Easter – a time of year when Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday and a celebration of His resurrection to life on Easter Sunday. On Good Friday it is traditional to eat hot cross buns. Easter Sunday is the day of feasting and celebration, the day when kiddies all go on their Easter egg hunts and overdose on sugar and chocolate. For many families it is a tradition to bake and enjoy a Simnel Cake, a light fruit cake that has a layer of marzipan (almond paste) baked into the middle of the cake and another layer to decorate it when it is cold. It is also decorated with 11 little marzipan balls – these symbolize the eleven disciples of Christ (Judas Iscariot who betrayed Christ is not included).
Recently my friend Michael Olivier called and asked me if I would be interested in baking his Granny’s Simnel Cake for him to include in the Easter edition of Crush! Online Magazine. I was delighted in his faith in my abilities to recreate some childhood memories for him and set about preparing the ingredients and baking the cake according to the recipe supplied by Michael. What a delightful cake! And one that I will adopt for my own families Easter celebrations from now on!
GRANNY’S SIMNEL CAKE (courtesy of Michael Olivier)
For the almond paste
250g castor sugar
250g ground almonds
2 free-range eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence [some like to use almond essence]
For the cake
180g butter [don’t even be tempted to use margarine or vegetable fat]
180g soft brown or Moscovado sugar
180g cake flour
¼ tsp each ground nutmeg, ground ginger, ground cloves and fine salt
3 extra large eggs
150g Orange River Raisins
150g Orange River Golden Sultanas
60g chopped mixed peel
grated rind of 1 lemon and one orange
2 Tbs smooth apricot jam (for brushing on cake before the applying the almond paste topping)
1 egg – for brushing over the cake before grilling.
Prepare a 20cm cake tin by lining it, bottom and sides, with greaseproof or silicone paper.
In a large glass bowl mix the sugar and the finely ground almonds.
Whisk the eggs until frothy and add only enough, a bit at a time, to give the paste a soft texture.
Flavour with the vanilla essence and knead gently for about a minute.
Divide the almond paste into three portions. Roll out one third to make a circle 18cm in diameter which will go into the centre of the cake. Wrap the remainder tightly in double cling film and set aside. One half will be used for the 11 balls and the other to roll out another circle to place on top of the cake once completely cooled.
Preheat oven to 140C.
Using your mixer cream the butter until light and fluffy and then add the sugar and beat together until pale in colour and light in texture.
Sift together the flour, spices and salt in a separate bowl.
Add the eggs one at a time and add about a third of the flour mixture with each egg as this helps to prevent curdling.
Add the fruits, the mixed peel the grated rinds and stir together with a wooden spoon to mix well.
Spoon half of the batter into the prepared cake tin. Level it off with an off set spatula and then put the circle of marzipan on top.
Spoon the rest of the batter on top and smooth over allowing a little bit of a dent in the middle to ensure that the cake ends up baked with a nice flat top.
Bake for 1hour 45 minutes, insert metal skewer into the middle to test. If it comes out clean, the cake is baked. If not test after a further ten minutes baking. Remove the cake from the oven.
Allow to cool in the tin for about 15 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Once the cake is completely cooled remove it from the greaseproof or silicone paper. If it is slightly domed, put it upside down on a baking tray.
Set your oven’s grill on high.
Heat the apricot jam and brush over the top of the cake. Roll out one half of the remaining marzipan into a thickish circle the exact diameter of the cake (use the pan to measure) and place it carefully on top of the cake.
With the remaining marzipan, roll out 11 small round shaped balls and place them around the edge of the cake.
Brush the marzipan and the balls with beaten egg and set in the oven to brown gently, watching all the time for about 1 – 2 minutes, depending on the heat of your grill. Otherwise use a blow torch to brown it.
Garnish with some little candy or small chocolate Easter eggs. And do place a little fluffy chicken on top.
As I sit here writing up this post my skin is being caressed by the most beautiful cool sea breeze blowing gently in the window. It has been so many months since I last felt that and my whole body is cheering on the advent of Autumn. This is MY time of year…the season that I delight in the most! In previous years by the time Easter came upon us autumn had all but disappeared and winter was already making her presence felt with wicked north westerly gales and driving rain. I remember well that my daughter, who has her birthday at the end of March, throughout her childhood years bemoaned the fact that she could never have a swimming party around the pool! Instead all her little friends arrived dressed up warmly in coats and boots and they had to play indoors! This year for the first time sweet daughter was able to have her wish……for her 33rd birthday!
If you are on this roads at this time of year do drive safely and have a wonderful time with family and friends. We remain home at this time of year as brownieboy has to work. Usually our Good Friday is quiet with those who want to going off to church to commemorate the crucifixion. In true Cape style I always enjoy some pickled fish for my lunch on this day! YUM! On Easter Sunday the family gathers at daughter and son in laws home to participate in the excited hunt for Easter Eggs. Then we all head to church as a family to celebrate Christs resurrection. After church we gather around the table at our home to feast!
Now it is time for a nice cup of soothing rooibos tea before bedtime…… and a slice of this delightful Simnel cake would do very nicely too thank you!
I wish you all a Blessed and Happy Easter.
This recipe was first published in the 17th issue of Crush! Online Magazine and also on Michael Olivier’s website Crush is available globally and provides very interesting reading with interactive pages. Just supply your email address to subscribe and your issue will drop into your mailbox once a month – absolutely free of charge!