Friday, 29 March 2013

S is for Simnel Cake

Simnel Cakes are very traditional in the UK.

Some stories speak to their heritage being linked to Lambert Simnel, one of the two pretenders to Henry VII's throne, given he ended up his days in a kitchen.

However since the cakes are referenced in 13th Century texts, a more certain history centers around the latin 'simila conspersa' which means fine white flour, still used to bake a celebratory cake.

The cakes were also not traditionally baked for Easter but for Mothering Sunday as a break from the austere Lent diet.  Daughters would bake the cake with its expensive ingredients (originally including saffron) and give it to their mothers.

Now, they're baked at Easter and typically have 11 (or 12) balls of marzipan on the top representing 11 apostles (plus Jesus) but excluding the traitor Judas.

Mine has a crown that harks back to the Shrewsbury version (historical picture below), but with the rest of the recipe obsolete, I use my family's recipe (now made over four generations)...

...and fill in-between the crown with some chocolate eggs:

  • 8 oz all purpose (plain) flour
  • 1 teaspn baking powder
  • 4 oz light brown sugar
  • 4 oz superfine (caster) sugar
  • 4 oz butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 oz mixed candied peel, finely chopped
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 4 oz pale sultanas
  • 3 oz red glacé cherries, quartered
  • 3 oz green glacé cherries, quartered*
  • 2 oz yellow glacé cherries, quartered*
  • 2 oz almond meal (ground almonds)
  • 8 oz tin pineapple chunks in juice, very well drained and finely chopped
  • 1 tbspn milk [optional]
  • 12 oz (shop-bought) marzipan
  • 1 tbspn apricot jam
  • 1 egg, beaten [for glazing]

  1. Heat your oven to 150°C (135°C if fan assisted).
  2. Line the sides and base of a deep 7 or 8" tin with baking paper and grease with butter.
  3. Reserve two tablespoons of the flour, before sifting together the rest with the baking powder. Set aside.
  4. Combine the reserved flour with the fruit/peel/zest and the ground almonds. Again set aside.
  5. Cut a third off the marzipan block and roll out in a circle to the size of the tin.
  6. In a mixer (much easier), cream the butter and sugars together until fluffy.
  7. Then crack one egg into the bowl and beat until combined.
  8. Add in half the sifted flour/baking powder and (gently) mix to combine.
  9. Beat in the other egg gently and once combined, add in the rest of the flour/raising agent.
  10. Pile in the fruit mix and fold in gently, loosening the batter with the milk if needed.
  11. Put half the batter in your prepared tin and smooth flat with your spatula.
  12. Layer the marzipan round over this, and press down gently.
  13. Spoon on the remaining batter and smooth till vaguely flat.
  14. Pop into the oven for 2 to 2½ hours depending on the size of your tin.
  15. Once the top is golden, the cake should be ready. Test^ and if it's a yes, remove from the oven.
  16. Leave to cool in the tin.
Now you can decorate the cake:
  1. Once cool, take the cake out of the tin, peel off the paper and put the cake on a flat baking tray.
  2. Heat the apricot jam gently in a small bowl in the microwave until melted and brush around the edge of the top of the cake where the crown will sit.
  3. Roll the remaining marzipan into a sausage shape the length of the circumference of the top of your cake and lay on the brushed jam.
  4. With your fingers, mould the sausage into a crown so that its outer edge is in line with the edge of the cake.
  5. Brush the marzipan crown all over with the beaten egg mix.
  6. Cover up the center of the cake with a foil circle to stop the cake itself burning
  7. Put the cake under a really hot grill, watching it like a hawk as it will catch quickly.
  8. Remove as soon as the marzipan is golden in colour with some darker coloration on the tips.
  9. Leave to cool for 15 minutes or so before filling the center with mini chocolate eggs, crystalized flowers (e.g. primulas) or a decoration of your choice.
* I buy my green and 'gold' glacé cherries online from Country Products since only red seem to available at the supermarket.

^ You can test either with a toothpick stuck in the top which should come out clean or if like me and you're a bit of a gadget queen, you can use a baking thermometer.  If your cake isn't cooked you can tell before decorating as it (like any fruit cake) will have sunk in the middle...

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