I adapted this from a recipe I got at a renaissance fair back in '98. It is basically a medieval fruit cake. But before the 13th century, "simnel" simply meant a type of flour, and usually referred to bread, not cake. Around 1225 CE it began also to be associated with a cake (like this one), but it wasn't until the early 1900's that the modern, quick leavened, version of simnel cake came into being.
Modern simnel cakes are described as "light." THIS one is definitely not light. But it IS tasty, so do give it a try!
4 call purpose flour
2/3 clemon and orange peel, grated (*see step #11)
2 cdried currents, sultanas, or raisins (or combination)
1 1/2 cunsalted butter
8 ozalmond paste (not marzipan), warmed
How to Make Simnel Cake
- Preheat oven to 300℉. (NOTE: increase of baking time to 2 hour 30 minutes 03/09/2020)
Pre-warm almond paste, if desired (see step #7).
Grease a 9" x 13" baking pan. Line with kitchen parchment or waxed paper (be neat if you want your cake to look pretty) then grease the paper. Set aside.
- Sift flour together with salt and set aside.
Dust grated citrus peel and currants in some additional flour and set aside. Be sure to break up clumps so they distribute evenly throughout the cake.
- In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth.
- Add eggs one by one, beating after each addition. You want a lot of loft since this recipe uses no leavening. You need those air bubbles to make the cake lighter.
- Add the flour and salt mixture in three parts, beating as you go.
Next, add the citrus peel and currants, stirring until fully incorporated.
- Pour half the batter into prepared 9" x 13" pan. Spread into corners, creating a level surface across the center.
- Spread (warmed) almond paste over top of batter in baking pan.*
*Although warming is not absolutely required, spreading is much easier when you pre-warm the paste in some way (see step #1). Otherwise, you end up "dotting" the top with lumps of paste, which can work, of course, but the paste ends up being uneven throughout the cake.
My paste comes in a glass jar which I put in the microwave for a few seconds at a time, stirring after each [if possible] until it's like pourable peanut butter (not runny). (If it's too hot to touch, let it cool until it's lukewarm.)
Another warming method is to place watertight almond paste container in hot water until paste is soft and squishy.
- Add remaining batter to completely cover almond paste, spreading evenly across the top.
- Bake at 300℉ for 2 hours and 30 minutes or until done (possibly up to 3 hours total - cover top with foil if it begins to get overly brown). The top should be a deep golden (or medium tan) color. (Test tap before placing in oven, if you're doing that -- see next paragraph.)
Since there is a layer of almond paste in the center, using a toothpick to test for doneness can be frustrating. To test, I tap my finger nail* (remembering the pan is hot!) in the center under the pan, listening for a hollow sound. You may want to have a "test tap" before putting it in the oven to know what it sounds like before it's baked.)
*You could also use a table knife handle or something of similar heft.
- Cool in pan until completely room temperature (I use a rack).
To serve, you can leave in pan or turn onto a platter. Cut into 18 small pieces as cake is very rich. No need to frost (although tradition suggests a light dusting of powdered sugar, sometimes in the shape of a cross if the cake is made in individual serving sizes).
- *CITRUS PEEL NOTE:
The original recipe did not indicate a ratio of lemon peel to orange peel. I used a 3:3 ratio of lemons to oranges (as in, the peel of three lemons and the peel of three oranges, but because lemons are smaller than oranges, you get less peel, so I think it works out more like 2:3 lemon peel to orange peel by volume).
You can use dried, of course, but I have not tried it (if you do, remember to reduce by half or 2/3 the amount...so, I think that means you would use 3 tablespoons of dried peel instead of 2/3 cup of fresh...maybe) (fyi, math was not my strongest subject! Take my advice at your own risk!).
*This is a rich, dense fruit cake. There is no leavening. It is important to make sure the cake is completely baked throughout.
*Dried currants are traditionally used, but of course, you can use any similar dried fruit.
*I have seen versions made with differing spices, including cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, and saffron. I have not tried them yet, so if you do, please let me know how it goes!
*I use almond paste (or almond butter if I can't find "paste") which is coarser than marzipan and not as sweet. But many other recipes do call for marzipan. Since I've never used that ingredient I can't advise on how to substitute it here, but feel free to give it a go and let me know how it turns out!
*Simnel cake is a traditional English holiday treat. For many people there is a great amount of tradition associated with it, including baking it in the round with 11 balls of marzipan on top. Consider my recipe here as more of a "secular" version. ;-D