Pistachio and Orange Blossom Simnel Cake

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Fruit cakes are a favourite of mine, I love the comfort of a nice big, chunky wedge of a unfussy cake, laden with fruits, spices and flavour, a perfect partner to accompany a pot of tea. Christmas has its traditional fruit cake slicked with brandy and covered in a rich, thick royal icing. Easter has a fruit cake all of its own too, the Simnel cake.

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This Easter classic is a fruit cake which is topped with a layer of marzipan, it had a layer of marzipan inside then topped with eleven marzipan balls. I was wanting to make a nice celebratory cake for this Spring celebration that wasn’t your usual celebration cake of a layered iced cake or a chocolate laden cake. I see simnel cakes gracing food magazines every Easter so I knew this cake was the next fruit cake to be crossed of my list.

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I flipped through my magazine scrapbook folder and landed on this version with a  fresh twist. Pistachio and Orange blossom. I’ve never baked with orange blossom before so I was very excited to try it out. It’s gives the cake an incredibly light fresh flavour, a little floral with light orangey tones. I can’t wait to bake with it again, maybe more towards summer perhaps.

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This fruit cake isn’t as heavy as you usual kind, it only contains two types of dried fruits, sultana’s and currants. I soaked mine in 1 tbsp of brandy for around 15 minutes, this adds a little extra flavour and moistens them up nicely. Simnel cake usually contains mixed peel but seeing as I can’t stand the stuff it’s not gonna get it’s debut in any fruit cake of mine!

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As well as its top layer of marzipan it also has a thin layer on marzipan in the centre of the cake. The gives the cake a lovely added flavour and texture.

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The marzipan isn’t any your normal marzipan it’s pistachio marzipan. It’s quick to make and not as time-consuming as you might think. It takes a matter of minutes. To a large bowl combine ground pistachios, ground almonds, icing sugar, caster sugar, almond extract, lemon juice and a beaten egg. Mix together until it comes together then knead until it’s all come together. Toast the pistachios, this will bring out their flavour tenfold. You’ll need 1/3 of the marzipan for the centre of the cake. Roll it out into a 8 inch circle, cover with clingfilm and set aside. Wrap the remainder of the marzipan up in clingfilm and set aside for later.

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I added more orange zest than was required and discarded the required lemon zest. I wanted to bring more orange to the cake to compliment the orange blossom. Spices are abundant, you can’t have a fruit cake without spice. Cinnamon, ginger and freshly ground nutmeg flavour the cake lightly. All these flavours weave in and out of each other giving you a light and fresh take on a fruit cake. Start it early in the morning as it take up to 2 hours to bake. A low heat is the key when baking fruit cakes, it may take a lot longer to bake than other cakes but if you bake it too fast it will come out dry as a boot. Pistachio and Orange Blossom Simnel Cake 8

The cake is a simple creaming method for its base. Cream the butter, sugar and your orange zest until light and fluffy. When it’s creaming you can combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and the remaining pistachios into a medium bowl and also in another medium bowl you can combine the sultanas, currants and the brandy. Add your eggs and orange blossom water then alternating between the dry and fruited mixtures mix everything together.

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The Simnel cake has 11 marzipan balls on top. They are meant to represent the apostles minus Judas. The cake dates back to medieval times where it would have been eaten on the middle Sunday of lent when the 40 day fast would be relaxed. It’s now traditionally eaten on Easter Sunday.

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I dusted my version with a light layer of icing sugar, this light sweetness offsets the marzipan nicely. This cake would be great for a tea time treat after you’ve had your traditional Easter lunch, be sure to make room now.

