Sadly, fewer and fewer cooks make a Simnel Cake, which to my mind is much nicer than the heavier Christmas cake. The distinguishing features of a Simnel cake are the eleven marzipan balls on top, said to represent the apostles (minus Judas), which are sometimes shaped like eggs, the symbol of spring and rebirth; and also the extra layer of marzipan in the middle of the cake, or small lumps of marzipan stirred into the mixture, adding richness and flavour.
Large pinch each of salt and baking powder
225g / 8oz plain flour
55g / 2oz rice flour
110g / 4oz glacé cherries
225g / 8oz butter
225g / 8oz caster sugar
1 lemon, zest only
4 eggs, separated
225g / 8oz sultanas
110g / 4oz currants
30g / 1oz candied peel, chopped
340g / 12oz marzipan
1 tbsp apricot jam
110g / 4oz icing sugar, sifted
- Set the oven to 180˚C/Fan 160˚C/gas mark 4. Prepare a 20cm / 8-inch cake tin with a double lining of greased and floured greaseproof paper. Wrap the outside of the cake tin with a double thickness of brown paper to insulate the cake from direct heat.
- Sift the salt, baking powder and flours. Cut the cherries in half.
- Cream the butter until soft. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the lemon rind.
- Beat in the egg yolks. Whisk the whites until stiff.
- Fold one-third of the sifted flour into the mixture. Fold in the egg whites by degrees, alternating with the remaining flour and the fruit peel.
- Put half the mixture into the prepared tin, spreading it flat.
- Take just over one third of the marzipan paste. Roll it into a smooth round. Place it on the cake mixture in the tin and cover with the remaining mixture.
- With a palette knife make a dip in the centre of the cake to counteract any tendency to rise in the middle.
- Bake for 1 ¾ hours, then stick a skewer into the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. If sticky cake mixture adheres to it, reduce the oven heat to 150˚C/Fan 130˚C/gas mark 2 and bake for a further 30 minutes.
- Roll the remaining marzipan into a circle the same size as the top of the cake. Cut a piece from the centre about 12.5cm / 5 inches in diameter and shape into 11 small, even-sized balls.
- Thinly spread the apricot jam round a centimetre margin of the cake top. Lay the ring of marzipan on top of the cake. Arrange the marzipan balls on top of the ring.
- When the cake is cold mix the icing sugar with a teaspoon or of two boiling-hot water and mix to a smooth, just liquid consistency. Pour the icing into the centre of the cake. Tie a ribbon around the outside.