A simnel cake is a fruit cake with a middle layer of marzipan and another layer on the top. Since Victorian times, the cake has been decorated with 11 or 12 little balls of marzipan. It was traditionally eaten on the middle Sunday of Lent – the 12 balls representing Christ and his 11 apostles (minus the 12th, Judas).
I have a confession to make, I’d never actually eaten a simnel cake until I made these. What have I been waiting for? They’re easy to make from scratch and are delicious! The idea of cooking them in used food tins is ingenious. A word of caution, however, try not to use ring-pull tins. They have a lip at the top that makes it difficult to ease the cake out after baking. I had to open the other end of the tin to get them out!
Even though I used small tins (150g Morrison’s own brand sweetcorn… around the size of small Heinz baked beans ones), we shared half a cake each.
- 150g/5oz ground almonds
- 200g/7oz icing sugar + extra for rolling
- 2tsp almond extract
- 1 egg white
- 115g/4oz butter, softened
- 115g/4oz caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- 125g/4½oz self-raising flour
- 300g/10½oz mixed dried fruit ( any of currants, raisins, sultanas, mixed peel, glacé cherries)
- 1tsp mixed spice (I didn't have any, so I made my own mixture)
- 4tbsp apricot jam (I used some home-made plum jam)
- cocoa powder, for dusting
- Put the ground almonds, icing sugar, almond extract and egg white into a food processor and combine until a thick ball of dough is formed
- Turn the paste out onto a work surface and knead it a few times. Roll it into a log and wrap in cling film until the cake mixture has been made
- Any unused marzipan will keep for a month in the fridge or 6 months in the freezer
- Pre-heat the oven to 150ºC/300ºF/Gas mark 2. Line the base and sides of each tin with baking parchment
- Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy
- Add one of the eggs and combine until well mixed. Add the other egg with 1 tbsp of flour and mix again
- Stir in the rest of the four and all of the dried fruit
- Liberally sprinkle some icing sugar on a work surface and roll out the marzipan. Cut out 8 circles about ½cm thick and the same diameter as the tins
- Divide half the cake mixture between the tins and level the tops. Put a marzipan rounds on top of each and cover with the rest of the cake mixture
- Bake for an hour or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes away clean
- Allow the cakes to cool in their for 15 minutes before remove them to cool completely on a wire rack
- Trim the top of each cake with a sharp knife to make them flat
- Heat the jam and brush on the top of each cakes before cover each with the remaining marzipan rounds
- Make 36 mini balls with the remaining marzipan. Put 9 balls around the edge of each cake, using a little brush of jam to stick them in place
- Lightly sprinkle with cocoa powder
It’s Easter in a couple of weeks and this year, Justin’s birthday falls during the bank holiday weekend. I’ve already got him a present however, I’m thinking about getting him an additional one. One of these luxury, ethical Easter eggs will be just the ticket!
- Booja Booja large almond & sea salt caramel Easter egg – 138g: £26, Ethical Superstore
These wonderfully presented handmade Easter egg gifts are created by artisans in Kashmir, India using papier-mâché and hand painted with truly unique designs before being hand packed in Norfolk with Booja Booja’s melt in the mouth superior quality and award winning, dark chocolate, almond and sea salt caramel truffles. A truly beautiful and ethical Easter egg gift for the vegan in your life.
Booja Booja is a UK company with a refreshingly different mindset to its competitors; it strives to be minimal, renewable and of course beautiful! All of Booja Booja’s products are organic; free of dairy, wheat and gluten, are suitable for vegans and vegetarians, and are GMO free.
- Dark chocolate Easter egg with chocaviar 75%: £50, Venchi
Dark chocolate Easter egg coated with delicious 75% Chocaviar pearls with an elegant jewel gift inside.
To uphold ethics, Venchi buys its raw materials directly from the local community, guaranteeing a fair price that not only ensures the community a stable present and future, but also encourages research and development of the best extra fine cocoa varieties.
- Ostrich egg – dark: £75, Hotel Chocolat
Dark ostrich egg is made with half 70% dark chocolate with almonds and a dash of salt, and half 70% dark chocolate with hazelnuts and another sprinkling of salt. Served with a tray of 27 chocolates – pralines, truffles, caramels, patisserie and more – plus six golden eggs hidden inside the box for you to hunt, all in all this comes to more than a kilo of chocolate!
Engaged Ethics is the name we coined for our direct programme to create sustainable cocoa growing communities. It differs from most other ‘trading fairly’ programmes as it goes beyond simply writing out a cheque and standing back (which is still a great deal better than doing nothing!) It’s a roll-up-the-sleeves, take risks, long-term approach, which has led to a remarkable set of results so far.
Easter has come around again. I can’t believe I’ve never made hot cross buns, one of the most the traditional foods of this time of year. I almost never eat them, they traditionally contain orange and lemon peel and zest which my digestive system doesn’t seem to enjoy.
Baking my own means that I can omit those ingredients and making a hot cross loaf means it’s much easier to toast – the best way to eat it! I bought three, what look to be original Victorian, loaf tins this week. I’ve been looking forward to trying them out on something.
I adjusted a hot cross buns recipe from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s How to Make Bread. It’s probably the favourite of all my bread-making books because of all the great photos… and the fact that he has a bread-making method where there’s minimal kneading involved.
There are three main stages – the first two can be done a day or more in advance, allowing you to pace your bread-making and get other things done in between if you’re busy.
