Thursday, 7 March 2013

Simnel Cake & Mothers Day

Simnel cake is often associated with Easter, but it is traditionally a cake baked for Mothering Sunday. Young girls who lived and worked away from home in service were given half a day off on Mothering Sunday, during which they would bake this cake and take it home to their mothers. This year Mothers Day is Sunday 10th March.

A Simnel cake is a light fruitcake containing sultanas, apricots and cherries that is topped off with a layer of marzipan and decorated with 11 marzipan balls around the edge. This fruitcake is also extra special as it also contains a middle layer of marzipan that is baked into the cake itself, producing a delicious moist and gooey almond middle layer. It’s quite unique and I know of no other cake which does this. I suppose Stollen is similar in that it has marzipan baked inside, but Stollen is more of a bread than a cake, and there is no marzipan decoration.

The marzipan on top of the cake is often lightly toasted gently under a grill to give it a speckled golden appearance and a little more depth of flavour. Alternatively you swipe at it with a blowtorch (I did!) I find this results in a more even browning.

The eleven marzipan balls around the edge are meant to represent the twelve disciples, minus the traitor Judas. However, I’m unsure if this was present on the traditional Mothers Day Simnel cake as this seems to symbolise an event more associated with Easter, so this may have been added later. Either way if you are a lover of marzipan, then getting a slice of cake with one of the marzipan balls is an extra treat.

My mother and I both love this cake and I try to bake her one every year. Unfortunately (for me) she is away on holiday over Mothers Day this year, but I am going to see her in a few weeks time, and plan to bake her one then. These photos are actually from a previous years Simnel cake, but I wanted to encourage everyone to bake one themselves.
This recipe originally came from The Ultimate Cake Book by Mary Berry. I have been baking Mary Berry’s recipes since I was a little girl and this book belongs to my mum. It’s much used, its batter splattered pages a record of years of enjoyment. I have fond memories of sitting for hours and reading through the recipes and gazing in wonder at the (now slightly dated and faded) photographs. I like to think I knew and loved her long before her Great British Bake Off  fame.
This cake is light, moist and studded with a colourful array of fruits. The sweet gooey marzipan adds a wonderful flavour that goes so well with the fruits. I find baking one a very enjoyable experience as mixing the batter always makes me reflect back on happy memories, mixing a little love into the cake itself. I’m sure this is one of the reasons it tastes so good, as a cake made with love, for someone you love is truly a special thing.

Simnel Cake
(Recipe adapted from Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book)
175g light soft brown sugar
175g butter
175g gluten free (or regular) self raising flour
3 eggs
25g ground almonds
2 tbsp milk
100g sultanas
100g dried apricots
100g glace cherries
50g extra dried fruit of choice – raisins, pear, cranberries etc
2 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon
250g marzipan
2 tbsp apricot jam

Preheat the oven to 160C. Grease and line the base and sides of a deep 8inch/20cm round cake tin with greaseproof paper.
Weigh the sugar, butter, flour, ground almonds, eggs and spices into a bowl. Beat together using an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in the milk.
Weigh out the dried fruit and chop the apricots and cherries into large pieces using a pair of scissors.
Fold all the dried fruit into the cake batter.
Pour half the cake mix into the tin and spread into an even layer.
Take 100g of the marzipan and roll out into a circle. Use the base of the cake tin to cut out a circle. Place this circle of marzipan on top of the cake batter in the pan. Top with the remaining cake mix and spread out evenly.
Bake in the oven for 1 hour before quickly removing the cake from the oven, covering the top of the tin with foil to prevent it from browning any further and return the tin to the oven for a further 30-40 minutes
It should be firm yet springy to the touch when cooked.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin. Once cool, release from the tin and carefully peel off the greaseproof paper.
Thinly roll out the remaining marzipan and cut out another circle, using the cake tin as a guide like before.
Heat the apricot jam until soft. Brush over the top of the cake and place the marzipan disc on top. Use your fingers to crimp the edges slightly.
Gather up the leftover scraps of marzipan and roll into 11 balls. Use a little jam or water to attach them around the rim of the cake.
Heat your grill and place the cake under the grill and allow the marzipan to toast and go golden brown. Rotate the cake as needed and keep a careful eye on it as it will start to brown very suddenly. Alternatively use a blowtorch (I find this works best) or leave it natural.
Tie a ribbon around the cake and present to your Mum.
Makes one 8inch/20cm cake


Nic said...

Love the blowtorch idea, looks brilliant!

The Caked Crusader said...

Lovely presentation - your toasted balls look adorable. What a shame your mum is away...but on the bright side, more cake for you!

Elle said...

Such a nice cake to share with your Mother each year! I love marzipan, so I would hope to get one of those toasted balls.