Continuing my aim to develop more free-from recipes, I’ve taken the gluten out of an old favourite Easter recipe and I’m delighted with it. I always say, when a recipe is gluten-free, it has to be delicious, full stop. By that I mean, it isn’t good enough to be delicious “for something that is gluten-free” – it has to be standalone fantastic to eat, such that a non-Coeliac would enjoy it and not notice the lack of that pesky protein gluten. Enter my Gluten-Free Simnel Cake.
It was a no-brainer to convert my old recipe into a gluten-free version. As regular readers will know, my Daddums was diagnosed with Coeliac a few years back and I made it a bit of a mission to come up with as many recipes as I could for him so he could take pleasure in food again, which seemed impossible for him in the beginning.
A rich fruit cake such as you get at Christmas time, is one of his most favourite cakes in the world and Simnel Cake is, in essence, Christmas cake but with a layer of marzipan baked right into it for extra fudgy goo. It’s an excuse to indulge in the festive flavours of Christmas, which is my Dad’s favourite time of year, in April and after all the problems my dad has had with his health, I’m not going to ever deny him his favourite treats.
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It didn’t take much tweaking to my original recipe to convert it with success. As really good gluten free flour mixes are still eye-wateringly expensive, I try to work on blends of naturally gluten-free “flours” to give the texture needed without requiring that you take a second mortgage out to purchase the ingredients for!
Ground almonds help with the keeping quality, buckwheat gives a lot of properties similar to wheat flour so is structurally important and the rice flour gives a lightness to an otherwise potentially heavy cake.
As for the flavourings, I add a good amount of stem ginger (see how to make your own with an update on how to make it in your Instant Pot here) as well as some ground ginger as my Dad loves it. I also grind my own mixed spice but a fabulous alternative is my pumpkin pie spice blend (see here for my recipe).
I also go off-piste and pour over a good glug of dark rum when the cake is baked but you don’t have to as this is traditionally an alcohol-free fruitcake. Whether you include the booze or not, know that I deliberately cut a slice of this cake, wrapped in a single layer of foil and kept it for 7 days at room temperature and it was only better for it.
That’s pretty much unheard of for gluten-free baking so whether you make this Gluten Free Simnel Cake ahead of Easter weekend or don’t manage to get through it over the long weekend, don’t worry, it just gets better for keeping wrapped in foil in a cake tin on the countertop.
A rich fruit cake with a layer of marzipan backed right in as well as used on top for the traditional decoration. Originally served for Mother's Day, it's now more common for Easter. This gluten free version is so good, you really won't be able to tell there is no gluten! And it keeps extremely well - just wrap in foil and store in a cake tin. I've kept it for at least a week!
- 500 g mixed dried fruit
- 50 g stem ginger (finely chopped)
- 1 lemon (zest and juice)
- 1 orange (zest and juice)
- 100 g ground almonds
- 100 g buckwheat flour (white or wholemeal is just fine)
- 100 g rice flour
- 2 tsp gluten free baking powder
- 1 level tsp xantham gum (be mean when you measure, you don't need much)
- 1 tbsp mixed spice (pumpkin pie spice is delicious here too)
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 250 g soft butter
- 250 g light muscovado sugar
- 4 large eggs (beaten in a jug)
- 500 g marzipan (golden or white as preferred)
- 2 tbsp dark rum (optional)
- 1-2 tbsp marmalade or apricot jam (I used my Instant Pot Blood Orange Marmalade)
Grease and line a deep 8 inch round cake tin - I use reusable silicone liners but baking parchment is just fine. Preheat the oven to 160˚C and position a shelf so that the cake sits no higher than the centre of the oven or it will catch and burn.
Start by weighing the dried fruits, stem ginger and the zest and juice of the lemon and orange into a large bowl and mix well before setting aside.
Whisk together the ground almonds, buckwheat flour, rice flour, baking powder, xantham gum and spices and set aside.
Divide the marzipan in half and roll one half into a round ever so slightly smaller than 8 inches in diameter - using the base of the cake tin as your guide.
Beat the butter and sugar until very light, pale and fluffy then pour in about a quarter of the beaten eggs, followed by a couple of spoonfuls of the flour. Continue alternating the egg and dried ingredients until all combined.
Scrape the dried fruit and all the juices into the cake batter and mix well before scraping half into the prepared cake tin, topping with the disc of marzipan then finishing with the remaining cake batter.
Level it off and bake for 2 hours - you may wish to place a piece of foil over the top in the last 30 minutes of baking time if it is colouring too quickly. Test with a skewer to see if it done at 2 hours (bearing in mind the marzipan will be a little gooey) and be prepared to let it cook for another 10-15 minutes if not yet done.
If liked, pour the rum on top of the hot cake as soon as it comes out of the oven and then cool fully in the tin on a rack before unmoulding from the tin.
To decorate, take 2/3 of the remaining marzipan and roll out to the diameter of the top of your cake. Brush the top of the cake with a light layer of marmalade or jam and press the disc of marzipan on top. Crimp the edges up as per the photos. With the last piece of marzipan, divide into 11 and roll into small balls (this is symbolic of the 11 apostles for the religious amongst us) and arrange around the periphery of the top of the cake, using a tiny dot of water to help them adhere to it.
To finish, preheat the grill (broiler) and position a rack in the oven so that the cake is not closer than 2 inches to it. Now here's where you have to watch it like a hawk - place the cake on a baking tray and grill for approximately 1-2 minutes until you get a little scorching on the marzipan topping of the cake. Do not take your eyes off it (yes, I stand and peer through the oven door!) and when lightly toasted, remove and cool before serving.
As with all free from baking *always* read the labels on your ingredients as gluten can crop up in the most unlikely places! Double check your baking powder as it can often be bulked up with wheat flour and whilst marzipan is just ground almonds, sugar and sometimes egg, double check as it may have been made in a factory which handles gluten.
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