How to make simnel cake - recipe

How to make simnel cake - recipe

Simnel cake is that rare thing – an Easter treat that doesn’t contain even a whiff of chocolate. Instead, this richly-fruited confection is topped with sweet, nutty marzipan, making it perfectly suited to end the traditional Lenten fast. Lighter and fluffier than Christmas cake, with golden saffron and zesty citrus peel, it’s the very essence of spring.
how to make simnel cake
how to make simnel cake

Prep 25 minCook 2 hr 35 minServes 8
175g currants175g sultanas50g glace cherries, halved50g candied peel, chopped if necessary4 tbsp brandy, whisky or rum75ml milk¼ tsp saffron50g whole almonds180g butter, at room temperature, plus extra to grease180g soft, light brown sugar175g plain flour1 tsp baking powder45g ground almonds½ tsp salt1 tsp mixed spice3 eggs, lightly beaten1 tbsp golden syrupGrated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orangeSugar syrup, apricot jam or marmalade, to glaze
For the marzipan (or use 500g bought marzipan)200g ground almonds200g icing sugar, plus extra to dust1 drop almond essence1 tsp orange blossom water1 egg, separated
1 Soak the fruit in booze
You can prepare the cake up to the end of step 3 well in advance. Start by putting the dried fruit and peel into a bowl and pouring in the alcohol (or use black tea, if you prefer a non-alcoholic version), stir well, cover and leave to soak. Gently warm the milk until it just begins to steam, then take off the heat, stir in the saffron and set aside.
Before making the batter and marzipan, soak the dried fruit in brandy and stir saffron into some warmed milk. Photographs by Dan Matthews for the Guardian. 
2 Prepare the tin
Grease and line a high-sided, 18-20cm, loose-bottomed tin with butter and greaseproof paper. Cut out an extra circle of greaseproof paper of the same diameter for the top, making a small circular hole in the middle to allow the cake to rise. Heat the oven to 150C (130C fan)/300F/gas 2. Put the whole almonds on a baking tray and bake until golden. Set aside to cool.
3 Make the marzipan
Put the ground almonds and icing sugar in a bowl or food processor and whisk or whiz. Mix in the almond essence, the orange blossom water and the egg yolk. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg white with a drop of water to loosen, then add just enough to the egg yolk mix to bring it together into a soft dough. Form into a ball, wrap and chill. Or use 500g shop-bought marzipan.
Make the marzipan. 4 Start the batter
Beat the butter in a food mixer or a vigorously applied wooden spoon, until soft. Add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, salt and spices. Add the eggs to the butter and sugar a little at a time, adding some flour between each addition.
Make, then flavour the batter. 5 Flavour the batter
Stir the golden syrup and citrus zest into the batter. Roughly chop the toasted almonds, then add these to the mix, along with the dried fruit and peel, their boozy soaking liquid and the saffron-infused milk. Spoon half the batter into the prepared tin and flatten the top.
6 Add a layer of marzipan
On a lightly icing-sugared surface, roll out about a third of the marzipan dough to a circle the diameter of your tin. Lay on top of the batter in the tin, trimming the edges as required, then spoon the remaining batter on top and flatten, making a small depression in the centre to stop it rising to a dome in the oven.
7 Bake the cake Bake, then glaze with jam.
Top the cake with the extra circle of greaseproof paper, then bake for about two and a half hours, until a skewer poked into the top (but not as far down as the marzipan layer) comes out fairly clean. Leave the cake to cool before you apply the rest of the marzipan.
8 Cover with more marzipan
If using jam or marmalade to spread on the marzipan topping, melt a few tablespoons in a small pan. Remove the cake from its tin and peel the greaseproof paper layer from the top. Roll out the remaining marzipan and cut out into a circle about 2cm bigger than the diameter of the cake. Brush the top and the top of the sides of the cake with the melted jam (or sugar syrup), lay the marzipan on top, and smooth it down the sides.
Now cover with a second layer of marzipan. 9 The finishing touches
Heat the grill to medium-high. Put the cake under the grill for a couple of minutes, until lightly golden (or use a blowtorch). Roll the marzipan trimmings into 11 balls (for the disciples, minus Judas) and stick them all around the edge of the cake with a little more jam or syrup. Put back under the grill briefly to brown, before slicing and serving.

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