Easter Simnel Cake
This is a new angle on a traditional recipe. Simnel Cake was not originally baked at Easter but on Mothering Sunday as a kind of mid-Lent treat. Somehow or other it got postponed until the great feast of Easter itself – which, in my book, is precisely where it deserves to be since it makes the perfect family treat for a bank-holiday weekend. This version is baked with chunks of marzipan interspersed in the cake mixture, which melt deliciously into the fruit. Once baked, a thin layer of soft icing is added as a background to a simple toasted marzipan trellis pattern. We've also borrowed the Christmas idea of using a jar of mincemeat in the mixture, which, as everything gets mixed in about five minutes flat, helps to make the whole thing blissfully easy.
|1 x 100 g pack whole blanched almonds|
|1 x 500 g pack golden marzipan|
|8 oz (225 g) plain flour|
|3 level teaspoons baking powder|
|1 rounded teaspoon mixed spice|
|5 oz (150 g) light soft brown sugar|
|5 oz (150 g) butter, well softened|
|2 tablespoons milk|
|3 large eggs, beaten|
|1 egg yolk, beaten|
|1 x 411 g jar mincemeat|
|12 oz (350 g) mixed dried fruit|
|2 oz (50 g) whole candied peel, chopped|
|grated zest 1 orange|
|grated zest 1 lemon|
|icing sugar for dusting|
|1 x 250 g pack ready-to-roll icing|
|1 dessertspoon redcurrant jelly|
|Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C) to roast the almonds, then lower it to gas mark 2, 300°F (150°C) when you come to cook the cake.|
|Need help with conversions?|
You will also need an 8 inch (20cm) round loose-based cake tin, greased with base and side lined.
This recipe is taken from How to Cook Book Three and Delia Smith's Book of Cakes and has also appeared in Sainsbury's Magazine (April 1996).
You need to begin by toasting the almonds to give them some extra crunch and flavour. So spread them out on a baking sheet and pop them in the pre-heated oven for 8-10 minutes. Don't guess the time, please use a timer – they need to be lightly toasted to a golden brown colour and you could end up with an expensive mistake if you try and guess! Now remove the almonds and reduce the oven temperature to gas mark 2, 300°F (150°C).Then, when the almonds are cool, chop them roughly.
Next unwrap the marzipan, cut the block into two halves, re-wrap one of them for use later and chop the remaining half into ½ inch (1 cm) cubes. Toss them in 1 tablespoon of the flour from the cake. Now for the cake. Take your largest mixing bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and spice in, then simply place all the ingredients, except the marzipan, icing sugar, icing, redcurrant jelly and egg yolk, into the bowl. Then, take an electric hand whisk for preference or, failing that, a wooden spoon, and give everything a really good mixing – which will take about 2-3 minutes – to get it all perfectly and evenly distributed. Finally, gently fold in the squares of marzipan and any remaining flour.
Now, using a rubber spatula, spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, levelling the surface with the back of the spatula. Place a suitably sized square of double greaseproof paper with a hole the size of a 50p piece in the centre over the top. Place the cake on the centre shelf of the oven and bake for 2¾-3¼ hours at the lower temperature of gas mark 2, 300°F (150°C). Have a look after 2¾ hours – the cake is cooked when the centre feels springy when lightly pressed. When it is cooked, leave it in the tin for 30 minutes before turning it out on to a wire rack to cool.
For the decoration, first dust a working surface with icing sugar and roll out the icing to the same size as the top of the cake (you can use the base of the tin as a guide here). Then brush the top of the cake with redcurrant jelly and fit the icing on top of the cake, pressing it securely all round and using a rolling pin to level it as much as possible. Trim off any overhanging pieces. Roll out the reserved marzipan to a rectangle about 9 x 6 inches (23 x 15 cm), then cut it into 12 long strips about ½ inch (1 cm) wide for the lattice topping.
Assembling the lattice goes as follows: first lay half the strips across the cake, leaving about ¾ inch (2 cm) gap between each strip. Then begin to thread the rest of the strips, one at a time, under and over the first ones, going at right angles. Finally, use some scissors to snip the overhanging marzipan away and press firmly all round to make the edges as neat as possible.
Now pre-heat the grill, and when it's really hot (it will take at least 10 minutes to come up to full blast), brush the marzipan strips with the egg yolk and place the cake under the grill, about 4 inches (10 cm) from the heat. Give it about 30 seconds, watching it like a hawk, until it turns a toasted brown colour. The cake is now ready to serve or be stored. It looks very pretty if you tie a ribbon round the circumference and decorate with some Easter flowers.
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Home-made mincemeat is dead simple to make and this recipe is particularly succulent and moist, as the suet slowly melts to coat the fruits, sealing in moisture and flavour.
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