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Makes – One, 8 inch round cake

Ingredients

{pistachio marzipan}

  • 50 grams (1 1/2 ounces) Pistachios, toasted
  • 150 grams (1 1/2 cups) Ground almonds
  • 140 grams (1 cup) Icing sugar
  • 150 grams (3/4 cup) Caster sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon Almond extract
  • 1-3 teaspoons Lemon juice
  • 1 Large egg, lightly beaten

{cake}

  • 50 grams (1 1/2 ounces) Pistachios, toasted
  • 200 grams (7 ounces) Unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 220 grams (1 cup) Light brown muscovado sugar
  • Zest of 1 1/2 large navel oranges
  • 170 grams (1 1/3 cups) Self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon Baking powder
  • Pinch of Maldon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 250 grams (8 1/2 ounces) Sultanas
  • 170 grams (6 ounces) Currants
  • 1 tablespoon Brandy
  • 4 Large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon Orange blossom water

{decorate]

  • 2 tablespoons Apricot jam
  • 1 teaspoon Orange blossom water
  • Icing sugar to dust

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160C,320F. Place the pistachios on a baking tray and toast for 10 minutes, leave to cool.
  2. Start by making your marzipan. Place the pistachios in a food processor and blitz until finely ground. Set 50 grams (1 1/2 ounces) aside for the cake and place the rest you’ll be using for the marzipan in a medium-sized bowl.
  3. Add the ground almonds, icing sugar, caster sugar, almond extract, 1 teaspoon of lemon and the egg. Mix together until it starts to come together, if it’s still a bit dry add a little more lemon juice and knead until it’s come together.
  4. Get 1/3 of the marzipan and place on a clean work surface dusted with icing sugar. Wrap the rest in cling film and set aside for later. Roll out until you have a 8 inch circle. Get a round 8 inch cake tin that you’ll be baking the cake in and use it as a guide. Wrap your circle in clingfilm and set aside.
  5. Pre-pair a round, loose bottomed 8 inch cake tin by greasing the bottom and sides with butter. Line the bottom with parchment paper and then place a strip of parchment around the inside of the tin, coming up 2 inches higher than the tin. Set aside.
  6. To make cake place the butter, light brown sugar and the orange zest into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment set to high and cream until smooth and fluffy. Meanwhile in a medium bowl add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and stir through the ground pistachios and set aside.
  7. In a smaller bowl add the sultanas, currants and brandy give a little stir and set aside also.
  8. Scrape down your bowl with a spatula and with the mixer on a lower speed gradually add the beaten eggs adding a little at a time. Halfway through adding your eggs add a spoonful of the flour mixture. Scrape down your bowl with your spatula and then add the orange blossom water and mix for 10 seconds.
  9. Starting with the flour mixture add a 1/3 to your batter with the mixer on medium speed until just combined then add the dry fruits. Continue to do this until everything has been thoroughly mixed together.
  10. Spread 1/2 the batter into your pre-paired tin then lay in your disc of marzipan. Spoon the rest of the batter on top and smooth it over. Bake for 1 hour 45 minutes – 2 hours or until deep brown. It may be difficult to test the cake with a cake tester as you have the marzipan in the centre and this will remain moist when prodded. I inserted my cake tester just shy of halfway and when that came out clean I pulled it from the oven. This was at about 1 hour 50 minutes and it was perfectly cooked. After one hour my cake was browning rather quickly so I placed a layer of foil on top so it wouldn’t burn.
  11. Leave the cake on a wire rack for 15 minutes before transferring to the wire rack to cool completely.

{decorating the cake}

  1. Roll out 2/3 of the remaining pistachio marzipan onto a well icing sugar dusted surface to a 8 inch circle.
  2. In a small pan over a low heat, heat the apricot jam with the orange blossom water. Brush on top of the cake then place your marzipan circle on top.
  3. With the rest of the marzipan roll out 11 balls and using the jam stick them onto the top of the cake. Dust a light layer of icing sugar on top and serve.

Notes

* Recipe adapted from Waitrose Kitchen Magazine

* Give yourself all day for this cake, it need’s up to 2 hours in the oven and then it will take a goof few hours to cool. To help the cooking process you can always pop the cake in the fridge for an hour.

* This cake will a last for up to 3 days stored in a cake tin with a tight-fitting lid.

* Keep in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.