Saturday, April 11, 2009

Let's bakes a Simnel Cake for Easter!

Lucie came over to help me bake my first Easter Simnel Cake but was so competent and enthusiastic she ended up doing all the work whilst I gave out the orders and drank gallons of tea...cruel me!!
Here is Lucie's perfect cake glazed with apricot preserves ready for the eleven 'apostles' waiting in the background to be set in place.
...and here is the final result...a marzipan layer on the top of the cake and eleven balls of marzipan with toasted almonds affixed to their summits.....in the background is the list of baking classes and circled in red are the ones Lucie and I are looking forward to at the Good Table
A close up of the beautiful Simnel cake...in case you are wondering why the marzipan isn't the usual luminous yellow, it is because it is homemade with the whole almond and not skinned almonds as used commercially...thought I'd hang on to a few extra vitamins and minerals wherever I could!

SIMNEL CAKE
This is a traditional Easter Cake eaten in Britain. I'm not sure how often these days but certainly it was very popular in the past. Apparently this cake was originally associated with British 'Mothering Sunday', which is the fourth Sunday in Lent and is also known as 'Refreshment Sunday' (a day when the fasting of Lent could be relaxed somewhat). In Medieval times it was the Sunday on which one returned to the 'Mother' Church or Cathedral to worship. By the mid-seventeeth century it was more closely linked with the family and every child living away from home, including servants and apprentices, would return bearing gifts and food. Many girls would bake a Simnel cake for this special day of family feasting. Why it has become more associated now with Easter is unclear but what is clear is that the eleven, sometimes twelve, balls on the top of the cake are representative of the apostles...eleven being the number if you don't think Judas deserves a place.
Here is the recipe for a 6" round cake, for an 8" please double the recipe: Taken from 'The Festive Food of England' by Henrietta Green
INGREDIENTS:
Almond Paste/Marzipan:
12oz confectioner's sugar/icing sugar
12oz ground almonds (with skins or without)
3 large egg yolks (not recommended in areas where salmonella is a problem or for anyone in ill health...if this is the case I would purchase the marzipan)
1 teaspoons of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of orange flower water (this may be hard to find but it is worth the effort)
1 teaspoon almond extract
Cake:
3 1/2 ozs unbleached flour
1 oz rice flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon mixed spices (I used, yes you guessed it!, nutmeg with cardomon and allspice together)
pinch of baking powder
4 oz butter
4 oz soft brown sugar
2 eggs seperated and whites whisked to stiff peaks
1/2 oz ground almonds
1 tablespoon dark rum (you can leave this out if you want)
zest of one lemon, preferably organic
4oz currants
4 oz sultanas (white plump raisins)
2 oz candied orange and or lemon peel
2 tablespoons apricot jam
The night before I baked this cake I soaked the dried fruit in tea...I like doing this to plump the fruit and give it a sophisticated flavour but it is not necessary to do this step.
TO MAKE ALMOND PASTE/MARZIPAN:
1. Sift confectioner's/icing sugar into a bowl, add the almonds and mix around.
2. Lightly beat egg yolks, orange flower water, lemon juice and almond extract.
3. Add liquid to dry ingredients and knead to a smooth paste.
I had to work a little with this to get it non-crumbly...adding a bit more liquid and kneading quite a lot, but I did eventually get there! Maybe my ground almonds with the skins is drier than without?
TO MAKE THE CAKE:
1. Preheat oven to 325F. Prepare your cake pan, butter it first, then cut a disc of parchment to fit into the bottom of the pan, butter the parchment and then flour the pan.
2. Sift flours into a bowl with baking powder, spices and salt.
3. Cream butter and sugar together 'til light and fluffy.
4. Beat eggs into butter and sugar one at a time and cream well.
5. Add almonds, rum and lemon zest and mix well.
6. Fold about one third of the dry ingredients into the butter mix.
7. Gently fold in the egg whites, alternating with the rest of the flour and the dried fruit.
8. Make eleven or twelve small balls with the marzipan, then cut remainder of it into two pieces. Roll out each piece to fit the diameter of your cake pan.
9. Spoon half the cake batter into the prepared pan, lay one of the discs of marzipan onto this and gently pat down, then spoon in the rest of the cake batter and smooth flat.
10. Bake your beauteous little cake in the oven...for my 6" I baked it for one hour and then put a buttered parchment disc on the top to prevent it browning too much and baked it for about another 25 minutes (The recipe says for the larger size to bake for 2 hours before you put on the parchment)
11. Take your cake out and let it cool on a rack.
12. Warm some apricot jam in a pan and glaze the top of the cake.
13. Lay the other disc of marzipan on top of the cake and pat down, add your 'apostles' with more of the apricot jam et voila!!!!
I CAN'T WAIT TO HAVE A PIECE: Lucie and I have decided to be as pure as the driven snow and eat the cake tomorrow on the day it was intended for....
WHAT'S MADE OF ALMOND PASTE AND SWINGS FROM CAKE TO CAKE??
TARZIPAN!!!
Thank you LEA for the birthday funds to procure the ingredients for this lovely cake...James and I will have a piece for you on Easter Sunday!!
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