Traditional simnel cake recipe
This traditional Easter fruit cake is topped with 11 spheres of homemade marzipan, representing all the Apostles, minus Judas. Decorate with a wide yellow ribbon.
For the marzipan decoration
- 225g/8oz icing sugar, plus at least 3 tbsp for rolling
- 175g/6oz caster sugar
- 350g/12oz ground almonds
- 2 large free-range eggs
- ½ tsp almond extract
- 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tbsp apricot jam
For the fruit cake
- 1 well-scrubbed orange, freshly squeezed juice and finely grated zest
- 1 unwaxed lemon, freshly squeezed juice and finely grated zest
- 500g/1lb 2oz mixed dried fruit
- 100g/3½oz glacé cherries, halved
- 225g/8oz self-raising flour
- 2 tsp ground mixed spice
- 3 large free-range eggs
- 175g/6oz butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
- 175g/6oz light muscovado sugar
- First make the marzipan. Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl and stir in the caster sugar and almonds.
- Beat the eggs with the almond extract and lemon juice in a separate bowl. Stir into the dry ingredients with a large spoon until the mixture begins to come together. Use your hands to continue combining the mixture into a stiff, but pliable paste.
- Dust the work surface with more sifted icing sugar and knead the marzipan for a minute or two until smooth. Return to the bowl, cover tightly with cling and leave to stand for 1-2 hours before using. This will allow the almonds to swell and absorb some of the moisture from the egg mixture. (Please note: this recipe contains raw eggs.)
- To make the cake, put the orange and lemon juice in a non-stick saucepan and add the dried fruit and cherries. Bring to a simmer over a medium heat and bubble for two minutes, stirring constantly until the liquid disappears. Remove from the heat, tip onto a large plate and leave to cool.
- Butter and line the base and sides of a 20cm/8in loose-based deep round cake tin with two layers of baking parchment. Mix the flour and mixed spice in a large bowl. Whisk the eggs together in another bowl.
- Preheat the oven to 170C/150C (fan)/Gas 3.
- Put the butter and sugar into an electric food mixer and beat for 3-4 minutes, or until very light and fluffy. You will have to push the mixture down a couple of times with a rubber spatula. (If you don’t have a food mixer, use electric beaters and a very large bowl. Do not use a food processor for this recipe.)
- Slowly add the beaten eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. If you add them too quickly the batter may curdle, so you’ll need to beat in a couple of tablespoons of the flour mixture and then continue.
- Turn off the motor and add all the flour mixture to the batter in two batches. Beat in very slowly then remove the bowl from the stand, if necessary, and stir in the dried fruit and orange and lemon zest. Spoon just half of the mixture into the lined cake tin and smooth the surface as evenly as you can. Set the rest of the cake batter aside.
- Dust a sheet of baking parchment with sifted icing sugar. Divide the marzipan into three equal balls. Take one of the balls and roll out on the parchment into a circle around 5mm thick and about 2cm/¾in larger than the cake tin. Place the cake tin on top of the rolled marzipan and use it as a template to out a circle around 1cm/½in larger than the tin.
- Place the round of marzipan carefully on top of the cake mixture in the tin, making sure it reaches the sides.
- Spoon the reserved cake mixture on top and smooth the surface. Wrap the remaining marzipan portions tightly in cling film to prevent them drying out.
- Bake the cake for about 1 hour 20 minutes, or until well risen, firm and golden-brown. If you are unsure about whether the cake is ready, poke a long metal skewer carefully into the centre. Try not to remove the cake from the oven for testing, or it could sink, but take care not to burn yourself.
- If the cake is ready, the skewer should come out clean. If not, close the oven and continue cooking for longer then test again. You may want to cover the cake loosely with some foil if the top is beginning to brown too much before it is ready in the middle. When it is cooked, remove the cake from the oven but leave it to cool in the tin for 15 minutes. Then remove from the tin, peel off the lining paper, put the cake on a wire rack and leave to cool.
- To decorate, turn the cooled cake upside down and place on a baking tray or grill pan. (Turning the cake upside down will give you a flatter surface for decorating.)
- Heat the apricot jam in a small non-stick saucepan for one minute, until warm, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat. Dust a sheet of baking parchment with more sifted icing sugar.
- Take one of the marzipan balls and roll out on the parchment into a circle around 5mm thick and just a little larger than the cake tin. Place the cake tin on top of the rolled marzipan and use it as a template to out a circle the same size as the tin.
- Brush the surface of the cake with the warm jam and cover with the marzipan circle. Flute or pinch the marzipan all the way around the edge. Using the tip of score a criss-cross pattern over the marzipan in two directions at roughly 2.5cm/1in intervals.
- Form the remaining marzipan into 11 balls to represent all the Apostles, minus Judus. Each of the balls needs to weigh 16-20g/½-¾oz so you will have a little marzipan leftover – you don’t want the balls to be ridiculously large. Dab one side of each ball with a little of the jam and place around the edge of the cake.
- Place the cake under a preheated hot grill – around 15-20cm/6-8in from the element – for 2-3 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Watch the marizpan carefully so that it doesn’t. Leave to cool.
- Transfer the cake to a board or cake plate and wrap with a wide yellow ribbon into slices to serve.