This is a fruitcake with marzipan and a history. It’s sweet and delicious. The layer of marzipan in the middle melts when baking and contributes to making this fruticake incredibly moist. Then the toasted marzipan layer and balls on top are firmer, providing a contrast in texture. Those balls have a religious meaning by the way but more about that and the cake’s history later. And why is it tropical? Because the sultanas and orange peel are replaced with dried pineapple, banana, ginger, cranberries and golden berries with added lime and orange zest. The Guinness is not very tropical and reminiscent of soft days in Ireland but it’s warm and subtle in the background and easily replaced with dark rum. Finally, I used the most ‘tropical’ nuts I could find: macadamias. I wasn’t sure about posting this cake but my friend couldn’t stop eating it even though we were in a restaurant at the time! Ahem. I was simultaneously delighted and a bit alarmed. Anyway, the proof was in the eating and she loved the flavour and moist texture. So here’s the recipe if you’d like to make your own tropical Easter Simnel fruitcake! 🙂
As you can see this is one very moist fruitcake! If you’d like it drier (like usual fruitcake) try adding 50g/1/2 cup ground almonds and replace the banana with sultanas. Or just go with the whole ‘moist’ thing – the cake holds together, cuts well and is delicious so why not? It’s a flexible recipe and you could use brazil nuts or almonds instead of macadamia nuts. You can also add rum or orange juice instead of Guinness but with juice eat the cake within a week.
1 – 3 days before baking
Macerate a total of 300g DRIED FRUIT (invent your own mix if you prefer)
- 75g/2.6oz (12-13) glacé cherries, rinsed, dried and halved (replace some with sour cherries to make the cake less sweet)
- 40g/1/3 cup golden berries (physallis) or sultanas/dried mango/sour cherries, etc.
- 50g/2 tablespoons finely chopped candied stem ginger (in syrup or crystallised)
- 50g/1/3 cup chopped dried pineapple
- 50g/1/3 cup dried cranberries
- 35g/1/4 cup chopped dried banana
- 150ml/g Guinness, dark rum, brandy, whisky or orange juice
Cut the bigger pieces of dried fruit into small raisin-sized pieces (but not the halved glacé cherries) and place in a medium-sized bowl. Add the alcohol or juice and stir well. Cover lightly with a tea towel and leave in a cool dry place so the fruit can macerate 24 hours to 3 days in alcohol (or 12-24 hours in orange juice). Stir once or twice a day to make sure all the fruit are coated.
- Preheat your oven to 150°C/300°F (static, non-convection oven) or 130°C/265°F (fan-assisted).
- Soften the butter at room temperature and have your eggs at room temperature.
- Prepare your 18cm/7inch round baking tin by lining bottom and sides with a double layer of baking paper. Then wrap layers of newspaper around the sides (on the outside) and some on a baking tray under the tin. This is so the dried fruit don’t burn when baking (see my traditional christmas cake with ginger recipe for more photos and details).
- 300-350g/10-12oz marzipan or almond paste (use shop-bought or make it following my homemade marzipan recipe)
- 100g/3 and a half ounces macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
- 175g/1 and a half sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 175g/1 cup less 1 tablespoon dark (or light) muscovado sugar
- 4 medium-large free-range eggs, beaten (230-240g) and at room temperature
- Dry ingredients
- 225g/1 and a half cups plus 1 good tablespoon cake flour or plain/all-purpose flour
- 1 and a half teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons ground mixed spice
- a good pinch of fine sea salt
- Freshly-grated zest of 1 orange
- Freshly-grated zest of 1 lime
- 2 to 4 tablespoons Guinness, rum, brandy, whisky or orange juice (enough to achieve a soft ‘dropping’ consistency)
- After it’s baked: 2 tablespoons Guinness or rum, etc. to soak the cake (optional)
- Add the chopped macadamia nuts to your dried fruit. Stir in 1 or 2 tablespoons of the flour to coat the fruit and nuts (so the pieces don’t fall to the bottom of the cake when baking).
- Roll out half your marzipan on a surface lightly sprinkled with icing sugar. It should be quite thin, about 1 to 2mm. Cut out a round the size of your cake. Keep the leftover marzipan to make the balls.
- In a medium-sized bowl whisk the remaining flour with the other dry ingredients.
- In a large bowl whisk the softened butter till creamy then whisk in the sugar until light and fluffy. Add a little of the beaten egg if necessary to soften the mixture.
- Whisk in the beaten egg little by little. If the mixture starts separating add a little of the flour mixture.
- Whisk in the grated zest of orange and lime.
- Using a rubber spatula fold the flour mixture in gently till just combined.
- Fold in the Guinness or juice and check if the mixture is at a thick ‘dropping’ consistency (if you lift some up with your spatula, the mixture will slowly drop with a plop). Fold in a little more Guinness if necessary.
- Pour HALF the batter into your prepared cake tin (I’m stressing this because I forgot and had to dig some out!).
- Carefully place your marzipan round on top of the batter then cover it with the remaining batter and spread out evenly.
- Bake in the middle of the oven for 2 to 3 hours. You need to be flexible because it depends on your batter, oven and tin. Don’t open the oven door for the first 1 hour and a half (or 2 hours). If it’s getting very brown insert a skewer in the middle and if it comes out clean and dry then the cake is ready. You want your cake quite well baked so make sure it’s a nice darker brown.
After it’s baked
- Let your cake cool in the tin on a wire rack for 20 to 30 minutes then make holes through the cake, all over with a skewer. Slowly pour 2 tablespoons of Guinness over your cake so it soaks in everywhere (you can omit this step if you want your cake to be less moist and taste less strongly of alcohol).
- Let the cake cool in the tin until completely cold then take out of the tin and peel off the baking paper.
- Roll out the other half of the marzipan and cut a round to make the top layer.
- Brush the top of the cake with a thin layer of warmed apricot jam and carefully put the marzipan layer on top. Make a criss-cross design with the back of a butter knife. Crimp the edges with the back the knife and your fingers.
- Use the remaining marzipan to make 11 balls. Stick them around the top of your cake with a little apricot jam, so they don’t roll around! 🙂
- Place the cake in the oven as near to the grill as you can. Grill the top so the marzipan balls and layer go brown. Don’t worry if the layer doesn’t get very brown.
Tada! Your cake’s ready! 🙂
Eating and storing your cake
You can eat this cake immediately but it’s even better after a few days or even a week or two. There’s a real flavour burst in all that moistness. Nom nom.
Wrap in baking paper then in aluminium foil or a metal tin and store at room temperature somewhere dry and cool. It should keep for up to a month or so.
A very short history
Simnel cake originated in the UK and has been around since medieval times! Servant girls would bake this cake as a gift for their mother, to take when visiting them on Mothering Sunday. It’s said the families would then wait anxiously to see if the cake was well-baked and still moist when they ate it three weeks later for Easter. It eventually became better known as an Easter cake and late in the Victorian era the 11 marzipan balls were added, representing the 11 disciples minus Judas. Some cakes have 12 balls to include Jesus.
According to Wikipedia the word simnel is probably derived from the Latin word simila, which means fine wheaten flour. Towns in Britain each had their own different versions of this cake but the Shrewsbury one is now the best-known. Mine is the ‘tropical’ über-moist version!
Thanks for popping by (again) sweet reader. Hope you’ll have a slice of cake and a lovely week leading up to Easter! Happy baking and eating! 🙂 x