|I put eight marzipan balls on our cake; one for my wonderful husband and one for each amazing child/ stepchild/ daughter-in-law: Nanda, Vijay and Saraswati, Yadu, Sheenie, Tam, Aran and Radha... sending love to all of you x|
Simnel cake (usually made with egg) is now associated with Easter, but was actually originally made for Mothering Sunday. "Mothering" originally referred to visiting your nearest large or "mother" church, but in the sixteenth century, it became customary to visit your own mother on Mothering Sunday to pay respect and get her blessing.When young boys and girls in service would return to visit their families on this day, sometimes the cook would make them this cake to take with them as a gift along with Spring wildflowers they would pick on the way. It is a fruit cake, but not a rich nutty one like Christmas cake. It would have given a welcome, if temporary, relief from the Lenten fasting, during which eggs and sugar were not allowed. It does have marzipan in and on it, traditionally including 11 or 12 balls on top. They either represent the Christian apostles (with or without Judas), or eggs, representing the renewal of life in Spring. We like to think of them as representing our own children and dear ones. Whatever it means to you, this cake is a delicious teatime treat; a tradition well worth keeping alive! One interesting (but probably spurious) Victorian story about how it got its name is that long ago in Shropshire there lived a couple called Simon and Nelly who decided to make a cake for their visiting family from leftover unleavened Lenten dough and Christmas plum pudding. However, they could not agree about whether it should be boiled or baked and even came to blows about it, breaking some furniture as they quarrelled. In the end, they agreed to both boil and bake it and it was cooked on a fire fuelled by the broken furniture. The cake was, however, delicious, and became known as "simnel" after its creators, Simon and Nelly. Strangely enough, most modern simnel cake recipes are just baked not boiled as well, and not wishing to find out why the hard way, we stuck to just baking too. Of course, we had to change something, so rather than use mixed spice we added a bit of carob powder. (And that's carob powder on top of the decorations too, as I had no time to brown them under the grill.)
400g self-raising flour
4 tsps baking powder
200g demerara sugar
1 level tab carob powder
100g chopped glace cherries
the grated rind and juice of one small lemon (you can grate it flesh and all in a food processor)
150ml peanut oil
400ml unsweetened soya milk
approx 1kg marzipan (depends on diameter of cake) for decorating
- Combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
- Next, stir in the wet ingredients (this includes the lemon) and beat for about a minute.
- Put into a prepared cake tin/ silicone mould and bake for about half an hour in an oven preheated to 180C. We used 2x 10" silicone moulds, but you could use a smaller deeper pan and slice the cake in half to fill. (For a deeper cake you may have to adjust the cooking time and temperature though.) When a thin skewer emerges from the cake clean you know it's done.
- When the cake is cool, roll some of the marzipan into balls and divide the remainder in half. Roll out one thin circle to fill and one to cover the cake, The easiest way to do this is to roll it between two sheets of clingfilm. Some people like to brush the cake with apricot jam first, but I think this would add too much sugar to an already very sweet cake. The marzipan sticks just fine without jam anyway.
- As a finishing touch, you could either brown the marzipan balls under the grill or sprinkle a little carob powder on top.