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Simnel Cake
(By Krake as appeared in the February/March 1989 Bolt)

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Simnel Cake

Note: In fifteenth century England, children were often hired out as servants. In mid-Lent they were given a holiday so they could visit their parents. The occasion was called Mothering Sunday, and the children brought home gifts of Simnel Cake.

This was a kind of rich fruit cake. The crust was flour, water, and saffron (making it bright yellow). Inside were plums, lemon peel, and so forth. The edges of the crust were pinked (/\/\/\/\), and the top was crisscrossed (###) with a knife. The whole cake was boiled in a cloth, glazed with egg, and finally baked.

Simnel cake is now frequently decorated with marzipan shapes appropriate to the season.

The Origin of Simnel Cake

A poor man, a fair man, good Simon from Shropshire,
And pacing beside him, dear Nelly, his spouse.
The children were coming for Mothering Sunday,
And Simon and Nelly were scouring the house.

She found a small scrap of flour to feed them;
She rolled it with water into a stiff dough.
He found an old piece of New Year's plum pudding
Downstairs in the cellar, preserved by the snow.

"Plain fare," sighed Simon and "Too plain," signed Nell.
"Plum pudden?" said she, and "From Yule," he replied.
"'Twould help," said Simon; "Alot," said his Nelly.
So they rolled up the dough with the pudding inside.

But Oh, how to cook it?
And Oh, what a row!
They argued and argued;
How to cook it, Oh, how?

Nelly cried, "All cakes were made to be baked."
"To boil a pudding," swore Simon, "is right."
And then they were at it like hammer and tongs;
Just to hear the two scrapping gave neighbors a fright.

First Nell threw a stool at the goodman's hard head,
Then he took up a broom, and broke it across her back.
The bowl with the eggs on a shelf was upset;
At the end not an egg was without a big crack.

"Enough!" cried Nelly. "And more!" agreed Simon.
"Boil first," said the wife, and "Bake second," said he.
"You are right," said she, and so, too, said the goodman.
How good it felt just to hug and agree.

So the hearthfire was feed with the stool and the broomshards.
The broken eggs went into the glazing the cake.
Then the children arrived and they kissed their dear parents.
Then they sniffed the good smells and asked, "What did you make?"

"First 'twas boiled," said Simon. "Then baked," chimed in Nell
And Simon admitted the dish was quite new.
"'Tis tasty," said the children, "whatever it is.
We think that we'll name it for both of you."

And "Simnel" it's called, to this very day.

A recipe for Simnel Cake

For filling & top:
1 - 8 oz. can almond paste
1/3 cup softened butter
1 egg yolk

Mash almond paste with fork
Add softened butter and egg yolk. Mix together and beat well to blend.

For the cake:
1/2 cup (1 small stick) butter
1/2 cup sugar
Grated rind of 1/2 lemon
3 eggs
1 3/4 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 cup seedless dark raisins
1/2 cup seedless light raisins
1/2 cup currants
1/4 cup candied cherries, cut in half
1/4 cup candied orange peel, sliced thin
1/4 cup blanched almonds, chopped fine
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven at 300 degrees F. In a large bowl, mash the butter. Blend in the sugar and beat until fluffy and smooth. Add the grated lemon rind while you are beating. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk and then stir them gradually into the sugar and butter mixture, adding a little egg at a time and beating briskly after each addition until the mixture is smooth.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Add these gradually to the mixture, and blend them all together thoroughly. Sift flour onto the fruit in a paper bag, and shake until fruits are coated with flour. Stir the fruits until fruits are coated with flour. Stir the fruits and almonds into the batter. Add lemon juice. Mix gently together.

Grease 9-inch round, deep cake tin. Cut a round bottom shape, and a strip the height of the pan's sides, from heavy brown paper (else wax paper). Butter the paper and line the pan with it.

Turn half the mixture into the cake tin. Spread half the almond paste on top the cake mixture. Add the remainder of the cake mixture and bake in the oven for about 1 1/4 hours.

Remove cake from oven and cool. When cool, spread the remainder of the almond paste on top of the cake. Place in a 400 degree F. oven for 5 minutes to lightly brown the almond paste.

When cool, decorate with flowers, candied fruits, nuts, jelly beans, etc. or mold shapes out of marzipan.

A recipe for Marzipan

1 cup almond paste (8 oz. can)
1 egg white
1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
Few drops of rose water (sold in drugstores)

Mash paste until slightly softened. Beat egg white until fluffy and blend into paste. Add sugar and rose water and mix until smooth enough to handle; add more sugar if mixture is too sticky, or rose water if it is crumbly. Knead until smooth. Chill in refrigerator for a few hours before shaping it into your heart's desire.

If you have a talent for sculpture you can use it here. Otherwise, roll marzipan to 1/4 inch thickness between two sheets of waxed paper. Remove top paper and cut out desired shaped. Dry on rack overnight.

Marzipan can be painted with food coloring diluted with water or it can be brushed with beaten egg yolk and baked in a preheated 450 degree F. oven until golden brown on top (about 10 minutes). Decorate your shapes with raisins or currants or eyes, pieces of candied cherry for the mouth, shredded coconut for the hair, etc., by pressing these pieces into the unbaked marzipan or by dipping the pieces into egg white and placing them on the baked marzipan while it is still warm.

[note: one of the best places to find almond paste, rose water, and great cookies in general, is Van's Dutch Store.]

This information taken from The Clever Cooks by Ellin Greene (Scholastic Book Service). The following written by Krake, based on a story from The New Book of Days, by Eleanor Farjeon (Henry Z. Walck, Inc.)

 Page last updated 12/15/99