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Last year, I read about Simnel cake for the first time, and thought it sounded absolutely wonderful. It is filled with marzipan and a lot of lovely dried fruits and all my favourite spices—naturally I wanted to make one.
But Simnel cake belongs to a certain time of year. Traditionally it is served on Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, when families would come together to visit and enjoy a one-day relaxation of the Lenten fast. Today it is also commonly served on Easter itself.
However, since we already have two birthdays in Lent (my mother’s and my brother’s, and they’re only separated by eight days), I didn’t really want to make a big layer cake. So I made cupcakes instead.
For the fruits, I chose currants, sultanas, and dried apricots, and then added fresh orange zest and juice. I kept the list fairly short, because I don’t like cluttering up batters with a lot of different fruits just because I can. I prefer to have a few that I can actually taste in the finished product.
With that said, I did use all of the “Big Four” of baking spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. But I focused mainly on the ginger, stirring some chopped crystallized ginger into the batter and scattering a few cubes on top as décor. I had wanted to use stem ginger in syrup as well, for I saw many recipes that called for it, but apparently it is not as common here as it is over in England. I had to settle for a jar of ginger preserve instead, which is sort of like ginger marmalade and quite luscious.
I think these cupcakes are my favourite recipe I’ve made so far this year. They are gorgeous to look at and taste exquisite. Spicy and rich with fruit and the nutty sweetness of marzipan, they also have a certain delicacy and lightness that is quite irresistible. I wonder, would it be wrong to have them on both Mothering Sunday and Easter?
The theme for this month’s Spice Trail, hosted by Vanesther of Bangers and Mash, is ginger, so I’m submitting them to that challenge, as well as the Biscuit Barrel Challenge hosted by Laura of I’d Much Rather Bake Than . . .
Adapted from numerous BBC Good Food recipes
Ingredients:For the cake: Juice and zest of 1 orange 75 g. sultanas 75 g. currants 75 g. dried apricots, finely diced 300 g. (2 cups) all-purpose flour 3 teaspoons baking powder ½ teaspoon salt 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger ½ teaspoon cinnamon ¼ teaspoon ground cloves ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg 175 g. (¾ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature 100 g. (½ cup) granulated sugar 75 g. (⅓ cup) dark brown sugar 3 tablespoons golden syrup ¼ cup whole milk 50 g. ginger preserve 2 eggs 25 g. crystallized ginger, finely diced, plus more for garnish 250 g. marzipan For the icing: 1 cup icing sugar, sifted 3-4 tablespoons orange juice
- Line 18 muffin cups with paper cases. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Combine the sultanas, currants, and dried apricots in a small bowl and pour over the juice and zest of the orange. Let stand 30 minutes. Or, if you’re in a hurry, microwave the mixture on medium power for 2 minutes.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Set aside.
- Cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the golden syrup, milk, and ginger preserve. Mix until smooth.
- Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the dry ingredients.
- Tip in the fruit mixture and crystallized ginger. Mix until the fruit is distributed evenly throughout the batter.
- Divide the marzipan into 18 equal pieces. Lightly dust a surface with cornstarch and roll each ball of marzipan into a circle about 2 inches in diameter.
- Fill the lined muffin cups halfway with batter. Press a disc of marzipan into each cupcake. Top with enough of the remaining batter to almost reach the top of the paper liner.
- Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out almost clean, with just a few crumbs clinging to it, about 25 minutes.
- Let the cupcakes cool in the pans for a few minutes and then transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the icing sugar and enough juice to make a viscous glaze.
- Dip the tops of the cupcakes into the glaze, tapping off the excess, and then place them back on the rack. Sprinkle a few pieces of diced crystallized ginger on the center of each cupcake before the glaze sets.
Yield: 18 cupcakes