Thursday 20 April 2023

Recipe Test Simnel Cake

 Here is another Victorian Recipe Test by VSA member Marian Gibbard.


The Victorian Society of Alberta

Recipe Test:    Mrs.Crocombe’s Simnel Cake 

From:    English Heritage - The Victorian Way YouTube channel
Link:    English Heritage. (2023, April 4). How to Make Simnel Cake - The Victorian Way

When the link to this video was posted to the VSA Facebook page just before Easter, I thought it would be the perfect dessert for my holiday dinner. But then someone mentioned cheesecake and lemons and raspberries, and suddenly Simnel Cake turned into a ‘next weekend’ project.  And now, here we are at next weekend already.

Mrs Crocombe as depicted by Kathy Hipperson on English Heritage’s The Victorian Way YouTube channel is absolutely my favourite Victorian cook.  The humour is subtle, the educational details extensive without being oppressive, the attention to detail exceptional, and the recipes tantalising. I’d definitely recommend the channel to anyone interested in Victorian food or life ‘below the stairs’ on a Victorian estate.

I had most of the ingredients for the Simnel Cake in my kitchen already, other than the candied citron peel and candied lemon peel.  Since I wasn’t able to find either of them in any of the stores I visited while doing my last minute shopping, I substituted some fruitcake fruit that I had leftover from making Christmas cakes a few years ago. By carefully picking out only the paler coloured bits from the mixed fruit, I think I succeeded in getting mostly lemon peel and citron for my cake.  Mrs Crocombe tells us that we can use currants or sultanas and milk rather than brandy if we prefer,  so I used sultanas since my currant jar was empty, and milk since there was no brandy in the cupboard. Only having large eggs in the fridge, I used only 2 instead of Mrs C’s 3 small ones.

The instructions provided are straightforward, and easy to follow.  Mrs Crocombe doesn’t actually tell us what size of pan she uses, but thanks to technology and instant replays I guessed that my largest fruitcake pan (8” diameter x 3” deep) would be about the right size - a springform and would probably also work well.

The cake smelled wonderful as it was baking.  Everyone passing through the kitchen commented on it. Just the smell was enough to make me feel that this would be a successful trial. About 1 hr 20 min into the baking time, I noticed that the top of the cake was already fairly brown, so I laid a square of parchment paper over top to hopefully help control it.  I think it helped, but the cake was still quite dark by the time it was done.  At 2.5 hrs the cake tested done, smelled delightful, but was just beginning to blacken a bit around the edges. Hoping for the best, I turned it out to cool.




The almond paste I was using for the top of the cake was softer than it should have been - it was leftover from another baking experiment and had a bit of orange juice added to it, which made for a lovely flavour, but a softer and stickier paste which was difficult to roll out and shape nicely. Fortunately, the cake wasn’t being judged on its artistic merits, so I just pressed the almond paste into place and sprinkled it liberally with icing sugar.





The finished cake is quite dense, and mine had quite a heavy crust, so a sharp knife is definitely needed for cutting.  Its a rich cake, somewhat reminiscent of a good fruit cake (or Christmas cake, or wedding cake) but a less intense flavour.  I definitely prefer the Simnel cake to the others. I’d recommend that you keep the pieces on the smallish side, and as Mrs Crocombe says, it is rather good with a cup of tea.

This is definitely on the list of things that will be made again.



Notes for next time:

Pan size: 8” diameter x 3” deep seems to work well.

Consider how best to reduce excess browning -

    - line the pan with paper, like you do for Christmas cake,

    - check about 1 hr into cooking time for colour - cover if necessary,

    - possibly reduce cooking temperature to 325 F from 350 F

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