Food & Drink
by Aspect County

Simnel Cake with John Rogers, Executive Chef at Rosemary Shrager’s Cookery School

I can’t believe we find ourselves in March already, where has the year gone?

When we get to this time of year we are waiting for spring to arrive in the kitchen, fortunately we do have one of my favourite ingredients which is bang in season – Rhubarb! Forced rhubarb (grown in the dark) has yellowish leaves and usually appears in January. The field-grown variety replaces it around April and is less tender but often more flavourful. Rhubarb was used as a medicine in ancient China. It was brought to Europe by Marco Polo and has been eaten as a food since the eighteenth century. I love pairing rhubarb with orange, ginger or vanilla. Its great with smoked duck!

But before we get to spring we have the small matter of Mothers Day!

Now although I wont be to see my mum as I will be working at the school, I always think it’s a great opportunity to make the extra effort to rustle something up in the kitchen, whether that be breakfast in bed, a cake or something more substantial. If you are feeling brave you could even create an Easter time classic – Simnel Cake!

For the almond paste
250g caster sugar
250g ground almonds
2 Medium free-range eggs, beaten
1 tsp almond essence

For the cake
175g butter
175g soft brown sugar
3 Medium free-range eggs, beaten
175g plain flour
• Pinch salt
• ½ tsp ground mixed spice (optional)
350g mixed raisins, currants and sultanas
60g Chopped Californian Prunes
55g chopped mixed peel
• ½ lemon, grated zest only
• ½ orange zest only
1 – 2 tbsp fruit jam
1 Medium free-range egg, beaten for glazing

• For the almond paste, place the sugar and ground almonds in a bowl. Add enough beaten egg and mix to a fairly soft consistency.
• Add the almond essence and knead for one minute until the paste is smooth and pliable.
• Roll out a third of the almond paste to make a circle 18cm/7in in diameter and reserve the remainder for the cake topping.
• Preheat oven to 140C/275F/Gas 1. Grease and line a 18cm/7in cake tin. 
• For the cake, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs until well incorporated and then sift in the flour, salt and mixed spice (if using) a little at a time. Finally, add the mixed dried fruit, peel and grated lemon and orange zest and stir into the mixture. 
• Put half the mixture into a greased and lined 18cm/7in cake tin. Smooth the top and cover with the circle of almond paste. Add the rest of the cake mixture and smooth the top leaving a slight dip in the centre to allow for the cake to rise. Bake in the preheated oven for 1¾ hours. Test by inserting a skewer in the middle – if it comes out clean, it is ready. Once baked, remove from the oven and set aside to cool on a wire rack.
• Brush the top of the cooled cake with the fruit jam. Divide the remainder of the almond paste in half; roll out a circle to cover the top of the cake with one half and form 11 small balls with the other half.
• Place the circle of paste on the jam glaze and set the balls round the edge. Brush the cake topping with a little beaten egg.
• Preheat the grill to high. Place the cake onto a baking tray and grill for 1 – 2 minutes, or until the top of the marzipan begins to brown. Alternatively, lightly heat the cake topping using a blow torch, until the marzipan is golden-brown. 

John is at Rosemary Shrager’s Cookery School, Tunbridge Wells.