Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake 

Mothering Sunday: piece of cake, by Louise Flanders (March 2016)

No place for Judas in the traditional simnel cake to be presented on Mothering Sunday

Ingredients

To make simnel cake you will need an eight-inch circular cake tin, buttered and lined with greaseproof paper

  • 225g softened butter
  • 225g light brown sugar
  • 3 medium eggs, beaten
  • 275g plain flour, sifted
  • 2 level teaspoons of mixed spice (sifted with the flour)
  • 175g glacéed cherries, washed, dried and cut in half
  • 600g mixed dried fruit
  • Grated rind of two lemons
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten

Almond paste

  • 225g ground almonds
  • 115g icing sugar
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice

March positively bursts with foodie traditions. First comes Mothering Sunday, which this year falls on March 6, the fourth Sunday of Lent. I usually ask my children not to give flowers, as I much prefer them to make me a meal.

The day usually, therefore, starts off with breakfast in bed – which has got better as they have grown older – and finishes with a meal they have cooked, a wonderful treat as both are very good cooks and (they tell me) enjoy the planning and preparation.

Cumbrians traditionally mark Easter with the pasche egg plays, performed in South Lakes villages. A weekend of celebrations includes morris men performing plays, while children enjoy rolling the pasche egg.

Eggs represent renewed life but are forbidden fare during Lent. For the egg rolling they are dyed naturally, giving them a marbled effect. To make a yellowy-brown egg, wrap the outer skins of onions around the egg and cover them with foil. Pop them into a pan of water with a few drops of vinegar and boil for around ten minutes before leaving them to cool. When you remove the outer covering you will find a beautifully coloured egg.

You can be more creative, by experimenting with different colours. Using spinach leaves instead of onion skins gives the eggs a green marbling. To give the eggs a red hue, boil them unwrapped with raw beetroot, in water and vinegar. You can even imprint them with the image of a flower with a marbled background by placing a petal on a damp egg and covering it with onion skin and foil. Afterwards you can polish the eggs with a little olive oil.

The centre piece at our Easter Sunday dinner is a traditional simnel cake – a light fruit cake – which provides our recipe this month. Simnel cakes were originally given by servant girls to their mothers on Mothering Sunday, the only day during Lent on which the fasting rules were relaxed. The eleven marzipan balls on the top of the cake signify the eleven Apostles – excluding Judas, of course.

Pasche eggs

Method

To make the almond paste:

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add the caster sugar and almonds.

Mix in the rest of the ingredients and make it into a stiff paste.

Lightly dust a surface with icing sugar, and knead the paste until it is smooth, then wrap it in clingfilm and set it aside.

 

To make the cake: 

Beat the sugar and butter until it is fluffy and lighter in colour.

Add the beaten eggs, making sure the mix is wellbeaten.

Add the flour and mixed spices, one spoonful at a time, folding it into the mix.

Pop the cherries, dried fruit and lemon rind into the mix.

On to a flour-dusted surface, roll out half the marzipan to a seven-inch round.

Spoon half the cake mixture into the lined tin.

Place the marzipan round on top.

Add the remaining cake mix over the marzipan, and level it out.

Bake for three hours – you might have to place some greaseproof paper on top if the cake looks to be browning too quickly.

You will know when the cake is cooked when you insert a skewer into the middle and it comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and leave it in the tin to cool for about an hour before popping it out on to a rack to completely cool.

Halve the remaining marzipan and roll it out to a size that will be sufficient to cover the top of the cake.

Before placing the marzipan on to the cake, lightly brush the cake top with a little of the beaten egg white.

You can pinch the edge to give it a frilled effect.

Roll the remaining marzipan into eleven balls and arrange them on the top.

Brush the rest of the egg white on to the top of the cake and the marzipan balls.

Pop the cake on a baking tray and grill it until lightly browned.

Present to Mother.

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