Our oven died on Saturday, throwing up the vile possibility of no Simnel cake for Easter, a prospect not to be countenanced, so I had a crack at baking one in the microwave. After only 12 minutes, a sort-of cake did result.
It was a very messy process. There was considerable seepage (if I ever did this again, I’d only use half my normal recipe).
The clean-up was mighty, but the seepage was delicious! Buttery, sweet and salty, crunchy-chewy, a bit like a fruity brownie. Rather more delicious, it has to be said, than the cake itself.
When it was all tarted up with apostle balls, yellow ribbon and icing, the microwaved cake-thing did look very much like a Simnel cake, but taste-wise, it was nothing like as nice. I mean, it was OK, alright…ish. A bit dry though, tending to positively crunchy at the base. The marzipan didn’t have that gorgeous, melting chewiness that makes a Simnel cake such a treat. It was an interesting experiment in an emergency, but absolutely no substitute for the real thing.
Here’s how to do it properly. You’ll need:
8oz self-raising flour
7oz sugar of your choice – I use a mixture of light brown and caster.
4oz ground almonds
2 teaspoons mixed spice.
A pinch of salt
8oz dried fruits – currants, raisins, cherries, peel, however you like it.
A little honey, or apricot jam.
Nuts, if you like them. I usually add a couple of tablespoons of blanched almonds, but you can use more, can use different nuts, or none at all. It’s up to you.
Lemon icing – about a teacup of icing sugar, mixed with enough lemon juice to make a smooth icing.
Pre-heat your oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2
Mix together the flour, sugar, ground almonds, spice and salt. Rub in the butter till the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the fruit and nuts, if you’re using them. Beat in the eggs until the mix is smooth and pales in colour.
Butter and flour an 8” cake tin. Pour in half the cake mix and smooth it even.
Cut your block of marzipan in half. Set one half aside and roll the other into a round that fits neatly into the cake tin. Lie this round in your tin, on top of the cake mix, then pour the rest of the cake mix on top of the marzipan. Level off, then slide it into the centre of your oven and bake for about 2 hours – until a skewer poked into the centre of the cake comes out clean – bear in mind the marzipan will remain sticky, it’s the non-stickiness of the cake you’re testing. Cool on a wire rack, in the tin, don’t turn it out just yet.
Roll the remaining marzipan into evenly sized balls. There’s a difference of opinion about the number of balls. Some say there should only be eleven, representing the apostles, excluding Judas. Others say there should be 12 balls: 11 apostles and Jesus. In my family, it’s always been 12, and it’s easier to divide your marzipan into an even number.
When the cake is cool, lightly brush the top with honey, stick your balls on top, around the edge then pop it under a hot grill for a minute or two until the marzipan balls are lightly toasted. This gives them a lovely crunchy texture.
Mix together icing sugar and lemon juice till you have a smooth, pourable icing and pour over the top of the cake. The consistency should be stiff enough to coat the top of the cake, but thin enough to run down slightly, through the marzipan balls.