Simnel Cakes!!!

Before I started “this journey” I had never come across a Simnel cake before. Maybe I had a sheltered upbringing, ummmm – no couldn’t be that, so maybe they’re just not that well-known of anymore.

I certainly don’t think I’ve ever seen them on bakery racks of Tesco. But after tasting one recently, I would say that bakeries and the big nasty supermarkets are missing a trick.

Simnel cakes are a beautiful, light, spiced fruit cake. Traditionally made by servicemen for their mothers on Mother’s Day, they really herald the advent of Spring. They can also be known as Easter Cakes.

As both my grandfathers were in the Navy, and in fact as one of them worked as a Navy Baker*, how fitting to give these cakes to my mother and grandmother on Mother’s Day?

Simnel cake roots stretch back to the Romans and Athenians. In Britain, known as the Shrewsbury Simnel, it is simply made using white flour, fragrant spices and is generously studded with dried fruits and pungent peel. Like a Christmas cake, it is covered with pale sweet marzipan. The decoration for Easter time is plain; eleven little balls of smooth marzipan which represent the apostles (omitting Judas).

For Mother’s Day, you can add some femininity with some pretty crystalised flowers and tie some yellow ribbon around the sides to make a perfect gift; or like mine, simply a few mini marzipan flowers.

They are an enjoyable cake to bake. Just from the aroma alone. I was salivating as I waited. The smell was of true home baking. Rich and sweet.

So, the recipe.  This recipe makes 12 mini cakes or one large 20″ cake.  Cooking times would of course vary.  I haven’t made a large cake, but it would probably take 1.5hrs to bake through.  Whereas these mini delights, only 40minutes.  And what’s great about this recipe is that, although you can make these fruit cakes with brandy, which gives a richer flavour, I think a) that is too Christmassy for me; and b) these are therefore a cheaper alternative as the depth of flavour comes from the orange and just smells divine.

Here the cakes are made with dark soft brown sugar – much richer in taste and colour

Ingredients

  • 150g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 150g dark soft brown sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp mixed spice
  • half tsp ground cinnamon
  • 350g mixed dried fruit (or 200g raisins, 100g currants, 100g sultanas, 50g mixed peel)
  • Handful of glace cherries
  • 50g ground almonds
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 100g marzipan cut into small round discs or cubes

For the decoration

  • 1 tbsp Apricot Jam
  • Icing sugar, to dust
  • 400g Marzipan
  • Food colouring or paste of your choice

How to make mini simnel cakes

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C/fan140°C/gas 3 and lightly grease a 12 x 125ml muffin tin.
    Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a bowl. Place the dried fruit (except cherries) into another bowl and add the orange juice.
  • Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the orange rind, almonds and eggs one at a time, beating well after each one.
  • Fold in the flour a few spoonfuls at a time.
  • Fold in the orange juice soaked fruit and now add the cherries. The mixture should have a dropping consistency

    Image shown features version using light brown sugar which gives a much lighter cake – more Mr Kiplin fruitcake style, but still lovely.

    Pour the mixture evenly into the prepared muffin tin.

  • Push a few small cubes or one disc of marzipan into the cake mix within each mould, which will give the cakes a little surprise from within.
  • Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown and firm.
  • Cool for 20 minutes, then remove from the tin and set aside on a wire rack.
  • To decorate, dust a work top with icing sugar. Thinly roll out 250g marzipan (you could make your own, but that’s just too much work and the cost of almonds is ridiculous). Press out 12 rounds with a 7cm plain cutter (re-roll the trimmings).
  • Quickly melt the apricot jam – which will be your glue.  Using a pastry brush, brush each cake with a little melted jam and then press on a marzipan round to each cake and crimp the edges (if you so wish).
  • Colour the remaining marzipan with food colouring – all different colours, kneading to evenly distribute. Roll out the marzipan and cut out as many flowers as you deem suitable with a flower cutter (from cake decorating shops) or using a small knife. Roll small balls from the trimmings for the centre of each flower.

*To end with a beautiful story.  My Grandad, the Navy baker, whilst at sea, baked his own wedding cake.  Each time he returned to port, he would drop off a beautifully rich, fruit cake tier with my Nan, ready to be iced just before the wedding.  The cake was absolutely stunning – fit for royalty.  How romantic!  And, of course, the top-tier was reserved for their first born’s Christening.  Click here for more including wedding pics.

