Posts Tagged ‘simnel cake’

A Better Version Of Simnel Cake Than My Last Attempt

Monday, March 19th, 2012
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“.

Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake

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

The marzipan:

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)

The Cake:

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

What to do?

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.

Baked Simnel Fruit Cake

Baked Simnel Fruit Cake

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.

Simnel Cake With Baked Marzipan

Simnel Cake With Baked Marzipan

Recipe for Simnel Cake

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Today is Mother’s Day and what a glorious sunny, Spring day it has been.  We gave Sophie a gorgeous bouquet of flowers – white roses, lilies and greenery – and went to church for a Mothers’ Day Service, a bit of a rarity for me.  I liked the sentiment which was that mother’s always have time for a smile for their children however exasperating, painful and annoying we can all be.  So thank you Mothers and Mums everywhere for being so tolerant, caring and loving.

Traditionally in Britain, today the fourth Sunday on Lent was the first day that girls in service at the big, posh houses of the gentry were allowed to go home and see their Mothers – this is back in the 17th and 18th centuries.  As such, they would bring home a demonstration of their skills learnt at their place of work – a rich and delicious fruit cake that became known as Simnel Cake. 

So today used to be called Simnel Sunday and then morphed into Mothering Sunday.  Originally, the cakes were decorated with 11 small paste balls, symbolising the 11 faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.  These cakes improved with eating and were best enjoyed at the end of the Lenten Fast or Lent and so they became associated with Easter to become the traditional Easter Cake.  Simnel Cakes are less often baked than a Christmas Cake but I feel they should be made as much of a tradition as the classic Christmas Cake.

Here’s how we made ours today:

Ingredients For Simnel Cake

Ingredients For Simnel Cake

Ingredients for the cake:

125g / 4oz butter
125g/ 4oz  dark brown muscovado sugar
3 free range organic eggs, beaten (they were discounted in Spar – bargain at 50p a half dozen)
150g / 5oz organic plain flour
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp organic Fairtrade mixed spice
350g / 12oz mixed organic raisins and sultanas (about 200g: 150g respectively)
50g / 2oz mixed chopped peel
Grated rind of lemon (I used orange today as I had no lemon and I am sure it will be fine)

For the marzipan or almond paste:

225g / 80z Fairtrade organic caster sugar
225g / 8oz organic ground almonds
2 eggs beaten
1 teaspoon Steenbergs Natural Almond Extract

To glaze the cake

A little apricot jam
A little beaten egg (just cadge some from making the marzipan as you don’t need much)

Prepare an 18cm (7 inch) deep circular cake tin by greasing and lining the base and the sides

To make the marzipan, mix together the caster sugar, ground almonds, Steenbergs natural almond essence and beaten egg and knead with your hands to a smooth pliable mix.  If it feels too gooey, just add a bit more almond and knead some more.  Roll out a third of the marzipan  – almond paste – into a circle and set aside.  Reserve the remainder for topping the cooked cake.

Mixing Up The Marzipan Or Almond Paste

Mixing Up The Marzipan Or Almond Paste

Now put the oven on and preheat to 140oC / 275oF.

To make the cake, cream the butter and muscovado sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs a little at a time.  Sieve together the plain flour, sea salt and Steenbergs mixed spice together and add to the mixture alternately with the dried fruit, mixed peel and grated rind, mixing all the ingredients together.

Put half the mixture into the cake tin, then smooth the top and cover with the circle of almond paste.  Add the rest of the cake mixture and smooth the top, hollowing out a small hole in the centre.  Bake in the oven for 1½ hours.

When the cake has cooled, brush the top with apricot jam.  Now put the oven on and preheat to 180oC / 350oF.  Then with the reserved marzipan, roll 11 small balls (for the good disciples and definitely smaller than the massive balls that I made) and then roll out the rest of the almond paste over the top of the cake.  Now place the almond paste balls evenly around the edge of the cake.  Return the cake to the oven and bake for 10 minutes until the paste has gone slightly brown.

Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake

We then put some coloured speckled Easter eggs in the centre.  leave for a couple of weeks to mature and then eat and enjoy.