There is something about Easter that is just so cheerful. For me it epitomises Spring time; flowers are just starting to poke their brightly-coloured heads over the chilly soil parapets in the gardens at Beamish, and everything is starting to look and feel slightly more hopeful and cheery than before.
Something else, on a much more traditional note, that I love about Easter is Simnel cake. One of my first and very dearly-prized baking memories is my gran making a Simnel cake each Easter and giving me the illustrious (and obviously most important) task of shaping the little marzipan balls and putting them on top, using apricot jam as glue.
I have found when writing this blog that a lot of people’s early baking memories start with a gran, or other very dear relative, – how lovely that these recipes can be shared and re-remembered by baking a simple cake or even just reading about them once more.
For anyone not familiar with Simnel cake, although I have given one of the main ingredients away (spoiler alert!), it is a fruit cake very similar to the Christmas version, with a layer of marzipan baked in the middle and another toasted on top.
The marzipan balls that I have already mentioned are placed around the edge, of which there are traditionally 11, to represent the 11 apostles, with the 12th apostle, Judas, being omitted for betraying Jesus and leading to his crucifixion. In some versions, there is another marzipan ball in the middle or placed in the cake to represent Jesus. Below I have kept to my original recipe of the 11 marzipan balls -this was the way my Gran did it, so I do too.
The Simnel cake also gave everyone a chance to enjoy all the yummy, yet naughty things that they had denied themselves during Lent, such as dried fruit, sugar and alcohol, so you can imagine how much people looked forward to sampling this delicious cake. It was also a very popular choice as a present for servant girls to give to their mothers when they travelled home on a rare day off for Mothering Sunday, something that I imagine they took great care and pride in.
If you are making this for the first time, I find the toasting of the marzipan on top the most nerve-wracking, so please feel free to leave this step out! Why not pop in over Easter and see our Simnel cakes in Herron’s Bakery or down on Francis Street in The Pit Village?
Happy Easter and happy baking everyone!
|6 oz||Light brown sugar|
|3||Eggs (plus some extra for egg washing)|
|9 oz||Self Raising Flour|
|A small pinch||Salt|
|1 tsp||Mixed spice|
|2 tsp||Golden syrup (or a mix of golden syrup and treacle if you like)|
|1 lb 6oz||Currants, sultanas and raisins mixed|
|2 oz||Glacé cherries, cut up roughly|
|4 oz||Chopped mixed peel|
|1 lb||Marzipan (make your own if you’re feeling adventurous!)|
Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 4.
Grease and line a 8 inch round cake tin. As you are cooking this cake for a good while in the oven, I like to wrap brown paper or baking parchment around the tin, around two inches higher than the top of the tin to protect it from the heat of the oven.
Beat together the fat and sugar until pale and really fluffy. Add your eggs, one at a time, along with a little flour, mixing really well after each amount of egg and flour.
Mix in the salt and spice, add milk and syrup with a little more of your flour. Stir together until all the ingredients are incorporated.
Fold in the remaining flour and all the mixed fruit. Place half the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth over until its completely level, as you will be placing marzipan on top of it.
Roll out some marzipan into an 8 inch round that is around a ¼ inch thick, but don’t worry too much about the exact thickness! Place on top of your smoothed Simnel cake batter. Then cover with the remaining mix.
Bake for about 1 hour then reduce the temperature to Gas Mark 1 and bake for 2½ hours.
When the cake has completely cooled, take it out of the tin and cover with another 8 inch round of your marzipan, along with the 11 balls, again I would suggest around a ¼ inch thick, but if you have a marzipan lover in your house as I do, feel free to make it a little thicker! I find using apricot jam as a glue to stick the balls on top really helpful but you can use what ever you fancy.
Place under a hot grill to brown marzipan if you want and are feeling brave, it tastes wonderful even if you miss this step out!