- Food & Drink
Most years I bake a simnel cake for Mothering Sunday and most years it’s eaten by my dad, slice by slice over a week or two. Really, I should start a tradition of baking a tower of Mothering Sunday profiteroles. Ma G&C would appreciate those a lot more.
But that would betray the ancient cultural practices that dog these islands and ensure every special occasion is marked with a dried fruit cake that can double as a cosh if the celebrations get out of hand. What marks simnel cake out as different to Christmas cake, wedding cake, christening cake, congratulations on your divorce cake and all those other fruity party bakes is the emphasis on marzipan.
The majority of simnel cakes bought and baked in Britain this Sunday and over Easter will have a layer of marzipan in the middle as well as a layer on top, decorated with 11 marzipan balls to represent the true apostles of Christ (no cake for you Judas). It’s a type of simnel that originated in Shrewsbury and I’ll guess it became so popular, destroying all other simnel competition, due to the excellent amounts of marzipan in it, which helps keeps it moist.
Be warned! The marzipan recipe below is made with raw egg yolks and you could DIE from eating it. Or get a bit sick. Or neither. If you don’t want to eat raw egg marzipan, then you’ll need about 400g of ready-made marzipan. I also decorate my simnel cakes with 12 marzipan balls on the grounds that 2,000 years is a bit long to hold a grudge. Happy Mother’s Day.
FOR THE MARZIPAN:
180g caster sugar
180g ground almonds
3 medium egg yolks
2 tsp rose water
1 tbsp brandy
Icing sugar, for rolling
FOR THE CAKE:
130g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
130g dark brown soft sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
130g plain flour
1/2 tsp mixed spice
90g stoned dried dates, chopped
30g mixed peel, chopped
Grated zest of 1/2 small lemon
2 tbsp brandy
Beaten egg, to glaze
1 Make the marzipan by placing the sugar and ground almonds in a bowl and beating in the egg yolks, rose water and brandy to make a soft dough. Bring it together with your hands and knead for 1–2 minutes until smooth. Dust your work surface with icing sugar and roll out 1/3 of the marzipan to make a round approximately 14cm across. Set aside. Wrap the remaining marzipan and chill.
2 Preheat the oven to gas mark 1/140°C/fan oven 120°C. Grease a 15cm cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.
3 Beat the butter and sugar together until pale, fluffy and combined. Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, then sift in the flour and mixed spice. Stir to combine. Add the dried fruit, mixed peel, lemon zest and brandy and stir to thoroughly mix.
4 Spoon half the cake mixture into the cake tin and level the surface. Top with the marzipan circle, then spoon over the remaining cake batter. Level the surface and bake for about 11/2–13/4 hours, until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Check it after the first hour and if it’s starting to over brown, cover with some baking parchment. Leave to cool in the tin.
5 Once cool, turn out of the tin and remove the baking parchment. Warm 1 tbsp apricot jam until it’s liquid and brush over the top of the cake. Roll out 1/3 of the remaining marzipan on a work surface dusted with icing sugar to make a 15cm circle and lay it over the top of the cake.
6 Shape the remaining marzipan into 12 equal sized balls. Arrange the balls around the edge of the marzipan to make a circle. Brush with a little beaten egg to glaze (you’ll have to make a tiny, tiny omelette with the remaining egg). Preheat the grill to high. Grill the top of the cake for 1–2 minutes, until browned. Leave to cool. Serve in slices.
Edit: It has been pointed out that I haven’t told you how to stick the marzipan balls onto the top of the cake. You can either egg wash the marzipan top, then stick on the balls, egg wash and grill. Or, if you don’t want to grill the cake straight away, dab a spot of vodka on to the marzipan and lightly press a ball onto it. Repeat, until all the marzipan balls are attached.