Being a traditional sort, I jump at the opportunity to bake something festive at Christmas and Easter, and this year I decided to make an Easter Simnel Cake, having missed the chance on Mother's Day.
I love the idea that you can recreate something that has been baked over hundreds of years, and bring an old recipe to life again. The same feeling of resurrection and renewal of an old way of life hits me when I knit something from an old pattern, such as the new tea cosy I'm knitting from an old magazine I bought on ebay.
I always felt very sorry for Judas when I sat in church as a little girl, and always thought he was rather unfairly vilified, so I decided to give him a little break and reinstate him as the 12th Apostle on the top of my cake. However, my mother objected and I ended up eating him instead. Poor Judas.
I made the cake using eggs from my cousin's French hens that he gave us as an Easter present. They came covered in mud, and they yolks were a really custardy yellow, and I think they gave the cake an extra deliciousness.
Easter Simnel Cake (loosely based on the old 1982 Crank's recipe book)
10oz plain flour
pinch of salt
16oz mixed dried fruit
1tsp dried cinnamon
1tsp mixed spice
splash of milk
For the marzipan
4oog icing sugar
250g ground almonds
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons orange juice
5-6 drops of almond essence
First make up the marzipan and set to one side. Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl, and stir in the ground almonds. Beat the egg yolk and add slowly, followed by the orange juice and almond essence. Stir hard, until a sticky paste has formed. Add more icing sugar and beat, so the mixture can be handled without sticking too much to hands.
Then cream together the butter and the sugar.
In a separate bowl, sift the flour, salt and spices together, then stir in the fruit. Add the beaten eggs to the sugar and butter, and then pour the lot into the flour and fruit mixture. Beat well with a wooden spoon and add enough milk to make a dropping consistency.
Grease and line a 24cm round cake tin, and add half of the cake mixture. Divide the marzipan in two, with one bigger than the other (this is to make the apostles for the top). Roll out the smaller half to just under 1/2cm thick, and cut into a 24cm circle. Put this on top of the cake mixture (roll out onto a piece of clingfilm if it is still sticky, so you can transfer it easily) and then pour the remainder of the cake mixture on top.
Bake in an oven preheated to 160 C for 1- 1 1/2 hours.
Remove and cool.
When completely cool, roll out a second circle of marzipan and place on top. Make 11 small balls for the apostles and place on top. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon and toast under a moderate grill until the top has browned. Browned, not burned.
Remove and accept admiring glances.