These were made with light brown sugar – still delious but the flavour is less rich, less “special”

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Chicken Broth with dumplings

This recipe makes the most of your Sunday Roasts, plus a few essentials you should find in your store cupboard and fridge.

Ingredients
1 chicken carcass
Left over chicken (any old bits picked off the bone)
1 small chopped onion
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
2 small carrots, roughly chopped
A few sprigs of parsley
A few sprigs of lemon thyme
2 chicken stock cubes

Dumplings
20g butter
100g self-raising flour
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped lemon thyme
A dash or two of milk.

Following your roast, remove as much meat as possible from the carcass. Create 2 piles. 1 of meat of a reasonable size, suitable for stir fry or risotto; 1 of smaller pieces ideal for the broth.  Obviously the amount of meat you have left over will depend on the size of the chicken and the number of those dining.

Place the chicken carcass in a large saucepan along with the onion, celery, carrots and herbs.

Add 1.5 litres of water plus the stock cubes.

Bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on for an hour.

Remove the carcass.

(Now . . .  I do up to this point on the sunday, straight after dinner. You can then cool the soup and keep it in the fridge until Monday or Tuesday night)

 

It might not look so appetising here, but imagine the house filled with the aroma of . . . grandma’s home cooking. Sunday nights will never smell the same again as you watch Downton Abbey and indulge in a cheeky after dinner Port!

To make the dumplings

Make the dumpling batter by sifting together flour and a little salt into a medium bowl. Add (optional) chopped fresh herbs. Add melted butter and a dash or two of milk to the dry ingredients. Gently mix with a wooden spoon until mixture just comes together. (Do not overmix! Or you’ll have heavy dumplings).

Shape the dumplings into small balls (the size of large marbles).

(Reheat the soup if necessary). Add any bits of leftover chicken, bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Check the seasoning. If you like your broths a little thicker, add a couple of dessert spoons of cornflower mixed with a dash of water to give you your desired consistency.

Add the prepared dumplings.

Cover and simmer until dumplings are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Once you have covered the pan, do not uncover and peek while the dumplings are cooking! In order for the dumplings to be light and fluffy, they must steam, not boil. Uncovering the pan releases the steam.

If after 20 minutes they are still not cooked through (use a toothpick or skewer to test) cover pan again, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Serve with some crusty bread and butter.

Hubby paid me the greatest compliment when I cooked this – “just like my Mum used to make” – chuffed!

Waste not, Want not

As the weekly shop cripples more families and fuel bills continue to rise, where possible housewives are having to look for new areas to save a few pennies. Funnily enough, it’s reverting back to grandma’s cook book.

This is how to be leftover savvy (and I’ll keep updating this as I discover more tips . . . so check back when you have a moment)

Leftover: Roast Chicken

The options for this are endless. Firstly. Straight after your roast dinner, don’t be throwing away that carcass. Instead turn it into stock or a filling, wholesome Chicken Broth.

The leftover meat can be a wonderful addition to weekday lunchboxes in sandwiches or salads. Knock up the perfect 10 minute monday night tea: Thai green stir fry with noodles – our favourite is Sainsbury’s stir fry sauce, meaning you can feed 2 for £2.50. Or how about a classic chicken risotto?

Leftover: Bananas
Firstly. Here’s a tip. Don’t throw away browning bananas. Instead, pop them in the freezer, whole and with their skins on. They will turn black on the outside, but when they’re defrosted and you have removed the skins, they will be perfect. They are then ideal for banana steamed pudding with toffee sauce; good ol’ fashioned banana bread; breakfast muffins.

 

Leftover: Lemons
Don’t throw away your lemons. Chop them up and add to an ice-cube tray, top up with water and freeze. never again will your G&T go without a lemon again!

Leftover: Whisked Eggs
Every time I glaze a pie, I always think it’s a hideous waste that the whisked egg goes in the bin. Thank you hairy bikers for this tip. Freeze your leftover egg in an ice-cube tray. One block is perfect for one pie. And it only takes about 15 minutes to defrost.

Leftover: Pastry
All the odds and ends from making pies etc, roll up into a ball and pop in the freezer. Perfect for adhoc jam tarts.