The recipe made two medium-sized loaves, the best hot cross bread I’ve ever eaten. A gorgeous flavour and texture, toasted and slathered in butter… yum!
- 225ml water
- 75g sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 cloves
- 2 star anise
- 45ml water
- 20ml vegetable oil
- 40g plain flour
- ¼tsp salt
- 10g fresh yeast or 5g active dry yeast
- 40g sugar
- 200ml warm water
- 200g plain flour
- 150g sultanas
- 150g currants
- 1tsp ground ginger
- 1tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼tsp ground cloves
- 200g strong bread flour
- ¼tsp salt
- 90g butter, softened
- 1 egg, beaten
- Put the water, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and star anise in a small saucepan.
- Heat and bring up to a boil
- Take off the heat and set aside in a cool place to allow the the spices to infuse. This glaze can be made a day in advance and stored in the fridge to use repeatedly for this recipe
- In a measuring jug, combine the water and oil
- In a small bowl, mix the flour and salt
- Add the oil mixture to the flour & salt mixture and combine well until you get a soft, smooth paste
- Cove and set aside in a cool place until needed
- Grease two 450g/1lb loaf tins
- In a (larger) mixing bowl, weigh out the yeast. Add the sugar and water and stir until dissolved
- Add the plain flour and combine until well mixed. This is the pre-ferment
- Cover the bowl and let ferment in a warm place until doubled in size - about half an hour
- While the pre-ferment rises, weigh out the dried fruit and spices, mix together and set aside
- In another (smaller) mixing bowl, mix together the strong bread flor and salt. This is the dry mixture
- Pull small pieces off the butter and lightly rub into the dry mixture using your fingertips until there are no more big lumps of butter
- Add the egg and risen pre-ferment to the flour mixture and combine with your hands until it comes together
- Cover and let stand for 10 minutes
- After the 10 minutes, with the dough remaining in the bowl, pull a portion of the dough up from the side ans press it in the middle. Turn the bowl slightly and repeat this process with another portion of the dough
- Cover the bowl again and let stand for 10 minutes
- Repeat steps 9 & 10 three times
- Add the reserved dried fruit mixture to the dough and knead gently until thoroughly mixed in
- Cover and let rise for half an hour
- Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour
- Transfer the dough to the floured work surface and divide into 2 equal pieces
- Form each piece into rounded oblongs and place into the two greased loaf tins
- Cover and allow to rise until doubled in size
- About 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/Gas mark 7. Place a roasting tin at the bottom of the oven to preheat. Fill a cup with water and set aside
- Fill a piping bag with the reserved mixture for the crosses. Pipe a cross across the top of each loaf
- Put the loaf tins into the oven, pour the reserved cupful of water onto the hot roasting tin and lower the temperature to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4
- Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown
- Remove from the oven, brush lightly with the reserved glaze
- Allow to cool before slicing (toasting) and serving
It’s Easter week, so we thought that we should make something that’s traditionally eaten at this time of year for this edition of Cakes & Bakes. We plumped for Crescia – an Italian cheese loaf.
You can use any hard cheese – parmesan, pecorino and so on.
The dough is simple to make and easy to handle.
It’s baked in a tall tin so it has a distinctive shape, like a panettone – the smell as it cooked was amazing!
A very handsome loaf wouldn’t you agree?
The bread is light and airy with a wonderful flavour. It’s traditionally eaten with cold meats. I’m vegetarian, but Justin volunteered to test this combination and tried it with some of his fennel salami – a perfect match he thought. It also works really well with various cheeses, olives, marinated vegetables, oil & balsamic vinegar etc, etc, etc.
We can highly recommend this loaf – and we certainly won’t be waiting till next Easter to make another one!
- 300g grated hard cheese (such as Parmesan Reggiano, Pecorino Romano or Grana Padano)
- 5 eggs
- 1tsp cracked black pepper
- pinch of salt
- 150g olive oil
- 150ml warm milk
- 1tbsp yeast
- ½tsp granulated sugar
- 600g strong bread flour
- Put the grated cheese into a large mixing bowl
- Break the eggs into a bowl or large measuring jug. Add the salt & pepper and whisk slightly
- Add the egg mixture to the grated cheese, add the olive oil and combine
- In a measuring jug, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk, add the sugar and allow to stand for 10 minutes
- Add ⅓ of the flour to the cheese, egg & oil mixture and combine
- Add ⅓ of the dissolved yeast mixture and combine
- Alternate adding & combining the flour and yeast mixtures until it has all been incorporated and you have a smooth paste that comes away from the edges of the bowl
- Cover the bowl with cling film/Saran wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for at least an hour or until the dough has doubled in size
- Grease a high-sided baking tin such as a panettone tin (I used the tall bottom pan from my 3-tier steamer)
- Generously flour a work surface, turn out the dough and knock back before putting it into the high-sided baking tin and again covering with cling film/Saran wrap
- Allow the dough rise again until it has doubled in size (about 45 minutes to an hour)
- In the meantime, preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F/Gas mark 4
- Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown and an inserted skewer comes away clean
- Remove the loaf from the tin straight away and allow to cool on a wire rack
The days are getting longer, spring lambs are appearing in the fields near our house and bulbs are flowering in the garden – Easter is on the way!
Easter is all about birth and rebirth… the egg is the quintessential symbol of the time. Here’s our own little egg hunt – an internet hunt! We’ve done the searching so you can simply click & view.
Perhaps even multi-task a bit – one hand for the keyboard, one hand for chocolate!