Light Simnel Cake is not as heavy as a traditional fruit cake, but has all the flavour and fruit – and lots of marzipan. Make for Mothering Sunday or Easter
Light Simnel Cake
Simnel Cake was traditionally taken by servant girls to their mothers on Mothering Sunday, which falls three weeks before Easter. It’s usually a fruit cake with a layer of almond paste, or marzipan, in the middle and another on top. It’s decorated with 11 balls of marzipan, one for each disciple – apart from Judas Iscariot, who is persona non grata at this point.
Simnel Cake can also be more of a general Easter cake – to celebrate the end of Lent and the return to eggs and sugar – and this light version is ideal for either occasion.
Although any fruit cake will do, there are some ingredients that make this a special cake:
Marzipan, or almond paste, is an essential part of a Simnel Cake. You could make the marzipan (1 quantity is what you need), or you can buy it, in which case you need about 1kg. Any leftover can be kept in the fridge for a week or so until needed next, made into shapes like petit fours – or Marzipan Stars – or it’s a good excuse to make some Simnel Cupcakes. You can use more or less of the amount you have, depending on how much you like marzipan.
To get the right sized circles for inside and the top of the cake, I put the ball of marzipan on a silicone baking mat so it won’t stick, and pat with the flat of my hand until it’s about the right size and shape. Then I put a baking parchment circle of the right size on top and use a rolling pin to correct the shape. If you want to be exact, roll the marzipan a bit bigger than the parchment circle and use a knife to cut out the shape.
I’ve used cherries, raisins and candied peel, soaked in brandy, but you can use any combination of dried fruit that you like (or have in the cupboard). Similarly, you can use any spirit for soaking the fruit. The alcohol will be burned off in cooking so the cake won’t contain any, but the flavour will remain.
I’ve kept the flavouring lighter than I would in a Christmas Cake with less mixed spice, plus the zest of an orange and some juice to add a bit of zing. Really, it’s all about the fruit and feeling that spring is on the way, so nothing heavy is required!
- Kitchen Blow Torch – The easiest way to brown the top of a cake like this is with a blow torch, preferably one intended for the kitchen. If you are buying one, do make sure it has a safety catch so that it can’t be accidentally switched on. The flame wouldn’t come on anyway, but you don’t really want a cupboard full of butane gas.
If you like this…
…Why don’t you try:
For a 17/18 cm (7 inch) round cake:
‘Revive’ the dried fruit:
- Wash, dry and halve the cherries
- Put the cherries, raisins, and candied peel in a dish with the brandy
- Heat in the microwave on MEDIUM for 3 minutes in total, stirring once or twice. Heat on HIGH for 30 seconds. Leave to stand for 30 minutes if possible
- Set the oven to 180°C/ 160°C fan/ gas mark 4/ 350°F
- Line the base of the tin with a baking parchment circle. Grease the tin (if it needs it) with butter paper (or a little butter on kitchen paper)
- Take 2/5 (about 400g) of the marzipan and roll it into a ball in your hands then flatten onto a prepared surface. Shape into a circle about the size of the tin, using your handsIf you use a silicone baking mat or magic liner then you won’t need any extra icing sugar
- Using a baking parchment circle as a template, roll the marzipan to fit. Cut off any excess
- Put the rest of the marzipan in the fridge to keep firm.
For the cake:
- Put all the ingredients, except the marzipan and dried fruit, in a food processor or mixer and mix until well combined. Scrape down and briefly mix again.(Butter, sugar, eggs, flour, ground almonds, salt, orange zest and juice)
- Mix the dried fruit in with a spoon so that it is well distributed
- Spoon half the mixture into the cake tin. Place the marzipan circle over the cake mixture. Spoon the rest of the cake mixture over the marzipan and smooth
- Cook for 1 hour 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean of cake mix.The marzipan will stick to the skewer, so check carefully
- Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then remove and put on a wire cooling rack.
For the topping:
- Using another 2/5 of the marzipan, make a second disc – as before, but cutting the edge more carefully
- Divide the remaining marzipan into 11 and fashion each piece into a ball
- Place the marzipan disc on top of the cake and crimp with your fingers if desired (or if the edges are ragged)
- Using a sharp knife, cut a diamond pattern into the marzipan. Position the balls evenly around the edge of the cake
- If you want a browned top, lightly brush beaten egg over the marzipan and put under a medium grill for a few minutes.
Everyday Cooks tips:
- Use any fruit or alcohol that you like to vary the flavour
- If your cake has dipped or peaked in the middle when it’s cooked, put a piece of baking parchment or a clean tea towel on a cooling rack and turn the cake upside down as it cools in the tin. When you turn it out of the tin keep it upside down, and by the time it’s cooled the top will usually be flat.
- If your cake top is below the surface of the tin, run a palette knife round the sides to loosen first so that the cake drops
- Storage – Light Simnel Cake keeps for up to a month in an airtight container in the fridge