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    Simnel cake

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    Simnel cake

    Variations on this cake have been around since the Middle Ages. It is usually decorated with 11 balls of marzipan to represent Jesus’ apostles (minus Judas). Using your own marzipan makes it all the more special, but store-bought marzipan works well, too.

    • Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus cooling
    • Cooking time: 2 hours 25 minutes

    Serves: 10 - 12

    Ingredients

    175g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

    50g blanched almonds

    200g sultanas

    100g currants

    50g glacé cherries, rinsed, dried and quartered

    50g mixed peel

    1 large lemon, zest and juice

    1 large orange, zest and juice

    175g golden caster sugar

    175g self-raising flour

    3 eggs, lightly beaten

    1 tsp ground mixed spice

    3 tbsp apricot jam

    MARZIPAN

    200g ground almonds

    50g golden caster sugar

    250g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting

    1⁄2 tsp vanilla extract

    1 tsp orange juice

    1 egg

    Method

    1. Preheat the oven to 150°C, gas mark 2; grease and line the base and sides of a deep, 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin with a double layer of baking parchment. Spread the almonds out on a baking sheet and roast for 8-10 minutes, until golden; set aside to cool. In a large bowl, mix together the sultanas, currants, cherries and mixed peel, then stir in the lemon and orange juice. Set aside until needed.

    2. Next, make the marzipan. Put the ground almonds and sugars in a food processor and pulse to combine. Pour in the vanilla, orange juice and egg. Pulse until a soft, dry marzipan forms. If it feels too wet and sticky to roll out, add a little extra icing sugar. Divide and roll into 3 equal balls, wrap in cling film and chill until needed.

    3.  To finish the cake batter, beat the butter and sugar with electric beaters until light and fluffy. Whisk in 2 tbsp of the flour, then beat in the egg a little at a time, waiting for each addition to be fully incorporated before adding more. Sift in the remaining flour and the mixed spice, then fold through the batter to incorporate fully. Roughly chop the roasted almonds and gently fold in, with the orange and lemon zest and the soaked fruits.

    4. Spoon 1⁄2 the batter into the prepared cake tin and level the top with a spatula. Dust a clean surface with icing sugar and roll out one of the marzipan balls to a 19cm circle. Place it in the tin over the cake batter, then spoon over the remaining batter. Cut a 20cm circle of greaseproof paper to lay over the top of the batter. Bake for 2 hours 15 minutes, until golden and firm to the touch. Leave the cake in its tin on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes, then remove from the tin, discard the greaseproof paper and cool completely.

    5. To decorate the cake, heat the jam slightly in the microwave and brush it over the top of the cake. Roll out another ball of marzipan to a 20cm circle and place on top of the cake. Crimp the edges of the marzipan with your fingers. Roll the remaining marzipan into 11 even-sized balls. Arrange these around the edge of the cake, attaching them with a little jam. Place under a hot grill for 1-2 minutes, watching it like a hawk, until the balls are golden.

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