In the run up to Easter our minds are filled with chocolate, chocolate and, well, chocolate.
We tend to forget about our wonderful British traditions that used to grace our dining tables during our Easter family celebrations. And one of these delicious treats is…
Simnel cake is thought to originate from around the 17th century. Female servants would bake a rich fruity cake to take home to their mothers as a gift on Mothering Sunday, but due to the fasting restrictions of Lent, the cake was eaten on Easter Sunday as this marked the end of Lent.
Simnel cake is similar to our traditional Christmas cake, but with a hidden layer of marzipan baked through the middle, and topped with marzipan decorations. The decoration was also symbolic; Simnel cakes were decorated with 11 marzipan balls which represented the 11 disciples (Judas Iscariot being seen as a traitor was not recognised as the 12th disciple).
Running a cake business I have found that the popularity of fruit cakes is steadily decreasing; it may be its richness, or people simply don’t like dried fruits such as currants and sultanas, and I think that over the years to come we will slowly lose our great British cakes.
I would like to share a recipe with you for my mini simnel cakes, which I have developed to suit our modern day tastes. This recipe is a lighter version than its traditional counterpart, filled with juicy dried apricots and dates and only delicately spiced. I have also broken away from tradition by making these lovely little marzipan roses which have been delicately toasted as the top decoration.
Miniature Simnel Cakes
120g Butter, at room temperature
120g Brown Sugar
130g Plain Flour
80g Dried Apricots, finely chopped
60g Dates, finely chopped
¼ Lemon Zest, grated
¼ Orange Zest, grated
¼ tsp Cinnamon
¼ tsp Nutmeg
120g Marzipan (ready-made is fine)
1-2 tbsp. Apricot Jam
Icing sugar (for rolling out marzipan)
You will require 8 Miniature Cake Tins*, each approximately 2” dia. x 2” high, and two round pastry cutters, 1” dia. and 1.75” dia. Alternatively, you can roll small marzipan balls and flatten them into thin discs.
Preheat oven to 150c fan.
Grease or line cake tins. I use Alan Silverwood baking cylinders so I line the baking sheet with greaseproof paper and place the cake tins on the baking sheet. I then line each tin with a strip of greaseproof paper which is 1cm higher than the tin. You could also use cake release spray.
Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, in a stand mixer or using an electric hand whisk. Add 1 egg with a tbsp. of flour and mix well. Add the second egg with another tbsp. of the flour and mix well. Add the remaining flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and citrus zests and mix until well incorporated. Finally, add the apricots and dates and gently mix until combined.
On a work surface dusted with a little icing sugar, roll out half of the marzipan to 5mm thickness approx. Take the smaller of the two round cutters and stamp out 8 circles. Gather up the offcuts and place back with the remaining marzipan.
Fill each cake tin with batter to a third of its depth, place a marzipan disc in the centre and fill the tins to three quarters full with the remaining batter.
Place in the centre of the oven for approximately 30 mins, insert a skewer into the middle of the cake, if skewer comes out clean the cake is done. If not, leave for a further five minutes and check again. Remove cakes from the oven and leave to cool.
Remove from tins and level the tops with a sharp knife. Brush a small amount of apricot jam over the tops of the cakes.
On a work surface dusted with a little icing sugar, roll out the remaining marzipan to 5mm thickness approx. Take the larger of the two round cutters and stamp out 8 circles. Gather up the offcuts and set aside for decoration.
Place the marzipan discs on the tops of the cakes. You can go with tradition and place a small ball of marzipan on top; or as I have, add a marzipan rose (please contact email@example.com for details on how to do this).
Place cakes back on a baking sheet and place under a preheated hot grill for 1 minute, or until the marzipan takes on a beautiful golden colour. – keep an eye on them at all times! You can serve these little treats immediately, or store in an airtight tin for 3-4 weeks.
* A set of Alan Silverwood 16 miniature cake tins can be purchased online, or Lakeland stock push pan tins that may also be suitable