Traditionally made for Mother's Day, Simnel cakes have become and Easter tradition and I have always loved making one for our Easter table. A surprisingly simple bake, I alter the traditional elements a little to incorporate some of the Smalls favourite things.
There is a global pandemic. A new virus called Covid 19 is wreaking havoc all over the world and the UK has been placed on 'lock down' for everyone's safety. Schools, shops and businesses are closed. We are not allowed out unless its for necessities. We can't stand within 2 meters of each other. Everything feels very strange.
Dear Alice and Robin,
Happy Easter my darlings. It's a funny old time in the world and I wonder how you will remember this spring - a time when everyone stayed at home and the world felt vast and vulnerable.
For the moment it seems you have hardly noticed. Not seeing your friends, not straying beyond the village, going to playgroup, a coffee shop or the park all seems to have passed you by. Daddy is at home all the time. Mummy isn't trying to cajole you into coats, shoes and hats to a deadline. The pace of life has slowed and it seems to suit you. There's time for exploring, for sitting and for cuddles and films and stories galore. No one seems too stressed about bedtimes, routine or rules. We say 'yes' more often. As long as you eat everyone seems quite relaxed about what you eat and when. There's a lot more ice cream puddings than usual and the sun is shining. We bought a sandpit and Daddy filled the paddling pool. You run naked in the sun and you are playing together. The magic is finally starting to happen. You have taken to sleeping top-to-tail in the same bed most nights and on those evenings I take a lengthy pause before leaving you asleep, trying to etch you both into memory before time passes all too quickly, this beautifully naive thing slipping into nostalgia. You are growing so fast before our eyes. Astonishing and brilliant; it is hard not to worry about the world you are growing into. It's a scary thing being grown up. But you amaze me with your versatility and acceptance and if you do remember this unusual Spring, I hope that the strangeness is erased from the weeks or months ahead. I hope it is replaced with memories of togetherness. Family time every night before bath time making jigsaws, painting pictures, playing games. A month of watching lambs grow in a field close by, feeding the mother sheep with ginger nuts and playing hide and seek in the church yard. A time of great kindness amongst friends and strangers as you watch mummy and daddy shop for others, you make cards for the elderly neighbours and bake with other children virtually via social media. A time of gratitude for where we live, for our garden and being able to afford the modern luxuries of virtual communication so that we can still see our friends and family. Most of all, if you remember anything at all, I hope you remember all the love. The people who ran towards the danger. Those the supported them in any way they could. The little communities that came together and kept each other sane. The hundreds of extra letters that were sent. For this is the real truth of the world in which we live. A great big majority of fanatically clever, talented, caring and creative human beings. Their capacity to love their biggest asset of all; a gift that also belongs to us and so, I hope you also remember how much we loved the extra time with you this spring. A time when you fell asleep sun kissed, with tiptoes touching and I remembered just how lucky I was to have you
Easter Simnel Cake
100g chopped dried apricots
225g soft unsalted butter
225g soft brown sugar
225g self raising flour
375g mixed dried fruit
2 tsp mixed spice
1-2 blocks of marzipan (I always like a thick layer)
1 egg white
1. Grease and line a 15cm cake tin. It's worth taking the time to line the whole thing with any fruit cake. It will give you a more even and moist bake. Pre-heat the oven to 150°
2. Cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Add one big spoonful of flour and all four eggs. Beat until combined.
3. Add the flour and mixed spice and mix until smooth before folding in all the fruit.
4. Roll out your block of marzipan to about 1cm thick. Cut out a circle the same size as your cake tin.
5. Put half of the mixture in the pan and then lay the marzipan circle on top. Cover with the remaining half of the mixture.
6. Bake in the oven for 2 hours (check it at the 1.5 mark just in case) and if a knife comes out clean, it's done. Let it cool completely in it's tin before turning out to decorate.
7. Cut a second circle of marzipan the same size and thickness. Spread the top of the cooled cake with honey and stick the circle on top. Squeeze the edges between thumb and forefinger to make a crimped effect.
8. Make 11 (12 disciples minus Judas) round marzipan balls and stick them with honey to the top of the cake in a circle. Brush the whole lot with the egg white and put it under the grill. The marzipan will brown. Watch it carefully. It takes a little moment to get going, but when it goes, it goes fast. You want it just toasted, not black!
9. Decorate with suitably kitsch Easter decorations. Fluffy chicks mandatory.