Simnel cake is traditionally eaten at Easter. It is a light fruit cake with the added bonus of a layer of cooked marzipan in the middle that gives it a lovely moist chewy texture. This recipe is based on Elizabeth Ayrton’s in her Penguin Handbook, The Cookery of England.
All the ingredients are available from Alston Wholefoods. It is the spices that make this cake especially tasty, so if you think the spices in your cupboard might be a bit old and tired, buy them fresh from Alston Wholefoods where we sell them loose and you can buy what you need. It is good practice to buy little and often.
It is also worth making your own marzipan. It is so quick and easy to do and that way you know exactly what has gone into it (no extenders or fillers) which is the reason it tastes so good. Using two different sugars gives it a lovely texture. The price of ground almonds has gone up recently because late frosts in Turkey reduced the crop of nuts, but Easter is a feast and time for celebration.
It is traditional to add 11 little balls of marzipan around the outer rim to represent the twelve apostles. minus Judas.
- 240g ground almonds
- 120g icing sugar
- 120g caster sugar
- 1 small egg
- a little lemon juice (optional)
- 150g butter (I use salted)
- 120g sugar
- 2 teaspoons golden syrup
- 3 medium eggs
- 240g self-raising flour
- 12oz mixed dried fruit
- 1oz candied peel
My preferred spices are:
½ tsp ground mace
½ tsp fresh nutmeg grated
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp coriander ground and strained
The original recipe suggests:
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
If possible make up the marzipan the day before, so that it is firmer to work with. Simply mix and then knead the ingredients together. Keep in the fridge until you need it.
Butter and line a 20cm cake tin.
To make the cake cream butter and sugar together until white and fluffy. Add the warmed syrup to the beaten eggs and stir in, Mix the dry ingredients together and fold in, keeping a fairly stiff texture. Use a little milk to blend if necessary. Put half the mixture in the tin, then a layer of almond paste which you have rolled out to a thickness of about 1/2cm. Press down to make sure that there are no air bubbles underneath, then add the remainder of the mixture. Bake in a slow oven (300°F or gas mark 2 or 130°C for fan-assisted ovens) for about 2¼ hours or until well risen and firm to the touch. Leave in the tin to cool for a bit. If you turn it out while still hot all the mazipan will ooze out onto the table! When cool cover with the remainder of the almond paste and brown slight under the grill.
Recipe tried, tasted and approved by Madeleine at Alston Wholefoods