Simnel Cake (something special for Easter) 

Simnel cake is a light fruit cake traditionally eaten during the Easter period. Dating back to medieval times, the 11 marzipan balls decorating the cake are said to represent the eleven apostles of Christ, minus Judas. Don’t be put off by thinking making a fruit cake is hard work and expensive. It’s basically just a normal sponge cake with dried fruit added. 
 
Ingredients 
 
  • 225g soft unsalted butter
  • 225g soft brown sugar

  • 4 eggs
  • 225g self-raising flour

  • 500g mixed dried fruit (currants, sultanas, raisins) soaked over night in 100ml of brandy (optional) 
  • 100g glacé cherries 
  • 50g mixed peel 
  • Zest of 1 lemon 
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon of mixed spice
  • 500g of marzipan split into 3 equal quantities and wrapped in cling film to stop it from drying out
  • 3 tablespoons of apricot jam
1 beaten egg 
 
I like to soak my fruit over night in brandy but this isn’t essential and, if you’ve children who are going to be eating the cake, you may choose not to do this. To do this I heat the brandy gently in a small pan, take it off the heat, stir in the dried fruit and put to one side over night or for a few hours if overnight isn’t possible. 
 
To make the cake, begin by creaming together the soft butter and sugar in a large bowl until it’s light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. By adding one at a time your mixture shouldn’t curdle. Once both the eggs are well beaten into the egg and sugar mixture, gently fold in the flour and mixed spices a little at a time. 
 
Finally fold in the glacé cherries and dried fruit (not the remaining brandy that hasn’t been absorbed into the fruit but put to one side to use later). 
 
Grease and line a 20cm in diameter loose bottomed tin with baking parchment and fill with half the cake mixture. 
Roll out one of the thirds of marzipan to the same size as the cake tin and place on top of the cake mixture. 
Fill the tin with the rest of the mixture and level the surface. 
 
Bake in a preheated oven at 150 degrees for approximately 2 hours. Check after 1 1/2 hours by sticking a metal skewer into the cake. This should come out clean when the cake is ready. If there is any uncooked cake mixture on the skewer just pop back into the oven for another 20 minutes or so. At this stage you could place a piece of kitchen foil loosely on top of the tin to stop the top of the cake from cooking too much. 
When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and leave to stand in the tin for 15 - 30 minutes. At this point you can brush over the remaining brandy from the soaked fruit then turn out onto a wire cooling rack until completely cool. 
 
To decorate the cake, start by gently heating the apricot jam in a small pan then brush this onto the top of the cake. 
Roll out the second third of marzipan into a circle slightly bigger than the cake, then place on top and crimp the edges. With a sharp knife gently make a criss cross pattern on top of the marzipan, making care not to go all the way through then brush with the beaten egg. 
 
Divide the last third of the marzipan into 11 and roll each into a ball and place evenly around the edge of the cake then brush with the remaining beaten egg. 
 
To finish off the cake, place under a hot grill for a couple of minutes until the marzipan is golden brown, watching all the time as it can burn quickly.