This year, I've decided to make a Simnel Cake. As my love of fruit cake continues to grow, making a traditional Easter Cake gave me the perfect excuse to get in the kitchen. There's so much to love about a Simnel Cake:
- rich fruit cake [tick],
- you're already starting to miss Christmas Cake and need a suitable stop-gap [tick],
- you can't be bothered to faff about with icing [tick]
- and you get to eat any leftover marzipan whilst you are constructing your Simnel masterpiece [BIG tick].
What are the traditions of Simnel Cake?
According to legend, ancient Anglo-Saxons celebrated Eostre, the Goddess of Spring returning to Earth. Now, how would you welcome someone you'd not seen for a while? Well, it's obviously with cake isn't it? After all, the song does say "If I knew you were coming I'd have baked a cake".
As well as being a sign of springtime, today, Simnel Cake has become synonymous with Easter. A rich fruit cake with a marzipan topping and decorated with 11 marzipan balls to each represent Jesus' disciples (minus Judas, obvs). Sometimes, the cake is made with a central layer of marzipan too. On occasion, you see an additional, twelfth, marzipan ball placed in the centre of the cake, said to recognise Christ.
Which Simnel Cake recipe is the best?
When choosing a Simnel Cake recipe I was looking for something that had bags of flavour. So, when I spotted Clarence Court's recipe, it really appealed. Their recipe (see below), uses Earl Grey Tea infused dried fruit and copious amounts of Stem Ginger in Syrup. I simply love a gingery fruit cake - happy days!
This Simnel Cake is not a quick recipe. It needs time. Time for the fruit to infuse in the tea. Time to bake (at least 2 hours). Time to decorate.
Earl Grey Tea. And me.
For me, Earl Grey Tea is a little bit like Brussels Sprouts. As a child, I never liked them, I'd avoid at all costs. But my ageing palate has changed and so, I am now rather partial to a cup of Earl Grey Tea and a plate of Brussels (but not at the same time).
Earl Grey Tea is so much lighter which I increasingly find more palatable. Perhaps it's because I take my tea black and the citrus notes in Earl Grey are so much more refreshing? It wasn't until I was putting this blog post together that a realised that Earl Grey Tea was a Twinings invention. Apparently, it all started back in 1831 with Richard Twining created a blend of tea at the request of then Prime Minister Charles Grey. He loved the tea. He must have - he put his name to it.
Stem Ginger in Syrup. An essential.
I always have Stem Ginger in Syrup in the cupboard. I use these juicy, balls of sweet ginger spiciness in so many recipes. Fruit Cakes, flapjacks and bakes are probably the most frequently made, but did you know that Stem Ginger in Syrup is really good in homemade Chicken Sweet and Sour? And, you can use up the syrup in hot drinks (try it with a slice of lemon on a cold day - great if you have a cold).
Opies are the main producer of Stem Ginger in Syrup in the UK. You can find their ginger on the supermarket shelves. Being ginger aficionados, Opies also have some really great recipes on their website and it's my go-to place if I'm in need of some ginger-inspo.
Decorations to make it pretty
With it being Easter, there had to be mini eggs. I also (as suggested in the recipe) topped my cake with edible flowers. Now, you can buy edible flowers but they're quite pricey. Instead, I just went out into the garden and (with Mr P's permission) snipped off some viola flower heads instead. Violas are edible so they didn't go to waste.
If you don't have anything suitable in your garden or would prefer to buy from a specialist, then go online to find the best company (there are several). It's worth noting though that the flowers only last 1-2 days and shouldn't be refrigerated, so leave it until the last minute before ordering.
Earl Grey & Ginger Simnel Cake recipe
(recipe credit Clarence Court, with my adaptations!).
This cake is big enough for 10-12 people
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Bake Time: 2 hours (plus)
6 pieces of stem ginger in syrup - I used Opies 50g dried apricots 50g glace cherries - I didn't have any so used Opies Cherries in Marashino Liqueur instead 100g sultanas 50g dried cranberries 125g currants 60g chopped mixed peel Zest of 2 oranges 200ml earl grey tea (made with 3 tea bags and cooled) - I used Twinings 250g unsalted softened butter 250g soft light brown sugar 230g self-raising flour, sieved 4 large Clarence Court Hens Eggs 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice 1 teaspoon ground ginger 3 tablespoons apricot jam (I don't think you need this much) Icing sugar for dusting 300g marzipan Mini eggs and edible flowers to decorate
How it's made:
The night before you bake the cake, chop the stem ginger, apricots and cherries and add them to a bowl with the remaining dried fruit, orange zest and cooled tea. Cover the bowl and set aside to soak overnight.
The following day, drain the fruit and discard any tea that hasn’t been soaked up. Grease and line a deep, heavy, 20cm round baking tin with baking parchment. It’s often useful to wrap a sleeve of foil wrapped in baking parchment around the outside of the tin and secure it with string. This prevents the cake from browning too much as it’s baked for around 2 hours.
To show you how the foil sleeve works, here's my finished cake fresh from the oven !
Preheat the oven to 150C / 300F / Gas 2. Place the eggs, butter, sugar, sieved flour and spices into the bowl of a freestanding mixer. Whisk for a minute or two until beaten into a smooth cake mix. Alternatively, you can do this (like I did) by hand with a wooden spoon. Fold through the tea-soaked fruit.
Spoon the mixture into the lined tin and level out evenly. Place the cake in the oven to bake for 2 hours or until golden and risen. To check it’s ready, insert a skewer into the centre of the cake. If any mixture remains on the skewer, cover the cake with tin foil and bake in the oven for a further 10 minutes.
When it’s ready, allow the cake to sit in the tin for 20 minutes on a cooling rack, then carefully turn it out and allow to cool completely.
Melt the apricot jam and brush it on to the top of the cake. Roll out half of the marzipan to a 20cm circle on a clean work surface dusted with icing sugar and place on top of the cake. Roll out 11 balls and arrange them around the edge of the marzipan circle. Use a blow torch or if like me you don't have one of those, place the cake under a hot grill for a minute or two to achieve a golden-brown finish. Top with mini eggs and edible flowers.