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SIMNEL CAKE

This cake was baked in the days when many girls who worked as maids or cooks, 'in service' were allowed home for the day on Mothering Sunday. Now it is traditional to have Simnel Cake at Easter. There is a story that a sister and brother called Nell and Simon, were going to make a cake for their mother. They argued over whether to bake or boil the cake (boiling in muslin, similar to Christmas Pudding, was once a normal way to cook a cake) and so ended up with two cakes which they sandwiched together with almond paste. The cake was named after both Simon and Nell - Simnel!

200g / ½ lb butter
2 large lemons
200g / ½ lb caster sugar
4 large eggs
150g / 6 oz chopped mixed peel
150g / 6 oz sultanas
150g / 6 oz currants
350g / 14 oz plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 level tsp mixed spice
450g / 1 lb almond paste


Preheat the oven to 160ºC / Gas 3. Cream the butter with the grated lemon rind and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs a little at a time, beating well between each addition, then gradually stir in the peel and fruit. Sift together the flour, baking powder and spice and fold into the fruit mixture one tablespoon at a time until it is all incorporated. If necessary, add 1-2 tablespoons of warm water to achieve a soft consistency.

Grease and line a 18cm / 7" round, deep cake tin. Divide the almond paste into three: take one portion and roll it out to a round the size of the cake tin. Spoon half the cake mixture into the tin and cover with the round of almond paste, pressing it down gently. Put the remaining cake mixture on top and smooth with the back of a spoon. Bake in the centre of the oven for 3-3½ hours. Allow the cake to cool in the tin.

Take another portion of almond paste and roll out to a round the size of the cake tin and with the final third of paste, make eleven small balls - this is the traditional number. Remove the paper from around the cake, brush the top of the cake with apricot jam and then lay the round of almond paste on top. Mark the paste with a trellis pattern and brown the top under a grill - do this VERY carefully as it is easy to burn the almond paste. Finally, arrange the eleven almond-paste balls around the top of the cake - a small dab of apricot jam will help secure them. Decorate with extra mini-eggs and fluffy chicks as the fancy takes you! Liz Ashwell
CHOCOLATE CALIENTE

We became addicted to this hot chocolate drink on a recent trip to Spain. There it is served either at breakfast or to late- night revellers. It is traditional to serve it with Churros - a kind of long, thin doughnut. I think it would be great to have on Easter morning when chocolate is definitely on the menu!

For each cup:
300ml / ½ pint milk
3 heaped teaspoons drinking chocolate powder
1 heaped teaspoon cornflour
a pinch of cinnamon, optional

In a large bowl or jug, blend together the chocolate powder, cornflour and cinnamon (if using) so that there are no lumps. Heat the milk to boiling point in a saucepan then pour it over the chocolate powder mixture, whisking all the time. Return to the pan and bring back to the boil, stirring until thickened. Pour into a cup and serve with ring doughnuts for dipping.

CHOCOLATE AND VANILLA PINWHEELS

These biscuits look great and are fun and easy to make, especially when cooking with a friend.

For the chocolate mixture:
50g / 2 oz butter or margarine
25g / 1 oz caster sugar
25g / 1 oz cornflour
40g / 1½ oz plain flour
15g / ½ oz cocoa powder


For the vanilla mixture:
50g / 2 oz butter or margarine
25g / 1 oz caster sugar
25g / 1 oz cornflour
40g / 1½ oz plain flour
a few drops of vanilla essence


Preheat the oven to 180ºC / Gas 4. Lightly grease two baking trays. Put all the ingredients for the chocolate mixture into a bowl and mix to form a smooth, soft dough. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Make the vanilla mixture in the same way and chill. On a floured surface, roll out both pieces of dough to an oblong about 25 x 18cm / 10 x 7 inches. Put one piece on top of the other then roll up - from the short edge - to form a sausage. Wrap in cling film and chill for a further 30 minutes. Cut the roll into about 20 slices and place on the baking trays. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the vanilla biscuit is just golden. Lift carefully onto a wire rack to cool.