Girls working in service used to take a simnel cake home to their mothers on Mothering Sunday. As this day is the fourth Sunday in Lent, it became a popular Easter cake.
You can buy some marzipan or make your own almond paste to taste. Simnal cake is topped with eleven balls of marzipan representing the disciples. Judas doesn’t get a look in.
- 250g caster sugar
- 250g ground almonds
- 2 medium sized
- 1 tsp almond essence
- 175g butter
- 175g light muscovado sugar
- 175g plain flour
- 3 eggs
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp mixed spice
- 350g currants and sultanas
- 50g mixed peel chopped
- the zest of half a lemon
- 2-3 tbs apricot jam
- 1 egg for glaze
Some ingredients you can vary to taste: a little more lemon zest, which I do, less currants, some cherries – as you please. You know what kind of fruit cake you like.
So first, the usual prep. Preheat oven to 140°c (120° Fan oven) and line a 18cm spring cake tin with baking parchment, or grease the tin with a little extra butter and dust with breadcrumbs (gluten-free in my case)
To make the almond paste
Add beaten eggs to the caster sugar and ground almonds in a large mixing bowl and mix to a paste consistancy. Add the almond essence and mix in. The paste should be quite soft but not too soft. Sprinkle some icing sugar on a board and knead the paste until it is firm but pliable for 1-2 minutes then cover and put aside for at least an hour. This will alow the almonds to absorb the other ingredients better.
To make the simnel fruit cake
Place the butter and sugar into a mixing bowl or machine (not a food processor) and whisk until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, and then sift in the flour, mixed spice and salt in small portions until everything is well incorporated. Gently add the fruit and lemon zest and turn it into the mixture with a large spoon or spatula. You can toss the mixed fruit in a little flour before adding it, this helps to stop it sinking to the bottom of the mixture.
Pour half of the cake mixture into the cake tin. Level out the top with a knife or offset spatula and place a circle of the almond paste to fit 18 cm on top. Use about a third of the paste for this. Then add the rest of the cake mixture and smooth out again. The rim should be a little higher than the middle to allow for rising when baking. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 1 and 3/4 hours.
Then test to see if a skewer comes out clean. If so it is done an you can take the cake out to cool. Otherwise allow a few more minutes and don’t leave your cake and walk away. Burnt fruit doesn’t taste nice. Allow the cake to cool for about fifteen minutes in the tin and then turn it out. Let it cool completely. You could make the fruit cake the day before and the almond paste on the day you want to serve it. If the cake is not even on the top then you can turn it upside down for a more even surface to to decorate.
Depending on the consistency of the jam, warm it a little in a saucepan or in the microwave, this makes it go further when spreading. Then brush it onto the top of the cake evenly.
Divide the rest of the almond paste in half. Out of one half form another disc to cover the top of the cake with. Out of the rest form eleven balls. Don’t worry if they are not exactly the same size. The Disciples surely weren’t either. Place these evenly around the edge of the cake.
Brush the almond paste circle and the eleven balls with some beaten egg, then place the cake on a tray under the grill for 1-2 minutes, or until the almond paste starts to brown a little. You can also achieve this effect using a blow torch. But keep an eye on the cake so that it doesn’t get too brown.
Back in the day you used to decorate the cake by tying a yellow ribbon around it. With the trend towards naked cakes these days, I don’t think I would do that any more, but it is up to you. Make your own traditional Simnel cake.
Many variations of Simnel Cake
There are many different versions of this cake, many counties in England have their own recipes as do many families. You can learn of some of them and some very intresting facts about this cake in the following video.