Simnel fruit cake is a light, sweet fruit cake, traditionally served at Easter, that is adored by people who love marzipan and almond paste. Traditionally there are layers of marzipan in the center of the cake and on top, and the cake is decorated with eleven toasted marzipan balls dotted around the top of the cake. The cake is made with candied lemon lemon, dried fruits, nuts and other mixed peel.
This fruit cake is lighter and sweeter than traditional heavy Christmas cakes and heavy fruit cakes. Though traditionally cooked and eaten at Easter, it can be enjoyed at any time. There are many variations for you to try to suit your taste preferences and availability of ingredients.
This article provides tips for cooking delightful Simnel cakes at home, discusses the options and variations and includes four of the best ever Simnel Cake recipes from around the globe.
► Yeast can be used as a raising agent, but baking powder generally creates a softer, smaller crumb, which is one of the characteristics of this cake.
► You can replace some of the flour with ground almonds, but with so much almonds already in the marzipan, this might be overdoing it, though it can make the cake softer and moist.
► You can replace some of the flour with rice flour to increase the lightness and create a softer texture.
► You can use golden syrup and even treacle and other sugar sources, but these tend to produce heavier cakes with stronger flavors. Soft brown sugar makes a lighter, sweeter cake.
► You can replace some or all of the milk with water, almond milk and other milk substitutes, but milk produces a moister, lighter cake.
► Various combinations of currants, sultanas, raisins, chopped apricots, peaches and pears can be used. Having something unusual adds interest to the cake.
► Candied lemon and orange peel is a key feature of this cake. Having a variety of peel types adds interest. You can also use crystallised ginger and good quality glacé cherries that add color to the cake.
► Nuts are optional. Some people like to make Simnel cakes without nuts to have a soft and fruity texture. Others go to the other extreme and add whole almonds, macadamia nuts and walnuts. Perhaps it is best to use chopped nuts or small pieces rather than whole nuts to add extra flavor otherwise the cake may become a heavy fruit cake.
► You can add a variety of traditional spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger powder and even saffron. The various spice combinations such as 'allspice' can be used, but you deny yourself the opportunity of giving the cake a distinct taste. The peel adds spiciness and spices should be used sparingly, especially for nutmeg and cinnamon.
► The marzipan can be the bought variety or home made. The amount used and where, depends on your preferences. Toasting the marzipan adds flavor and interest, but it burns very easily.
► Baking the Simnel Cake slowly using a very low temperature seems to maximize the moisture of the cake when cooked low. The temperature can be higher at the start and then reduced. Covering the top of the cake is essential to prevent it burning before the center is cooked.
For the home made marzipan
Make the marzipan by adding the icing sugar, ground almonds, egg yolk, dash of almond essence and the orange blossom water to a bowl and mixing thoroughly. Whisk the egg white and add gradually to the marzipan mixture to form a soft dough, then add just enough to bring the marzipan together in a soft dough. Form the dough into a ball, wrap and chill in the refrigerator.
Dry roast the almonds in the over until brown and crunchy. Heat the oven to 130 C (265 degrees F). Grease an 18-20 cm (7 in x 8 in) loose-bottomed, cake tin with high sides, and line with two layers of baking paper. Cut an extra circle of paper for the top of the cake to stop it burning (cut a small circle in the center of the paper to help the cake rise properly). Warm the milk, add saffron, stir and set aside. Add the flour, ground almonds, baling powder, salt and spices to a large bowl and whisk together to mix. Beat the butter using a food mixer until soft, and then add the sugar a little at a time while beating. Add the eggs one at a time while beating, followed by the zest and syrup. Roughly chop the almonds and then add to the cake mixture. Add the dried fruit, cherries, saffron and milk mixture and mixed peel. Transfer about half of the cake mixture into the greased and lined tin and flatten down. Add a thin layer of marzipan (about 1/3) that has been rolled out in a circle on top of the cake mixture. Then, add the rest of the cake mixture to the pan. Cover the cake with the circle of paper prepared previously. Bake the Simnel bake for about 2 - 3 hours until a skewer inserted into the top layer of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool, and top with a thin spread. Toast the top of the cake under the grill or using a blowtorch to brown the marzipan slightly. Add the balls and toast once again.
Heat oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees F), Combine the mixed fruit, Cointreau, cherries, zest and orange juice into a bowl and set aside for 15-30 minutes. Grease and line the base and sides of a large loaf tin with baking parchment. Roll the marzipan into a sausage shape the same length as the tin. Roll it out to the same width as the tin. Set aside. Place the rolled marzipan on top of the cake mixture in the pan. Add the rest of the cake mixture on top. Add a layer of paper on top to prevent burning. Bake in the preheated oven for about 2 hours, until firm to the touch. Check at 90 minutes and then every 15 minutes to test if it is cooked in the center. It is cooked when a skewer inserted into the cake about half-way deep (above the marzipan layer) comes out clean. Set aside to cook in the tin before serving.
For the Almond Paste
For the Cake
Preheat oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees F). Grease a line a large, high-sided cake tin with baking paper. Cut extra paper to cover the cake when cooking. To make the almond paste, put icing sugar and almonds in a food processor or blender bowl. Pulse in short bursts until the almonds are chopped. Slowly add the orange juice, egg yolk and almond essence and pulse until the mixture forms a smooth, pliable paste. Make eleven small balls from the mixture and set aside for decorating the top of the cake. Roll out the remaining almond paste into two flat pieces the size of the cake tin base, and set aside.
To make the cake mixture, sift the flour, spices and salt together into a large mixing bowl and then mix in the fruit and peel. Cream the sugar into the butter and sugar in a separate bowl and then add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Blend the dry mixed flour and fruit into creamed mixture, adding a little milk if required. The final mixture should just drop from a spoon when suspended over the bowl. Pour half of the mixture into the prepared tin, flatten and top with one sheet of almond paste. Add the rest of the cake mixture and top with two layers of baking paper. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes, until a thin metal skewer inserted into the top part of the cake above the marzipan layer comes out clean. Removed from the oven and set aside for 15-20 minutes to cool. Peel off paper and set aside to cool completely. Place the second rolled piece of almond paste on top. Brush the top with a small amount of beaten egg and toast under the grill to slightly brown the almond paste. Add the almond balls and toast again, being careful not to burn the almond paste.
Preheat your oven to 140 degrees C (275 degrees F). Line an 18 cm (7 in) diameter baking tin with baking parchment. Cut a circle for placing on top of the cake when it is cooking to stop burning. Chop the glace cherries and add them to the raisins, sultanas and mixed spice in a medium size bowl. Mix well to coat all the fruit with the mixed spice. Roll out the marzipan to two circles, the size of the pan. Using a large mixing bowl, cream together the marmalade, margarine and sugar. Add the banana and mash into the mixture. Blend in the ground almonds, chickpea flour and baking powder. Add the apple juice, spiced fruit mix prepared previously and mix well. Transfer half of the mixture into the tin, cover with one circle of marzipan and add the rest of the cake mixture on top. Cook for 80 to 100 minutes until the cake is brown on top. Test for doneness using a thin metal skewer inserted into the top of the cake above the marzipan layer. Use the other circle of marzipan as an icing.