Queen of Sheba’s Simnel Cake (that you will actually like)

I can’t take any credit for this.  At most, I acted as muse.  No – conduit to the real muse, who brought a caravan of Biblical allusions and musky Middle Eastern flavours.  I think it must have been the Queen of Sheba.

Well, via Sainsbury’s Magazine and a website called Veggie Runners.  The relentless flow of the muse evidently has many estuaries.  Confused?  I wonder how my husband felt as he stirred the batter in the middle of all this…

This is the nicest simnel cake anyone will ever eat, especially if they fear marzipan – for the almonds in the marzipan are replaced with pistachios.  It’s also the most Easter-y dessert anyone can bake.  Chocolate – check.  Vaguely Eastern flavours reminiscent of the Holy Land (if you have never been to the Holy Land) – check. Twelve little marzipan disciples – check.  Simnel – check.  (If you have to ask, there’s no telling you.)

Also, you are in for a treat with the retelling of this recipe – for it was made from a recipe by a man who never deviates from the recipe unless it is strictly necessary.  I have interviewed the man in question and taken down notes of URLs and every change he made, and these I shall relay to you.

PART ONE

The base recipe is this one, from the Sainsbury’s Magazine website, only veganised and without the marzipan (which we used another recipe for).  In case they take it down, I will copy it here with notes:

  • 400g mixed dried fruits (sultanas, raisins and currants)
  • 50g cut mixed peel
  • 125g natural coloured glacé cherries, quartered (NO CHANGE – he insisted on keeping in the glacés despite me pulling faces at this 80s kitsch-fest – and what do you know, it was nice.  Do chop them, though.)
  • finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange (YES – he really did this, and you could honestly taste it in the finished cake; effort paid off!)
  • 225g self-raising flour (TIP – we just made our own self-raising by adding baking powder to plain flour – 3tsp will do the job here)
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 200g soft butter (VEGAN CHANGE – vegan margarine)
  • 225g light muscovado sugar
  • 4 medium free-range eggs VEGAN CHANGE – four flaxseed eggs (4 tbsp. flaxseed whisked with 12 tbsp. cold water and left in the fridge for 15 mins)
  • 100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped (TIP – we used Lindt, which is IMO the best widely-available dark chocolate you can buy at supermarket prices)
  • 3 tbsp whole milk VEGAN CHANGE – almond milk (or whatever plant milk you have around – tbh I’m sure water would do)
  • 1-2 tbsp shredless marmalade, warmed
  • 11 mini eggs, and a 72cm length of wide ribbon, to decorate – VEGAN CHANGE – we ditched the mini-eggs – I guess you could buy dark or vegan ones, but we were happy to forego them.

THE DAY BEFORE

Just like the Easter story, this happy ending requires some overnight prep.  As the recipe says, “put the dried fruits, mixed peel, cherries, orange zest and juice into a bowl, stir to mix, then cover with clingfilm and set aside overnight to soak”

THE NEXT DAY

“Preheat the oven to 150°C, fan 130°C, gas 2. Grease a 20cm loose-bottomed round cake tin (at least 8cm deep) and line with baking paper.” (then there is a load of talk about tying “a thick band of folded newspaper” around the cake tin… er, no.)

Sift together the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, cream together the margarine and sugar, then whisk in the flaxseed “eggs”.  Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, followed by the soaked fruit, chocolate pieces, and almond milk.  (P.S. He chopped the chocolate with a mezza-luna! I never thought of doing that.  Recommend.)

Half-fill the cake tin with the mixture you have made.  I’ll tell you why later.

PART TWO

Marzipan time.  A food processor will be fine (and that’s all we used), but if you have a Vitamix or something, your marzipan will be even smoother.  Basically, follow this recipe, but without the dark chocolate drizzle bit (unless you want to do that; seems like a good idea tbh; I think we just ran out of chocolate).  The cardamoms he used were black smoky ones, rather than green.  Also, he used orange blossom water.  Just a little bit – it’s strong stuff.  I bet the Queen of Sheba dabs her wrists with it.

PART THREE

Roll out a piece of the marzipan so that you can cut our a thin disc of it the same size as the cake tin.  Pop it on top of the half-tin of cake mixture.  Then pour the rest of the mixture on top.

PART FOUR

Cover the tin with baking parchment, and bake it for 2.5 hours in that nice preheated oven (150C).  We actually left ours in for longer – just keep checking it with a skewer.  When it’s done, leave it to cool in the tin for an hour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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