Pistachio Easter Simnel Cake
Traditionally a Simnel cake was made by girls in service for their Mothers on Mothering Sunday, not only a gift but an indication of their baking skills. Nowadays it is eaten as an Easter cake. Originally made with ground almonds this version uses popular pistachio nuts for the marzipan. Start the preparation a day before baking.
Makes 1 x 20cm (8 inch) cake
1 x AGA 20cm Spring Form Tin, brushed with melted butter and base lined
450g pistachio nuts, shelled (see tip at end of recipe if you want to remove skins)
300g icing sugar, sieved
1-2 egg whites
1 orange, grated rind and juice
425g mixed dried fruit
100g chopped apricots
50g chopped mixed peel
125g glace cherries, quartered
250g plain flour
1½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
175g butter, softened
175g light soft brown sugar
4 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp smooth apricot jam, warmed
Frosted edible flowers
Skin the shelled pistachios the day before, see end of recipe.
Grate the orange and squeeze the juice. Place the mixed dried fruit, chopped apricots, mixed peel and cherries into a bowl and pour over the orange juice, stir together, cover and leave to soak overnight.
Make up the pistachio marzipan; finely process the pistachio nuts in a food processor then add the icing sugar and process again until the mixture is fine. Tip into a bowl and mix in enough egg white to make a smooth dough, but not too sticky, knead until smooth. Divide into three pieces.
Sift the flour and the spices together and stir in the orange zest. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy and gradually beat in the eggs, adding some flour towards the end to avoid the mixture curdling.
Fold in the remaining flour mixture, then the orange soaked fruit. Place half the mixture into the cake tin. Roll out a third of the pistachio marzipan to 20cm and lay on top of the mixture, press down lightly, spread the remaining fruit cake mixture on top and level.
3, 4 and 5 oven AGA: Place the cake tin on the oven grid shelf set on the floor of the Baking Oven for 20 minutes then transfer to the Simmering Oven – 4 oven AGA owners sit the cake tin on the large grill rack – for about 4½-5 hours.
2 oven AGA: Bake for about 5-6 hours on the grid shelf placed on the floor of the Simmering Oven. Alternatively cook in the AGA Cake Baker in the Roasting Oven for 1¼-1½ hours.
Remove the tin from the oven and allow it to cool for an hour. Remove from the tin and peel off the paper. Cool completely.
Roll out another third of the remaining pistachio marzipan to fit the top of the cake. Brush the top of the cake with warmed apricot jam and press the pistachio marzipan into place, crimp the edges. Take the last of the pistachio marzipan and form eleven balls and attach these to the cake with a little more warmed apricot jam. Place fresh, or frosted fresh flowers into the centre of the cake
Tie a yellow ribbon around the middle of the cake.
TIP: SKINNING SHELLED PISTACHIO NUTS.
If you buy whole pistachios and do not skin them there will be dark flecks of skin in the marzipan, this does not affect the flavour but time spent removing the skin will result in a purer colour marzipan – alternatively use skinned slivered pistachios, these will be more expensive but will save time!
The method I found best for skinning the pistachio nuts was from Food Writer, Debbie Major.
Drop the shelled pistachios nuts into a saucepan of boiling water and then simmer for 8 minutes. Darin and leave to cool for 10-15 minutes, so they are still slightly warm but cool enough to handle. Tip onto a clean tea towel and rub vigorously to loosen the skins. Then remove and discard all the skins from the nuts. Spread out on an AGA baking tray and place in the Simmering Oven for 10-15 minutes, don’t let them go brown. Set to one side to further dry overnight.
Conventional cooking: Bake at 150ºC (300ºF), fan oven 130ºC, Gas Mark 2 for 4½-5 hours.