Easy Simnel Cake

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A classic Simnel Cake from Cookery Doctor Richard Maggs - a real treat for Easter Sunday

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  • 200g (7 oz) plain flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 175g (6 oz) butter
  • 175g (6 oz) light soft brown sugar
  • 1 lemon, grated rind
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 55g (2 oz) ground almonds
  • 700g (1lb 9 oz) mixed fruit with peel
  • 85g (3 oz) glace cherries, quartered

For the almond paste:

  • 8oz (225g) ground almonds
  • 8oz (225g) caster sugar
  • 4oz (115g) icing sugar
  • 1 large free-range egg, separated
  • Juice of 1 lemon

First make the almond paste. Mix the ground almonds and two sugars. Add the egg yolk, lemon juice and just enough egg white to mix to a fairly stiff paste. Reserve the remainder of the egg white. Wrap the almond paste in clingfilm and refrigerate.

In a large bowl place all of the cake ingredients and beat well with a wooden spoon until blended and smooth. Line the base and sides of an 8-inch (20cm) deep round cake tin with Bake-O-Glide or lightly buttered baking parchment.

Place half of the mixture in the prepared tin and level. Take a third of the almond paste and roll it out into a circle to fit the tin. Add this on top of the cake mixture and then cover with remaining mixture, and smooth the surface using the back of a spoon.

2, 3 and 4-Oven AGA: Bake on the grid shelf in the centre of the simmering oven for 5-10 hours, or until a skewer comes out clean from the centre and the cake is a very pale golden. If necessary, cover the tin lightly with a piece of foil once a crust has formed on the top of the cake, to prevent over-browning.

Conventional cookers: Bake in the centre of a pre-heated oven at 150°C (300°F), gas mark 2. Cook for about 2 hours until well risen and firm to the touch, testing with a skewer, which should come out clean from the centre. Cover with foil after the first hour if the top is browning too quickly.

Leave the cake to stand in the tin for 15 minutes, before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely. When the cake is cold, remove the lining paper and brush the top with a little of the warmed jam and roll out half of the remaining almond paste to fit the top. Press firmly on the top and crimp the edges to decorate.

Using a large cook's knife, mark a criss-cross pattern with lines an inch (2.5cm) apart on the almond paste. Use the remaining almond paste to roll into eleven balls, to represent the apostles, and place evenly around the perimeter of the top of the cake, securing with a little of the reserved egg white. Brush with the remainder of the egg white.

2, 3 and 4-Oven AGA: Grill the decorated cake at the very top of the roasting oven, with the balls almost touching the roof of the oven. Protect the side of the cake with a collar of foil during this process and watch carefully so the almond paste balls only just start to colour on their tops.

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