Easter, and I was thinking in terms of chocolate. The I realised that many of us have far too much actual chocolate around at this time somehow about making something that would last until we are ready for a different sweet treat, so fruit cake in general and Simnel cake in particular came to mind.
I also wanted to experiment with a slightly less extravagant version of the Ginger fruit and nut cake. My local Holland and Barrett had a couple of packets of dried pineapple and papaya on the bargain tray, so I was on my way. I needed 1400g of assorted dried fruit and this was what I used:
- Holland and Barrett fruit surprise – 500g (picking out the large pieces of banana chip, so I lost about 20g there and made it up with currants)
- Holland and Barrett dried sweetened pineapple and papaya – 200g
- Glacé cherries – 500g
- Chopped peel – 200g
and soaked them in:
- strong cold black tea – 500ml (about 2 mugs)
When soaking the fruit for the ginger cake, I found that 250mls of soaking liquid was enough. Maybe these bargain fruits were a bit dry, but this time I found I needed 500mls (about 2 mugs) of soaking liquid. I used strong cold tea because I wanted to see if a non-alcohol version would be good.
This makes a lot of cake; I wanted one fairly big one (23 cm / 9 inch) and two smaller ones (I chose a 15cm / 6 inch and a strange little small loaf tin I’ve got that is about 3/4lb size). For a more conventional option, this would make two 2lb loaves, good for slicing, or two good 23 cm / 9 inch cakes, or 10 mini-loaf cakes. To make it easier to get the cakes out of the tims:
- lightly grease the tins or spray with baking spray.
- cut a piece of baking parchment the size of the base of each tin; use it to line the tins
The Ginger fruit and nut cake calls for 400g of nuts but because it was going to be a sort of Simnel cake, I wanted to put a disk of marzipan in the middle so I cut the nuts back. Also, the mixture seemed to need a bit of extra flour and egg this time, and I wanted it spicy rather than orangy.
Next day, I mixed in:
- Chopped walnuts – 200g
- Plain flour – 250g
- Mixed spice – 2 tablespoons (that’s right, I wanted this one spicy)
- Baking powder – half a teaspoon
- Eggs – 3 large
Simnel cakes are supposed to have a layer of marzipan in them. So I did this:
- Put the oven on at 140C (with fan), 150C (no fan)
- Rolled out 500g of marzipan thinly.
- Put half the mixture in your chosen tins.
- Use the base of the tins as a template to cut out marzipan to fit each tin.
- Put the marzipan in the tins.
- Save any marzipan trimmings for the topping next day; wrap it in cling film to make sure it doesn’t dry out.
- Top with the remaining mixture.
- Baked until they smelled fragrantly of cake and the tops were medium-brown.
The actual baking time will depend on the size of your tins; mine took just over an hour.
Once they were cold, I turned them out of the tins and peeled off the baking paper. With this amount of fruit compared to flour, the tops were as bumpy as a Rocky Road so I levelled them off slightly and turned the cakes over to get a flat base for my marzipan topping. Left them to dry out a bit overnight.
To decorate the cakes:
- Brushed the cakes with some jam (I used cherry; the conventional thing would be apricot but really any jam will do). This helped to fill in the odd dent.
- Rolled out anothr 500g of marzipan (plus the trimmings from the day before) and used this to put a topping layer on each cake.
- Used the leftover trimmings of the marzipan to make the traditional little decorating balls, but I opted for a lot of balls crammed together rather than the correct 11 balls
- Used a blowtorch to brown the marzipan lightly.
Result: a very rich, delicious cake that is in no way economical. Also, there is so much solid fruit going on that the interior marzipan layer disappeared; another time, I wouldn’t bother with it and use only half the marzipan.