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A Simnel Cake is an almond-flavoured fruit cake now usually associated with Easter, although it was originally a cake made in England for Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent . An almond-flavoured layer is sandwiched between two uncooked layers of fruit cake and the whole thing is then baked. I normally make an almond-flavoured sweetened semolina mixture for the filling of this modestly sized Simnel Cake, since it is not always easy to find ground almonds to use to make marzipan at this time of year. (Many bought almond icings are made of almond-flavoured sugar mixtures, and these can melt and disappear during cooking, spoiling the texture of your cake.) If you want to, and can find ground almonds, you can make real marzipan yourself.
First make the almond filling. Melt the butter over moderate heat in a medium-sized non-stick frypan. add the semolina, keeping stirring over the heat for 1 - 2 minutes, without letting it brown. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the sugar and water, then stir over the heat again for about 3 minutes, until the mixture forms a soft paste,and leaves quite large clear areas on the bottom of the pan. Take pan off the heat, stand it in cold water or on a cold surface, and stir in enough almond essence to give a mild almond flavour. Put this filling aside while you mix the cake.
In a food processor or fairly large bowl, mix together the softened butter, sugar, spice and almond essence until creamy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding about ¼ cup of the measured flour after the first egg is added. In another bowl, mix together the remaining flour, baking powder and dried fruit, then combine the two mixtures, stirring by hand.
Spread half the cake mixture evenly into a 20 cm round or square cake-tin lined with baking paper. (A round cake is more traditional.) To make a layer of the mock almond filling over the cake mixture, place teaspoon-sized lots of it evenly over the cake mixture, then spread them with the back of a wet spoon so that they cover the cake fairly evenly.
Spread the remaining cake mixture over the mock almond layer, dropping it on in fairly small blobs as you did for the almond filling then spreading it so that it covers the almond-flavoured filling completely. Bake in the middle of the oven at 150°C for 2½ -3 hours, until the cake has risen, the centre feels firm, and the sides start to shrink from the tin.
Sprinkle or brush the hot cake with about 2 tablespoons of spirits or sherry, if desired, cover lightly, and leave overnight. The cake may be eaten as is, or iced in one of the following ways.
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