, by lightly oiling it all over, then lining it with baking parchment.
To make the marzipan: place the sugar and ground almonds in a bowl, then add the 2 lightly beaten eggs and mix thoroughly. Add the almond essence and knead for a minute or two until it becomes smooth and soft. Divide the marzipan into 3 roughly equal portions.
Next, I start by preparing the flour and dried fruit:
- Sieve the plain flour, baking spices together into a mixing bowl.
- Mix the dried fruit together in a big mixing bowl either with a spoon or your hands. I prefer hands as cooking should be a tactile experience, but also it enables you to break up the fruit which is usually quite stuck together. Next add the mixed peel and spread that through the mix, using your fingers. Finally, I mix through 1tbsp of the flour mix, which will stop the fruit dropping to the bottom of the cake in the oven.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy in a decent sized mixing bowl using a hand-held electric whisk. Add the lightly beaten eggs and orange extract until well mixed together. Then add the flour-spices mix and mix together thoroughly.
Now take one of the pieces of marzipan and break into small chunks. Add these to the cake mix and gently fold into the cake batter, trying to keep them as intact as possible.
Spoon the simnel cake mixture into the prepared cake tin. Place into the centre of the pre heated oven and cook for one hour and thirty minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. After 15 minutes turn out and place on wire rack to cool down.
When cooled down, brush the top of the cake with the apricot jam. Next, dust a rolling surface with icing sugar and a rolling pin also with icing sugar (otherwise it sticks to everything), then roll out one of the remaining pieces of marzipan. Place this rolled marzipan over the top of the cake, cutting off the edges (they taste nice so enjoy these as a cook's perk). With the final third of marzipan, split it into 11 (or 12) equal pieces and roll into balls and place these around the edge of the cake. Finally, glaze the marzipan with the beaten egg.
Put the cake under a hot grill and brown the top of the cake lightly, then leave to cool.