Friday, May 09, 2014

Easter, Simnel Cake and Stuff

A rather rustic Simnel cake
Easter is all but a distant memory already, the only witnesses to it actually having happened are the three baskets still overflowing with chocolate eggs in the larder, which have to be shifted off my box of flour and dry ingredients every time I bake. Oh and the Easter trees still dangling decorated blown eggs, even though I told the kids that we’d take them down again the weekend after Easter.

April has gone by in flurry of life happening too fast. First George had biliary fever, (not unusual for young dogs living on a farm here where ticks are an inescapable part of life, but it can be fatal if you don’t treat it) which luckily we caught early enough for one visit to the vet to cure quickly. Then that was put out of our minds by Middle Daughter getting sick, and staying slightly sick with a low grade fever for over a week. The first visit to our GP/homeopath revealed nothing more than a sore throat, even with blood tests, the second visit with X ray and more blood tests had us despatched post haste to a specialist physician in the hospital. He dictated an overnight stay, as she had an atypical pneumonia, sneakily lurking at the top of one lung where it’s hard to hear.

Never having been in hospital with any of my children (since Middle Daughter’s fall from a kitchen counter as a 6 week baby, don’t ask! – even more scary than this occasion) it was both an experience I never want to repeat and one that we both found an interesting learning experience. She was feeling tired but not all that sick and was completely stalwart about the horrors of having an IV drip put in, not once but three times, when they couldn’t find a vein that would do; this after undergoing the earlier blood tests, where it took them four goes to get a vein, and two lots of blood type thumb pricking, which seems to be just part of the admissions procedure. There was a whole lot of waiting around, very nice friendly nurses, who got us into a single room, so that I could stay with her, even though she is now old enough to be in the adult ward. Then there was the fun of ordering from the menu for the next day and pretending we were in a posh hotel (for the cost of an overnight stay it certainly felt like we should be!).

The lunch menu

Luckily our physician was very sympathetic and let us go home the next morning with a huge goodie bag of antibiotics, nebulising capsules and probiotics, and she got progressively better. After another week off school she had recovered enough to gather her Easter bounty of way too many eggs without staggering under the weight of them all! And now she just gets irritated when we check how she’s feeling, as she is completely better, back to school, riding again, as if nothing happened. Thank goodness!

About to set off on a farm-wide Easter egg hunt

We always have a Simnel cake at Easter, with its balls of marzipan enclosing a heap of speckled eggs. It’s a family tradition, one that my mother used to make, though now she says she hasn’t made one for years. My brother in Australia went all nostalgic when he saw my picture of it on Facebook and asked for the recipe, so I’m sharing it here and have promised to make it for him when we meet up in the UK in July at my Mum’s for a family reunion. I always use Delia Smith’s recipe from her Book of Cakes, but over the years I’ve found a couple of little tweaks make a difference, so here is her recipe with my adjustments.

Simnel Cake Recipe
175g/6oz butter
175g/6oz sugar
3 eggs beaten
500g/18oz mixed dried fruit/fruit cake mix
zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
225g/8oz plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon mixed spice
3 tablespoons milk

350g/12oz ground almonds
350g/12oz icing sugar sifted
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon either brandy or sherry
1 tablespoon apricot jam
1 egg beaten for glaze

20cm/8inch cake tin lined and greased
Preheat oven to 150˚C 300˚F

First make the marzipan.
Combine the ground almonds and icing sugar in a bowl and mix well.
Beat the egg yolks with the lemon juice and brandy and mix the liquid into the dry ingredients.
Mix and stir and knead until it all comes together in a pliable ball.
You may need more lemon juice. Try not to overwork it with your hands as this can make the marzipan oily, especially on a hot day.
Divide the ball into three equal parts, wrap in clingfilm and keep cool until needed.

Now to the cake mixture.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs one at a time.
Fold in the dried fruit and orange and lemon zest.
Sift the flour with the mixed spice and the baking powder.
Fold the flour into the mixture, alternating with the milk. You may need another tablespoon of milk if the mixture is too stiff.
Spoon half the cake mixture into the lined cake tin and smooth it out so it is level.

Roll out one portion of the marzipan to fit the cake tin.
Lay it gently on top of the cake mixture.
Spoon on the other half of the mixture and level it out.
Bake in the centre of the oven for about 2 hours until the centre is firm and springy.
Cool on a wire rack

When the cake is cool, prepare the rest of the marzipan.
Roll one piece out to fit the top of the cake.
Divide the other piece into twelve and roll into small balls.
Brush the top of the cake with apricot jam.
Lay the circle of marzipan on top and press down gently.
Brush the top with beaten egg.
Make twelve small crosses (arranged like the hours around a clock face) with the point of a knife and fix the balls around the edge of the cake.
Brush them with beaten egg too.
Put the cake under a hot grill for just long enough to toast it to a golden colour, perhaps 5 minutes. Keep an eye on this as it is very easy to go dark tan rather than golden glow(see my picture!)
Cool and store in an airtight tin.

And just a few pictures of our early morning Easter egg hunt:

The final haul being audited and re-distributed where numbers aren't even.


  1. Being a mom is TOUGH! Glad middle daughter is okay now and thank goodness you caught the pneumonia in time before it got worse. Have a lovely Mother's Day weekend xx

    1. Thanks, Tigger. Planning to have the kids cook lunch under my direction, while I sit back and read my book!

  2. Glad everyone is back to being well and happy... and may I just say that your simnel cake looks SO tempting! You really don't scrimp on the chocolate treats, either, do you? Holy cats! I think I would have fallen over in a heap if I ever got that much chocolate on Easter! I used to put my chocolate bunny in the freezer, and just eat a little bit at a time after dinners, to make it last longer.

    1. As a frugal, would-be healthy mother, I've almost stopped being embarrassed by the Easter bunny's generosity at our house. In my defense, I didn't supply even one of those eggs... it's all the children's aunts, who go even more overboard every year it seems and can't resist buying every variety of egg and bunny available in the shops! In the past we rationed them to Sunday's only and they often lasted through August. Now the kids are older we let them manage their own consumption but they still show signs of lasting for months!

    2. Ahhhh..... NOW I see the story unfolding! As the kids rub their hands in glee! 8-) The only thing better than chocolate is more chocolate.


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