It's Easter tomorrow, Yaaay!
I love (inter)national holidays, because there are always so many traditional and/or fun recipes to try. Some come out year after year, like mince pies at Christmas, and some I'll only fancy making once in a while, like stigmata cookies/cupcakes. This year, I decided to make a simnel cake as it's a particular favorite of my Dad's.
Simnel cake is a light fruit cake, covered with almond paste and then toasted. Traditionally eaten around Britain and other parts of Europe at Easter, it is decorated with eleven balls of marzipan to represent the eleven nicest apostles, while Judas is left out. I nearly put twelve balls, because I think Judas got a bad rap but for the sake of tradition, I stuck with eleven.
Drew, of course absolutely hates fruit cakes of any kind, but I'm making him Olive Magazine's Baileys cheesecake so he can't complain. He calls raisins 'rabbit turds' and when I gave him the mixer paddle and bowl to lick he shouted "Dried fruit has no place in a cake! Neither does candied peel or simnels, whatever the hell those are!"
I have adapted a recipe I've used before to make a 23cm cake in a spring-form cake, as I much prefer a normal cake size than one of those teeny little 7" fellas.
Traditional Easter Simnel Cake
Serves 11, 50 minutes work, 90 minutes cooking
For the almond paste:
300g (10.5 oz) golden caster sugar
300g (10.5 oz) ground almonds
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
2 free-range eggs, beaten
For the cake:
200g (7 oz) soft, light brown sugar
200g (7 oz) butter at room temp
3 1/2 free-range eggs* beaten
200g (7 oz) plain flour (all purpose)
1/2 tsp mixed ground spice
133g (4.5 oz) raisins
133g (4.5 oz) sultanas (golden raisins)
133g (4.5 oz) currants (Or any mixture of the above three dried fruits to equal 400g (14 oz)
65g candied Italian peel (chopped)
zest of 1 lemon, grated
3 tbsp apricot jam
1/2 free-range egg*, beaten
*beat these four eggs together.
First, make your almond paste. Stir the ground almonds and sugar together well and then pour in about half of the eggs. Use a wooden spoon to stir the egg in well, and add a little more egg at a time, stirring well to combine until you have a cohesive mixture about the consistency of Play-doh. You may need all of the egg, you may not. Stir the almond extract in well and knead the ball for a few minutes with your hands. Remove a little less than a third of the paste and roll out between two layers of cling film into a disc the same size as the bottom of the cake tin you're using- use it as a guide/template and trim away any excess leave the disc on one of the layer of cling film. Put the remaining almond paste in clingfilm and keep it in the fridge til later.
Turn your oven to 140C (285F) with the shelf in the centre and grease and line the bottom and sides of a 22cm/9" spring-form cake tin.
In the bowl of your mixer (or with electric beaters) cream together the softened butter and sugar for several minutes, until pale and fluffy.
Add the beaten eggs, approximately an egg at a time, making sure that each addition has been incorporated well before adding the next. Add 3 1/2 eggs to the mix, keeping about half an egg back for later.
Stir in the ground spice and the lemon zest, then sift in the flour. Stir until just combined, then add the dried fruit and candied peel. Stir through well enough to evenly incorporate the dried fruit into the mixture and then stop.
Spoon half of the mixture into the bottom of the cake tin and spread into an even layer, about 2cm (nearly 1") thick and then carefully lay the disc of almond paste over this layer. If you leave the paste on one layer of the cling film and use that to move it and lay it down, it will make things much easier, just lay it paste-side down and peel the film off. Use your fingers to carefully press the paste to the inside edge of the tin.
Spoon the rest of the cake mixture on top of the almond paste and spread into an even layer, then create a little dip in the centre, which will prevent the cake from being domed when it rises.
Bake in your preheated oven for 1 hour, 30 minutes until golden brown and fragrant and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for ten minutes before removing the outside of the cake tin and allow the cake to cool to room temp. When cooled, carefully remove the base of the tin and the baking parchment and put on your serving plate. Keep the round bottom piece of parchment.
Separate 180g (6 oz) of the almond paste and set aside, then roll out the remaining almond paste into a ball, flatten between two layers of cling film and roll out to the size of the cake, using the bottom piece of parchment as a guide. Remove the top piece of cling film and place the parchment round crumb-side-down on top of the disc of paste. Use the rolling pin to gently press the parchment down then use a sharp knife to trim off any excess around the outside edge (add the trimmed off bits to the remaining ball of paste)
Spread the apricot jam all over the top of the cake, keeping about 1 cm (1/2") away from the edge. Then, peel the parchment off of the almond paste disc, then using the bottom layer of cling film carefully lay the paste on top of the cake. Leave the cling film on for a second and use the rolling pin to very gently smooth/flatten out the top. If any of the apricot jam oozes out the side, just wipe away.
Weigh the remaining almond paste and divide into 11. Roll each amount into a little ball and arrange evenly-spaced around the outside edge of the cake. To make the little crimped edge, dip two finger tips in icing (confectioners) sugar and press gently all the way around the outside edge, dipping in icing sugar, as needed to prevent sticking and pulling.
Brush the entire top of the cake with the remaining beaten egg and then heat your grill as high as it will go. Pop the cake under the grill for about a minute, until beginning to brown and bubble, turning once if need be to make everything even. You can also accomplish this with a brulee torch if you have one. (Mine died :-( )
Absolutely best when served with a hot cup of black tea with a little milk in.
P.S. (April 4th) Dad loved this cake. I know it's possible that he might be ever so slightly biased, but he swore it was the best simnel cake he'd ever had. I kept a couple of slices back and sent the rest home with him. I'm still angling for that pasta maker :-)