Leftover: Ham
Again. So many options. But we love ham and pea pasta. Or our Shrove Tuesday tradition of cheesy pancakes with ham and leeks.

Leftover: Red Wine
Similar to the eggs, get another ice-cube tray on the go, but this time fill it up with leftover red wine (which is very rare in our house).  When you’re rustling up a spag bol or some gravy, pop in a couple of wine cubes to fancy it up a bit without opening up a whole new bottle or wasting that Chateauneuf-du-pape!  Fabulous.

Leftover: Green Chillis (or any colour for that matter)
I think this humble housewife lark is finally becoming useful.  Hubby makes a mean Thai Green Curry, he’s cooking one tonight, but he hates, hates, hates that when you buy green chillis, whether it’s from the supermarket of the greengrocer, you can never just buy one.  It’s always a bag of half a dozen or so.  Unfortunately, we don’t eat that much hot food, so they normally end up sitting in the fridge and then I find them all furry when I do the monthly fridge clean out.  Nice!

So, this time, hubby actually asked me to research how to preserve chillies.  And therefore, this is dedicated to you oh hubby-of-mine.  I found various recipes for chilli oil and vinegar etc.  But we wouldn’t really use those.  Instead, we just want chillies to use in curry or similar.  I don’t want to fanny around drying them either.  So, how happy was I to discover you can simply freeze them?  Here’s how (apparently good for all chilli types):

  1. First prep the chilli.  Prepare them like you would for your food.  So in our case it would be to de-seed them and chop them – this makes them already prepared for when you’ll need them next.
  2. Once prepped, pop them in an ice-cube tray with a dash of water until frozen.
  3. When they’ve solidified, tip them into a freezer bag.
  4. Now, here’s the important bit, obviously you don’t want the rest of your food in the fridge getting chillified, so make sure you double, if not triple bag the chilli ice cubes.   This also stops them getting freezer burn and losing their flavour.

Triple bagged, they should last 6 months to a year. 

To use them, just thaw them 30 minutes or so before you cook.  Or just chuck them in frozen – whatever your cooking will thaw them out.

No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow. 

Which is ironic seeing how mild this winter has been. But alas. The daffodils are peaking through the soil. Florists are full of summer coloured tulips. And hot cross buns are in the bakers.

I don’t know where february went. It just flew by. I don’t think I succeeded much in improving my housewife skills. Apart from perhaps finally discovering the best boeuf bourgignon. Organising the kitchen cupboards (a bit) and the clearing of the loft (almost complete). Fabulous hubby has decorated the lounge so now we’re in the position to buy some nice things.

So we probably didn’t do too bad. How much can one achieve when you spend nearly 8.5 hrs plus travel time at work?

So. What does March hold in store?

Perfect bedroom oasis - as displayed pefectly by Debenhams!

Laundry tips

I meant to complete this in febuary but it turns out borax isn’t so easy to come by. So I still haven’t solved the mystery of fabulous crystal white sheets. The saga continues.

Ivy Wars
The two weekends I could have taken on the ivy, siberian arctic winds attacked britain. So it won itself some more time.  But, I’m determined to conquer it as spring hits. I also have to tidy the front garden ready for some sort of design to take place during the summer. Probably involving shingle!

Birthday Season
Like most families we have a period of a few months in which everyone has their birthdays. Which makes things a bit expensive and busy. I cannot promise to be able to help with ideas for your male family members as I believe they are almost impossible to buy for. But I have found some lovely items for mums, sisters and nans which I will share with you.

 
Channel 4’s Simnel Cakes – lets see how mine turn out!

Mother’s Day
This year I’m going to attempt baking some minature Simnel cakes. I have never had one before but I understand that a Simnel cake was one traditionally given to mothers after church on mothering sunday (but recently the tradition moved to giving them at Easter)  Either way, thought it would make a nice addition to bouquets of daffodils.

Plan the spring cleaning schedule
Continuing my plan to get the house organised and fresh for forthcoming summer, I will start the mother of all to do lists to be conquered during april and may.  And I’m determined to get it done.  I want the house to be an oasis of calm.  Somewhere hubby and I can enjoy our free time away from the stresses and strains of hideous Monday-Friday life.  And I believe that if the house is organised and sparkling, that can only make the rest of our lives which are less so, easier.