Whisky and pistachio simnel cake
- April 2017
- Serves 14
- Hands-on 1 hour, oven 2¼-2½ hours, plus overnight soaking and cooling
Traditional simnel cakes can often be heavy or too sweet, but Debbie Major’s take on this Easter bake is wonderfully light, laced with whisky and topped with a pistachio marzipan.
- 27.3g (9.9g saturated)
- 78.8g (59.1g sugars)
- 400g mixed dried fruits (such as sultanas, raisins and currants)
- 50g mixed chopped candied peel
- 125g natural coloured glacé cherries, quartered
- Finely grated zest 1 large orange
- Finely grated zest 1 lemon
- 100ml whisky
- 225g self-raising flour
- 2 tsp ground mixed spice
- 200g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
- 225g light muscovado sugar
- 4 medium free-range eggs
- 3 tbsp whole milk
- 2 tbsp no-peel marmalade, warmed
- Caster sugar to sprinkle
For the marzipan
- 400g skinless pistachios
- 300g icing sugar, sifted, plus extra to dust
- 2 medium free-range egg whites
You’ll also need…
- Deep 20cm loose-bottomed round cake tin, greased and lined with non-stick baking paper; a ribbon (optional)
- The day before, put the mixed dried fruits, candied peel, glacé cherries, both zests and whisky into a bowl. Stir to mix, then cover with cling film and set aside overnight.
- The next day, heat the oven to 150°C/130°C fan/gas 2. Put a folded newspaper or piece of non-stick baking paper onto a baking sheet. Tie a thick band of paper around the outside of the tin and sit it on top of the paper on the tray. (This will help to prevent the outside of the cake from overbrowning.)
- To make the marzipan, put the pistachios into a food processor and whizz until finely ground. Add the icing sugar and whizz once more, then tip into a mixing bowl. Lightly whisk one of the egg whites with a fork, stir it into the ground pistachios, then knead the mixture using your hands until it comes together in a ball. If it’s crumbly, whisk the second egg white and add more, a little at a time, until the marzipan binds and is malleable. Turn out onto a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar and knead until smooth. Divide into 3 even pieces and wrap each in cling film.
- For the cake, sift the flour, mixed spice and a pinch of fine salt into a mixing bowl. Using an electric hand whisk, cream the butter and sugar for 5 minutes until it becomes lighter in colour and texture. Beat in 2 of the eggs, one at a time, beating for about 1 minute between each addition. Beat in the remaining eggs, one at a time, along with 1 tbsp of the sifted flour mixture to stop curdling. Gently fold in the remaining flour mixture, followed by the whisky-soaked fruit and the milk.
- Spoon half the cake mixture into the cake tin and level the surface with the back of a spoon. Using a rolling pin lightly dusted with icing sugar, roll out one piece of the marzipan into a 20cm disc (use another 20cm tin base as a guide and trim to fit). Lay it on top of the cake mixture. Press down gently, then pour over the rest of the cake mixture. Lightly level the top, then make a shallow dip in the centre (to help to give the cake a flat top).
- Bake for 2¼-2½ hours, covering with a loose folded sheet of non-stick baking paper once the cake has browned. The cake is done when a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 1 hour, then remove and leave on a wire rack to cool.
- To decorate, invert the cake onto a serving plate or cake stand. Roll out another of the marzipan pieces and use the cake tin as a template to cut out a 20cm disc. Brush the top of the cake with some warmed marmalade, then lay the marzipan on top. Using the edge of a cleaned ruler, indent the top of the marzipan with parallel lines spaced 1cm apart, going one way, then the other, slightly on an angle, to produce a diamond grid. Sprinkle the cake with caster sugar.
- Shape the remaining marzipan into 12 small, even-size balls, then roll them in some caster sugar. Dot the underside of each one with a little more marmalade. Space 11 of the balls evenly around the outside of the cake and put one into the centre.
- To finish the cake, tie a ribbon around the outside, if you like.
Use the best pistachios you can get, such as Iranian green skinless pistachios from souschef.co.uk or ottolenghi.co.uk. If using shop-bought shelled pistachios, you need to blanch and dry them first. Heat the oven to 150°C/130°C fan/gas 2. Simmer the pistachios in boiling water for 8 minutes. Drain, tip onto a clean tea towel and rub to remove the skins. Pick off any stubborn pieces of skin, then dry in the oven on a baking tray for 10 minutes (don’t let them brown).
To ensure that the layer of marzipan runs through the centre of the cake, weigh the finished cake mixture first, then spoon exactly half of it into the base of the prepared cake tin at step 5.
Make the marzipan up to a week ahead and store, wrapped in cling film, until needed. Make the cake up to a week ahead and keep in a sealed container. Decorate with the marzipan up to 24 hours before serving.
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