Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Simnel Cake

We spent Easter on the Isle of Wight at my parents' home. Lovely sunny days and catching up with family. My husband is still suffering with a slipped disc but we were able to manage a short dog walk together along the beach which was a small thing but so nice after five weeks of walking without him.

My Mum asked me if I'd bake the Simnel Cake. I was marginally disappointed as I absolutely LOVE my mother's Simnel cake and knew instantly that mine wouldn't match up. However, as I've never made one and it is possibly my favourite kind of fruit cake, I was up for the challenge.

Oddly, despite owning an entire library of cookery books, recipes for a traditional Simnel cake were few and far between. I found a few 'modern' versions including Simnel cupcakes and Delia's version which houses lumps of marzipan rather than the traditional disc in the centre. But I wanted a totally traditional version. This is what I've grown up with and this is what I wanted. I finally found a suitable recipe in Nigella's 'Feast'. I followed the recipe precisely and you can find it here.

Cake batter, then a disc of marzipan and then more cake batter

Originally the Simnel cake was baked to celebrate Mothering Sunday but, over the years, has become synonymous with the Easter celebrations. I like mine to be a good deal lighter than a Christmas cake and for it to have plenty of sweet spices. In an ideal world, I would make my own marzipan. It is so much better than the bought version. My mother usually makes her own and it makes all the difference to this cake. It sort of 'melts' into the cake whilst I found the middle layer of marzipan remained a little firm in this version. I also found the timings to be out - my cooker is usually pretty accurate but this cake needed a good 15 minutes longer. In fact, it needed longer than that. I took it out a little early and it sunk in the middle. If this happens, do as I did and simply turn the cake upside down before topping with marzipan. That way you have a nice flat surface to work with!

Take a little time witht the top of the cake. Roll out the disc of marzipan and glue onto the cake with some apricot jam. It looks nicest if you 'crimp' the edge by pinching all along the edge with your thumb and forefinger. Next, score a grid pattern on the top of the marzipan - the uneven texture on the top helps the marzipan brown when the blowtorch is applied. Arrange all the balls (apostles) on top of the cake before 'glueing' in position. It takes a little effort to get them all evenly spaces. Pick them up one at a time and glue into position. Sounds obvious but if you start glueing immediately, you may get to the end of your circle and still have two balls to fit in! Finally, brush the top of the marzipan (and the balls) with beaten egg and carefully brown with a blow-torch or under a hot grill. Go carefully as it is easy to burn the top!

However, despite these few niggles, the cake was delicious and well received. I'd make it again but next time would definitely go to the extra length of making my own marzipan.

The fluffy chickens are, in my mind, absolutely obligatory. I can't imagine Easter without them. You may feel different. In which case a little pile of chocolate eggs or perhaps some sugar flowers would look more.... tasteful!

Easter Cake Bake

I am entering my traditional Easter bake into Julia's 'Easter Cake Bake 2011' over at 'A Slice of Cherry Pie'. I hope that she likes it!


Beth (Jam and Clotted Cream) said...

I've never made a simnel cake myself - I always rely on Mothers!! Yours looks fab

bellini said...

I have never had this type of cake,nore even heard of it, and I call myself British:D

Maria♥ said...

I've made Nigella's Simnel Cake several times and it's a lovely recipe. Your cake turned out beautiful!


Anonymous said...

I totally agree. Easter isn't Easter without the little fluffy chicks!

C said...

It looks great with the burnished top - really attractive.

I agree about the Easter chicks - definitely obligatory!

Lauren Hairston said...

Yours looks so nice! I was rather disappointed with the Simnel cake I made--I'll have to try Nigella's recipe.