An Easter cake for modern life…

Traditionally Simnel cake (those of you who love it can click on the link for a great, slightly abbreviated, version by Mary Berry) was the speciality that occupied home cooks in the run up to the Easter holiday. However, nowadays fruit cake has fallen out of favour as it’s so heavy and not very popular with children – either to bake or to eat.

Cake, on the other hand, is even more popular than ever. As is baking. Like Christmas, Easter offers us a mandatory and lengthy period of ‘downtime’. What better way to occupy yourself and your friends and family than sharing delicious food? Cooking is also a great way to waste time if you hate sitting still – or to avoid family if, well, you know…

I’ve come up with a good compromise for my family. It’s appropriately pastel and is appealing in the lurch from the crisp temperatures at the end of winter to the brighter light and gently warming sun of early spring. Sadly it contains nuts – but I’m going to follow this post with one for those of you who can’t consume them.

My lemon and almond cake is comfortingly sticky but it tastes fresh and zingy. It’s also relatively easy to make, doesn’t take a long time and can be eaten hot. That’s useful if you live with impatient people or if you haven’t made a pudding.

The ingredients you need are: – 225g. (8oz.) of room temperature – or slightly softer, if possible – unsalted butter; 4 large eggs; 225g. (8oz.) ground or powdered almonds (ground give a better texture); the juice and zest of 2 large lemons – the zest, not the pith, so don’t scrape over-enthusiastically; 225g. (8oz.) caster sugar – I use golden or brown; half a teaspoon of almond or vanilla extract and 50g. (2oz.) of plain flour.

You’ll also need a mixer or mixing bowl and wooden spoon (the analog version also requires a lot of elbow grease as the mix is quite claggy); greaseproof paper to line your cake tin; the aforementioned tin – I usually use a square 8″ Springform type model but a slightly larger circular tin will be fine (say 9″ or the ‘official’ Springform 21cm) – although you may need to watch the cooking time a little; the wrapper from a block of butter to grease the lining paper and some tinfoil. An oven is also necessary – unless you want to cook it in the airing cupboard for, like, 4 days or so.

A word about cake tins – I say ‘Springform type’ because you can buy a wide range of much cheaper versions nowadays. If you’re careful to line them and treat them with a little respect they will last just as long as ‘the real thing’. That is to say – for life. I bought mine at Asda. No shame there – in fact I’ve provided a link to a 22cm circular tin that sells for £4 . They’ve served me well. They’ve survived children baking and burning brownies, industrial numbers of serial bakes on the days before birthday parties and in the run-up to Christmas and being washed in not very warm water with pretty ropey Poundland or Home & Bargain washing up liquid. They’re tough. They’re made for people on a budget who can’t afford to replace things often. In short, they’re wonderful.

And so to the method…

Heat the oven to 180°c / 356°f / gas mark 4. I switch mine on as I start the mixing process – but mine is a bit ‘Chernobyl’ so you decide when.

Then you start on the actual work.

  1. Butter and line and butter your cake tin. Set it aside.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar until almost white.
  3. Beat in the eggs – one at a time – and add a quarter of the flour with each one.
  4. When they are all incorporated, gently stir in the almonds.
  5. Add the almond or vanilla extract to the mix.
  6. Very gradually add the lemon juice and zest.
  7. Pour the mix into the tin and cover loosely with tinfoil.
  8. Put into the oven for 30 minutes.
  9. Remove the cake from the oven and take off the tinfoil. Put the foil on one side as you may need it again.
  10. Return the cake to the oven for a further 30 minutes or so. Watch the top of the cake carefully.
  11. You need to keep an eye on the colour of the top. It’s supposed to be pale brown but it can go from perfect to burnt in a finger snap. If it looks like it’s on the turn, replace the original tinfoil.
  12. Remember that the cake is supposed to be moist and it’s usually cooked when the top is firm. You can test with a cocktail stick or sharp knife – it should be clean(ish) as you want damp – not gloopy.
  13. When the cake is cooked, let it stand in its tin for at least 15 minutes before putting on a cooling rack. I recommend leaving it in the paper for about 30 minutes then peeling that off very slowly. You can even leave it in the paper so you have a wrapper when it’s in its storage.

If you can’t wait you can serve it as soon as it comes out of the oven. However you’re better off waiting for it to cool so that you can have it cold or heat it up in *whispers* the microwave.

If you are particularly fancy you can dust it with icing sugar. I’m not and I don’t think it needs additional sweetener. That explains my rather unimpressive photos. I’ve shown you what it looks like in its post oven wrapping paper. And in an old Quality Street tin I used to transport last August’s cake to the park. More details of that below. That tin necessitated a round cake that time.

Serve it with single cream, sour cream, crème fraiche or ice cream. Any of these combinations go well with raspberries. Really, really, really well, in fact. Although they’re rather an expensive treat so maybe best keep them until you’re celebrating something momentous.
Child 1 has an August birthday and we usually have a big picnic in Sefton Park. The kids have a disgustingly lavish cake that looks like a wedding dress or a unicorn and the adults have this cake with raspberries – to soak up the cheap white wine we bring. It’s a good job we can all walk home. The Quality Street tin is useful then!

Lastly I should give instructions about keeping the cake. It tastes great if you leave it in an airtight container for a day. However it must be in a cool place. After that it only lasts for another couple of days and I would put it in the fridge. If that news puts you off – say if you live alone and don’t think you’ll manage to finish it off in three days – I have advice that will cheer you up.

Take the cake and cut it into pieces. I can get about 16 modest – but filling – squares from my tin. Put the ones you don’t or can’t eat into individual sandwich bags or similar and bung in the freezer. You can get one out in the morning before you go to work and leave it in the fridge to defrost during the day. Hey presto! There’s your evening’s pudding or late night snack. If you’re a packed lunch gourmand then take one out before you go to bed, pop it in the fridge and you’ve got a sweet treat to accompany the savoury part of your lunch.

You’re welcome.

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