I consider myself very fortunate in always having my children home for the holidays. I know that will change as they are now married, so I intend to make the coming Easter weekend as special as I can. And that inevitably means some hours in the kitchen beforehand.
Today I made my simnel cake. I don't know if this is just an English tradition, I would love to know how other people celebrate Easter. When I was growing up, I always thought of it as a Lambert Simnel cake and wondered why Perkin Warbeck wasn't similarly commemorated but now I know that this lovely almond cake has nothing to do with rebellions and pretenders to the throne. In the days when girls were put into service, they were allowed to make a special cake to take home on Mothering Sunday; the name simnel comes from the Latin simila meaning fine flour, as used in the cake. That doesn't sound nearly so interesting, does it?
I start by making an almond paste. Mix together equal quantities (about 6 ounces/175g) of caster sugar and ground almonds. Add 1 teaspoon almond extract and enough beaten egg to give a soft consistency. Knead the mixture until it forms a pliable paste.
The cake is a simple, all-in-one light fruit mixture.
6oz (175g) softened butter
6oz (175g) light muscovado sugar
6oz self-raising flour (I add a teaspoon baking powder)
2 teaspoons mixed spice
10oz (275g) mixed vine fruits (I use sultanas, currants, raisins and cherries or cranberries for colour)
1 oz (25g) ground almonds
Spoon half the batter into a prepared 8 inch (20cm) cake tin. Roll out one third of the almond paste into a circle the size of the tin and place on top of the batter. Cover with the remaining mixture. Cook in a cool oven (I use my Aga cake baker) for about 1 hour 20 minutes.
Let the cake cool on a wire rack then spread the top with a little apricot jam. Take another third of the almond paste and roll it into a circle to cover the top of the cake, crimp the edge. Make small balls with the remaining paste and arrange around the edge of the cake. Brush the top with egg white and place the cake in a hot oven for about 3 minutes until the almond paste is lightly browned.
When cool, decorate the top with glace icing and small foil-wrapped eggs or candied flowers.
Now if anyone has a recipe for Perkin Warbeck cake, I would love to hear. I used to love saying those names when I was small, in fact I still do.