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Simnel cake is a traditional Easter fruit cake. Layers of marzipan are baked into the cake and it is decorated with a layer of toasted marzipan.
Just a few notes before we get into the recipe:
1. Weigh your bowl before you add anything to it and jot the number down. I’m not crazy, you’ll understand why when we get to it. Use the largest bowl that you have.
2. This cake is easy to make in terms of technique, it’s just a bit of mixing and rolling, but it is a big mixture and it has a few ingredients so give yourself about 1 hour for the prep before it gets to the oven.
3. Be organised. Have your tin lined and ready, and all of your ingredients weighed and prepped before you start mixing.
4. In the ingredients list I say “dried fruit.” I used sultanas and raisins but feel free to add currants, dried cranberries, some chopped up dried apricots to the mix. As long as all of your dried fruit together weighs 900 grams, you can use whatever you like.
5. This cake is a little bit boozy so might not be to the tastes of smaller people.
Additional equipment needed:
10″/25cm round cake tin
brown Paper or newspaper
1. Weigh your bowl. Place the dried fruit in the bowl and pour over the warm tea, followed by the whiskey/brandy. Give it all a good stir to make sure all of the fruit has some nice boozy liquid on it. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave the fruit to soak for at least 1 hour, but ideally 24 to 48 hours. Stir the contents every now and then so that the fruit soaks up the liquid evenly.
2. Preheat the oven to 150ºC/300ºF/Gas Mark 2. Line the base and sides of the baking tin with a double layer of parchment paper. Cut a strip of brown paper long enough to wrap around the outside of the tin. Fold this in half lengthways twice so that you have a strip that is 4 layers of paper (I hope that makes sense). Finally, cut a circle of parchment or brown paper the same size as the tin, to use as a template for cutting the layers of marzipan.
3. Add the butter, eggs, treacle and sugar to the fruit mixture and give it a really good stir. Don’t worry if it looks a little bit lumpy as the lumps will work themselves out once you add the dry ingredients. This is a very big mixture so I just find it easier to add and mix the ingredients in 2 stages.
4. Sift the flour and spices into the wet mix and add the ginger and lemon zest. Now it’s time to really flex your muscles. You will need to stir this for 3-5 minutes to get it nice and smooth. Just when you think it’s perfect, scoop the spoon right down to the bottom of the bowl and I’ll bet you’ll find some liquid lurking down there, so give it another good stir to incorporate all of that.
5. Weigh your bowl again, this time with all of the contents in it. Subtract the weight of the empty bowl from the weight of the full bowl, and divide the answer by 4. This is the weight of mixture that you want to add to the tin for each layer of cake. For me, each layer worked out at approximately 722 grams.
6. Add a quarter of the mixture, whatever weight you calculated that to be, to the bowl and smooth it out. On a work surface dusted with flour, roll out 250 grams of marzipan to a thickness of about 5mm, cut it into a circle using the paper template that you made earlier, and place this on top of the cake mixture. Follow this with a quarter of the cake mixture, 250 grams of marzipan rolled out, a quarter of the cake mixture, 250 grams of marzipan rolled out, and finally the last of the cake mixture. It might come very close to the top of your cake tin, but don’t worry, it won’t rise (much) when baking so it’s fine. Wrap any leftover marzipan in clingfilm to stop it from drying out, you will need it to decorate the cake.
7. Place the cake tin onto a baking sheet, wrap the brown paper around it and secure it in place with some string. The baking tray will make it easier to lift in and out of the oven all wrapped up. Place it into the preheated oven, on the bottom rack, and bake for at least 3 1/2 hours. Check on it after 90 minutes and pop a circle of brown paper with a hole cut out of the middle on top of it to stop the top from browning too much. To check that the cake is done, insert a clean skewer into the centre; if it comes out clean but just smeared with some marzipan, it is done. If there is still some brown cake mixture coming out on the skewer, return it to the oven and check on it at regular intervals. Remove from the oven, place on a wire rack and allow to cool completely in the tin. This will take a few hours.
8. Once the cake has cooled completely, remove it from the tin and carefully peel away the parchment paper. Pop an upturned plate on top of the cake and then flip the whole thing over. Remove the parchment paper from the base of the cake; the bottom will now be the top as it is a nice smooth surface to work on. On a surface dusted with icing sugar, roll out 500 grams of marzipan to a thickness of 10mm. Using the paper template that you made, cut it into a circle for the top of the cake. Warm the apricot jam a little and spread a thin even layer on top of the cake. Place the marzipan disc on top and gently pat down to secure. If you like, you can crimp the edges for a scalloped look. With the remnants of marzipan, make 11 balls to decorate the top of the cake. Make a 12th slightly bigger ball to sit in the centre. Place the whole cake under the grill (broiler) for a couple of minutes to brown the top. Keep a very close eye on it as you don’t want it to burn. Once you see the tops of the marzipan balls starting to wrinkle, it’s almost done. Allow it to brown just a little before removing it.
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