There seems to be so much going on during Easter: egg hunts, spring walks, jasmines all over the church, and of course the Easter bunnies. While Easter has swallowed traditions from all over the world, it’s meaning remains the same: renewal and hope — these two words encapsulate Easter. Traditions, varied celebrations, and festivities and food abound all over the world, and each year I try to incorporate a new one into my world to remind me that no matter what, there is always hope and renewal — that death shall have no dominion. Ah, but I wander too deep into theology, let’s get back to the topic in hand: the Simnel cake for Easter or Easter Simnel cake — the latest addition to my world of Easter celebrations and food.
Why the name Easter Simnel cake? Well it used to be made in the UK, Ireland and a few other countries on Simnel Sunday, the fourth Sunday during Lent, also known as Laetare Sunday, or the Sunday of the Five Loaves. In time, people began to eat it throughout the pre-Easter period and also on Easter Sunday. They were baked by young women in service at the house of the rich to take home to their mothers, and they could use the pricy dried fruit, spices, and all things nice (like butter) that were forbidden during Lent . The marzipan balls atop the cake symbolise the 11 apostles (yes, no Judas here). Aaaa… marzipan? Yes, not just on top of the cake but also bang in the middle of it.
Sticky and rich in flavour, this easy Simnel cake is lighter — in texture and colour — than the Christmas fruit cake. There are so many recipes for the Easter Simnel cake and it was quite difficult to choose one — with or without whisky (or brandy)? Should I add apricots? Should I cut down on the spices? Should I add glacé cherries? Isn’t orange zest enough — should I really go out and buy candied orange? So, what did I do in the end? I took the best from three recipes: Mary Berry’s, Jamie Oliver’s, and this one from The Guardian, and I added a dash of this (the German touch: caraway seeds— kümmel) and that (the Indian touch: rose water), and came up with this beauty.
- 100 g (4 oz) glacé cherries, chopped into quarters
- 175 g (6 oz) sultanas
- 150 g (5 oz) currants
- 50 g (2 oz) chopped candied peel
- 100 ml Scotch whisky or Irish whisky
- 60 ml (1/2 cup, 2 fl oz) milk
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron
- 1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 225 g (8 oz) butter, softened
- 225 g (8 oz) light brown sugar or light muscovado sugar
- 4 eggs
- 225 g (8 oz) self-raising flour
- 50 g (2 oz) almond flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves powder
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg powder
- 1 teaspoon rose water
- The grated zest of 2 lemons or 2 limes
- 500 g (1.1 lb) marzipan
- 2 tablespoons sieved apricot jam
- 1 small egg lightly beaten
Soak the glacé cherries, sultanas, currants and candied peel in the Scotch whisky. Doing so the night before helps!
Warm the milk, and in a small bowl, add the milk, and to it add the saffron and caraway seeds, and set aside to soak.
Pre-heat the oven to 150ºC/280ºF.
Grease and line a 20-cm/8-inch deep cake pan.
Over a bain marie, heat the butter till it starts to melt. Take it off the heat and stir, till you have a gooey mass.
Into the same bowl, add the light brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
To this, add the eggs in one at a time, beating the mix after each addition on low speed for about 20 seconds.
Sift the flour into the butter-sugar-egg mix.
Drain the soaked fruit, and add only the soaked fruit to the bowl. Also add: the spices, rosewater, milk mix, grated lemon zest.
With a wooden spoon coat the fruits with the flour, then gently stir all the ingredients together until it is all well combined.
Take a third of the marzipan, and roll it out into a circle as big as the cake pan. Rolling it over parchment paper will help it stay in shape. Pinch the cracks that form with your fingers and they’ll disappear.
Pour half the cake mix into the greased and lined cake pan, and level the top. Gently place the marzipan circle on top of the cake mix. Pour the remaining batter on top of the marzipan circle and level the top.
Place it in the oven and allow to bake for 2 hours and 20 minutes. After an hour, cover the top with aluminium foil to prevent too much browning. It’s done when a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Let the cake cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then transfer it to a wire rack — after you peel off the parchment paper of course.
When the cake has cooled completely, take half or the remaining marzipan and roll it out into a circle as big as the cake pan.
Slightly warm the apricot jam, and brush it over the cake. Place the marzipan circle over the cake firmly and crimp the edges, like you would a pie crust, to decorate.
Take the remaining marzipan and form 11 balls. Brush the top of the marzipan with the beaten egg and place the 11 balls on top. Brush the tops of the balls as well with beaten egg.
Heat the grill on top in your oven, and when it is hot, place the cake under it for a couple of minutes, until it just about begins to brown. Constantly watch over the marzipan, you only want it to be golden.
Serving: Cool the cake before you serve it. It tastes better the next day.
Equipment: 20-cm/8-inch deep cake pan (preferably aluminium as the bake time is long), big mixing bowl, small bowl, medium bowl (to soak the dried fruits).
If you're out of glacé cherries, use more currants, sultanas and candied peel instead. If you're out of candied peel, use the zest of two oranges, and the juice of one; don't use marmalade.
You can substitute rose water with orange blossom water. Out of the few rose water brands I've tried, I like Cortas.
Simnel Cake (Wikipedia)
How to cook the perfect simnel cake (The Guardian)
Easter simnel cake (BBC)
Whisky Simnel Cake (Jamie Oliver)