This is a (fairly) traditional Simnel cake with the addition of pretty crystallized flowers. These cakes were traditionally made by girls working in service and they took them home to their mother’s on Mothers day. It was probably the one day in the year they could go and see their family so it must have been very special. The cakes were topped with 11 marzipan balls to represent the true disciples and I have added the pretty frosted flowers. I’ve managed to ‘convert’ many ‘marzipan haters’ to homemade marzipan so give it a go, it has a much more nutty taste without the chemical aftertaste of the marzipan flavourings used in bought varieties. If you want to use it for an Easter Cake instead of a Simnel Cake just leave off the marzipan balls and decorate with the crystallised flowers, fresh flowers or little eggs and chicks and finish it off with a ribbon.
NB re-reference to washing dried fruit -it used to be what you had to do years ago (and perhaps some ‘proper’ bakers still do). I remember seeing all the dirt & sludge that came off the fruit nowadays the fruit is of better quality….and then there were the trays of the fruit drying before it could be used (so it didn’t all sink to the bottom). The soaking did plump up the fruit, I suppose that the farthest I would go down this line, nowadays is to soak the fruit in brandy or whisky. She would also cut up each sultana with scissors so that the fruit was also of equal size. Apologies for my shortcomings mum x
175g butter, soft
125 Muscovado sugar
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs, beaten
175g sultanas/175 g currants (or substitute other dried fruit to give total of 350g)*
50g mixed peel
50g cherries, quartered
50g ground almonds
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg/ ½ tsp cinnamon/ ½ teasp ground ginger
Zest of 1 orange
(a little milk or brandy)
* As with all fruit cakes if you wash and dry the fruit you will get a moister result. It isn’t so necessary these days as the quality of the fruit is much better but if I didn’t mention it my mum would be looking down on me with disapproval!
For the decoration:
1 tbsp of Apricot jam
1 quantity marzipan
- Grease and base line a 20cm (8 in) cake tin that is at least 9cm (3 1/2 in) deep with baking paper. Prepare a paper collar to fix around the outside of the tin to protect the sides of the cake. I use heavy, manilla envelopes stapled together, to do this and re use them all the time. Fold them so that the collar sits up around the cake tin by about 5cm and long enough that it will fit e.g. up to a 23cm cake and secure with a paper clip –this means you can adjust it to fit the size of the tin.
- Cream butter with sugar until soft, I do this in a stand mixer and then do the rest by hand. In one bowl sift together the flour and the baking powder. Mix in the flour and the beaten eggs to the creamed butter & sugar, I do this in 3 lots.
- Mix the sultanas, currants, peel, cherries, ground almonds, spices and the orange zest. Fold these into the mix and gently mix but do not beat. Add a little milk (or brandy) to give a dropping consistency. Pour into the tin and flatten with back of a spoon before tapping it sharply on the work top to settle the contents. Make a smooth depression in the centre of the mix, again with the spoon, to help the cake to rise with a flat top. Fix the protective collar around the cake.
- Preheat oven to a moderate 150C/ Gas 2. Bake for one hour then cover loosely with foil and bake for a further 30 minutes. Test if cooked by inserting a metal skewer in the middle. If it comes out clean it is cooked or if not pop it back in for 10 mins or so. Leave for 30 minutes to cool, turn out and remove the paper. When cold you can decorate the cake or wrap it for saving.
- Add a tablespoon of hot water to the jam and then push through a sieve to make an apricot glaze. Spread this evenly on the surface of the cake.
- Roll out the marzipan and using the cake tin as a template cut out a circle the same size or the cake and place this on top of the cake.
- Gather up the extra and then to get even size balls, roll the marzipan into a sausage and then slice off 11 x 2cm rounds and roll each into a ball between your hands. Place in an even ring on top of the cake and then use a little dab of water to fix them on. Put the whole cake under a moderate grill until it is golden brown. Watch this VERY CAREFULLY as it can burn quickly, and you only want a light colour on the balls and the centre.
- Decorate with crystallized spring flowers or little eggs + chicks as you wish.
- Tie a pretty ribbon around the cake and finish it off with a bow.
HOMEMADE MARZIPAN (Approx. 500G)
225g ground almonds
125g caster sugar
125g icing sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 medium egg
- Place the almond, caster and icing sugar in a bowl and stir together.
- Mix the lemon juice with the egg. Make a well in the centre of the mix, add the juice and ½ the egg and then mix to a fairly firm dough. Add more egg if necessary.
- Knead on a surface dusted with icing sugar until smooth and free from cracks. Wrap in cling film until required.
TO CRYSTALISE FLOWER PETALS.
Spring flowers such as viola and primroses crystallize well as do rose petals
1 egg white
White caster sugar.
You will need 2 large plates and something to put the petals on whilst they are drying and a small brush.
- Select perfect flowers or petals. Make sure there are no brown spots or damage.
- Beat one egg white to break it up and then let the bubbles settle.
- Spread the caster sugar out on another plate.
- Use the brush to ‘paint’ each petal, front and back, and in the middle if it is e.g., a primrose. Shake off the excess and then sprinkle it with the caster sugar. It is easy to do this by holding it over the plate with the sugar on and using a teaspoon to sprinkle the sugar onto the flowers/ petals. Make sure that you have covered the petal completely.
- Lay them down carefully on some baking paper or a plastic tray and let them dry for 3 or 4 hours. Keep them in a dry place or they will start to ‘weep’ and not set properly.
- These will keep for a few days and can’t be frozen
PLEASE NOTE -Traditionally the Simnel cake also had a layer of marzipan through the middle which I don’t care for as, I think, it makes the cake too sweet. If you want to do this you will need to make double the amount of marzipan. Cut out another circle, put half the cake mix into the pan, lay the marzipan on the cake mix and then carefully spoon the remainder of the cake mix on top.