Chocolate Macarons Simnel Cake

A modern twist of a traditional Easter cake.

A very last minute decision when The Pom mentioned about this cake that his mum will usually make during Easter every year, it sounds so very interesting and I simply have to make it. “There were twelve apostles but then one of them is naughty and I can’t remember his name, so anyway he is not included in the cake,” explained The Pom. Judas, he meant and it is the traditional Simnel Cake we are talking about.

I have never heard of Simnel Cake, and I don’t think it is very common in Australia either. Simnel Cake has been known since Medieval times, when young girls in service would make one to be taken home to their mothers on their Sunday day off. It is a fruity cake, similar to a Christmas cake, covered in marzipan, and eaten during the Easter period in Great Britain, Ireland and some other countries. Traditionally, it is decorated with eleven marzipan balls on top around the edge of the cake to represent the true disciples of Jesus; Judas is omitted because he is naughty.

I am not a big fan of solid fruit cake and also the amount of marzipan used in the traditional Simnel Cake recipe, so I gave it a modern twist and came up with my own recipe. I’ve decided to make a rich chocolate cake but will still keep the mixed fruit inside. The recipe I have adapted is from Nigella Lawson’s ridiculously simple Traditional Chocolate Cake in her big book Feast. It is ridiculously simple and the cake came out light but rich in chocolate bitterness.

Instead of the traditional layer of marzipan that is baked inside, I also added a layer of sour cherries chocolate ganache which adds moisture to the cake and the tartness will balanced well with the bitter chocolate. As for the eleven marzipan balls on top, I’ve also decided to spend a little extra effort and replaced them by making my own chocolate ganache macarons. The only way to make the macarons stand on top of the cake is by “glueing” them using buttercream icing. It works like a treat.

I love fondant or marzipan covered cake, the smooth surface makes a big difference in presentation and also a lot easier to decorate with. This is not just the first time I covered a cake with marzipan, it is also my first time to make my own marzipan too! I still have a lot of almond meal left in the pantry from the “macarons” days, so I’ve decided to make my own chocolate marzipan. Besides, most store bought marzipan are usually just plain white colour without flavour. So to have chocolate flavour marzipan for this chocolate Simnel cake, you really have to make your own. Trust me, it is totally worth it.

I am very happy with the way it looks, and the chocolate cake is also one of the best I’ve tasted. The dark chocolate is bitter and rich, nicely counterbalance with the sweet buttercream icing and macarons., while the mixed fruit and sour cherries add tartness to it. I served it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, oh boy, I can see myself making Simnel Cake every Easter from now on.

For chocolate marzipan

Ingredients
85g caster sugar
100g icing sugar
200g whole almond meal
50g dark cocoa powder
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk

Method
1. Add almond meal, sugars, cocoa into an electric mixer and blend to mix well.

2. Beat the egg and egg yolk together and then add to the dry mixture and blend until it comes together.

3. Scoop out onto a piece of clingfilm, then wrap it up tightly into a ball and place in the fridge.

4. You can make the marzipan the day before, no longer than a week, as it will dry out and gets crumbly.
For chocolate cake (adapted from Nigella Lawson's Feast)

Ingredients
175g unsalted butter (room temperature)
200g plain flour
200g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 1/2 cup mixed dried fruit
40g cocoa powder
2 eggs
1 tbsp instant coffee
150 ml sour cream

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line and grease a sandwich tins (8"/20cm).

2. Put the instant coffee in a mug/bowl and pour 1 tbsp of boiling water over the top and stir well.

3. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and bicarb soda together and set aside.

4. Add sugar and butter in a food mixer and blend until light and fluffy. Add dry ingredient, egg, coffee, sour cream and blend until well combined.

5. Pour into tin and smooth. Put into the oven for around 30-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

6. Let it cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning onto the wire rack to cool completely.
For sour cherries chocolate ganache

Ingredients
120g dark chocolate (I used 70%)
1 cup sour cherries (pitted)
1 tsp instant coffee
60 ml double cream
40 ml sour cream

Method
1. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small bowl with instant coffee.

2. Heat the double cream and sour cream together in a small saucepan until nearly boiling then pour over the chocolate, ensuring all the pieces are submerged.

3. Leave for two or three minutes before beating until smooth and glossy.

4. Squeeze all the juice out of sour cherries, add into chocolate and mix well.

For buttercream icing

Ingredients
100g unsalted butter (room temperature)
200g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence

Method
1. Add butter into a electric mixer and whisk until light and fluffy.

2. add sugar and keep whisking until well combined.

3. Add vanilla essence and whisk until soft and smooth.

4. Put inside a piping bag, and is ready for cake decoration.
To assemble the Simnel Cake

1. Split the cake side way into two, sandwich with sour cherries chocolate ganache. Put into the fridge and take out the marzipan.

2. Dust the surface liberally with cocoa powder, then rolling it out into a big circle. Use a piece of string to check it's big enough.

3. Get the cake out of the fridge and carefully place the centre of the marzipan circle over the cake and smooth down. Fold down over the sides and cut off any excess.

4. Prepare 11 macarons, or mazipan balls, place them evenly around the edge of the cake and make a mark on the cake with a fork.

5. Pipe the butter icing on the marked spots, then stick the macarons on top.

6. Dust the cake with icing sugar as final touch.