If you need a break from banana bread, which appears to have become the official cake of social distancing, why not look ahead to Easter?
Simnel cake – a sturdy fruit cake topped with a disc of marzipan – dates back to the 11th century. It has traditionally been eaten in the UK and Ireland, and is now best known as the ultimate edible centrepiece for Easter Sunday.
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Food writer and puddings historian Regula Ysewijn’s recipe, from new cookbook, Oats In The North, Wheat From The South, is as time-honoured as they come…
(For 6–8 people)
For the home-made marzipan:
200g icing sugar
200g caster sugar
360g almond flour
40g apricot kernels (if you can’t find apricot kernels, use an extra 20g almond flour and add a few drops of natural almond flavour or maraschino liqueur)
2 eggs, beaten
For the cake:
115g butter, at room temperature
115g caster sugar
110g plain flour
55g almond flour
1tsp baking powder
55g candied citrus peel, chopped
½tbsp apricot jam, to garnish
Butter, for greasing
Flour, for dusting
1 egg yolk + 1tbsp milk, for egg wash
1. It is best to make the marzipan a day in advance. Sift the icing sugar, caster sugar and almond meal into a large bowl and mix well. Soak the apricot kernels in boiling water for five minutes, then remove the skins. Using a mortar and pestle, finely crush the apricot kernels and add the rosewater or maraschino liqueur.
2. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the eggs and the apricot kernel mixture. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix everything well, then use your hands to knead the marzipan. If necessary, add a teaspoon of water at a time until it comes together but doesn’t become sticky. Wrap the marzipan in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature.
3. Preheat your oven to 160°C (320°F). Grease a round 18–20cm springform tin and cover the base and side with a double layer of baking paper. Fold a piece of brown paper in half, then wrap it around the outside of the tin and secure with kitchen string.
4. Divide the marzipan in half and roll each piece out to about 5mm thick. Use the cake tin to cut out two 20cm circles. Roll 11 marzipan balls from the leftover marzipan.
5. Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and make sure that each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next one. Add a teaspoon of the flour with the last egg to prevent the mixture from separating. Fold in the remaining flour, the almond flour and baking powder, followed by the currants and the candied citrus peel.
6. Spoon half of the batter into the tin, then place one of the marzipan circles neatly on top of the batter. Spoon the other half of the batter on top.
7. Reduce the oven to 130°C (250°F) and bake the cake in the lower part of the oven for two and a half to three hours.
8. Remove the cake from the oven and switch the oven function to grill. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then remove it from the tin. Brush the top of the cake with a thin layer of apricot jam and place the remaining marzipan circle on top. Arrange the marzipan balls on the marzipan circle, using a little apricot jam to secure them.
9. Lightly brush the marzipan balls with the egg wash. Briefly put the cake back in the oven to give the balls a light golden colour.
Oats In The North, Wheat From The South: The History Of British Baking, Savoury And Sweet by Regula Ysewijn is published by Murdoch Books. Available now.