Wednesday 31 March 2010

Chocolate Simnel Cake

This is my somewhat alternative interpretation of a Simnel Cake. There's no fruit involved. Just chocolate. Lots of chocolate. It's a dark beauty.

I saw a recipe for Chocolate, Orange and Almond Simnel Cake in April's Good Food and this all built from there. I've made their chocolate marzipan recipe but the rest is different - I've added in coffee instead of orange and used a different cake recipe.

I wasn't expecting huge amounts from the chocolate marzipan. I thought it would be nice - after all, how could a blend of sugar, almonds, cocoa and egg be bad - but I wasn't expecting explosions. We got them. Seriously, please make this. It's fantastic. Whoever came up with this recipe in the Good Food team is a genius.

A few minutes after tasting some, my mum declared:

"It's sort of like a food orgasm, isn't it?"

I was going to simply place a thin disk of marzipan on top and in the middle. I wanted to use truffles instead of marzipan balls on top. Then I became blinded by love of the marzipan and decided to simply totally enrobe the cake with the marzipan and use it for the balls. I was going for indulgence, so why not spread the love down the sides of the cake.

With such a rich and heavy marzipan, I wanted to make a cake that had a deep chocolate flavour but wasn't too dense. I found what I was looking for in Nigella Lawson's ridiculously simple Traditional Chocolate Cake recipe in her big book Feast. It's a great recipe - you just chuck everything in the food processor and you get a lovely light but very tasty cake for all your not so hard work. Indulge yourself with the spare time you're not spending creaming and folding!

I switched the vanilla in the recipe for coffee - I wanted the bitterness and extra flavour to bounce off the chocolate.

To sandwich it all together I made a bitter chocolate ganache with some 85% chocolate, more coffee, the rest of the sour cream and a good dollop of the truly indulgent double cream I was raving about with the Tians. It compliments the sweet marzipan and brings everything together.

I'm really pleased with the way it came together. It's a great change from the normal fruit cake and the marzipan is truly wonderful. It's probably a bit too dark and bitter for little children or people who don't like that kind of thing but using a sweeter filling would sort that out.  You could just use a sweeter dark chocolate or milk chocolate in the ganache, or find another frosting that you like.

We had it for pudding last night with chopped pears and creme fraiche - I can't recommend the combination highly enough.

Chocolate Simnel Cake
(Marzipan from April 2010 issue of Good Food, Cake from Nigella Lawson's Feast )

For the chocolate marzipan:
85g golden caster sugar
100g icing sugar
200g whole almonds
50g dark cocoa powder
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk

As I prefer grinding almonds myself, I put the almonds in my food processor and blasted them till fine. If using already ground almonds, just put those in the processor. Add the sugars and cocoa and blend to mix well. Beat the egg and egg yolk together and then add to the processor and blend until it comes together. Scoop out onto a piece of clingfilm and then wrap it up and place in the fridge. Keeps for a week in the fridge if you want to make it ahead (though I couldn't guarantee that it won't all be nibbled away by then...)

For the cake:
200g plain flour
200g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
40g cocoa powder
175g unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 tbsp instant coffee
150 ml sour cream

Take the butter and sour cream out of the fridge (and the eggs, too, if you keep them there). Preheat the oven to 180C. Line and grease two sandwich tins (8"/20cm). Put the instant coffee in a mug/bowl and pour 1 tbsp of boiling water over the top and stir well. When the butter etc is room temperature, simply weigh everything out and put it all in a food processor. Blend until a you have a smooth batter. Measure out into the two tins and smooth. Put into the oven for around 30-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack and cool in the tin for 10 minutes before running a knife around the edge and turning out. When cool place into the fridge to make them easier to split/work with. If you don't have much time, just pop them in the freezer for a 5 minutes.

For the ganache:
100g dark chocolate (I used 85%)
2 tsp instant coffee
60 ml double cream
40 ml sour cream

Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small bowl. 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. Leave for two or three minutes before beating until smooth and glossy. Mix the instant coffee in a bowl with a tsp of boiling water then beat into the ganache.

To assemble:
Split each of the cakes into two (I also trimmed them down to a smaller circumference as I wanted a taller-looking cake).  Sandwich all the layers with the ganache. Put into the fridge and take out the marzipan. Cut an end off and form 11 small balls from it, rolling them in your hands. Put them to one side. Either dust the surface liberally with cocoa powder or sandwich the marzipan between two big sheets of cling film before rolling it out into a big circle. Use a piece of string to check it's big enough. Get the cake out of the fridge and remove one side of the cling film. Place the centre of the marzipan circle over the cake and smooth down. Fold down over the sides and cut off any excess. Stick the balls of marzipan on top and dust with cocoa powder.


  1. I saw the original recipe on the BBC Good Food website and thought it looked good but this looks even better! So chocolately! I love the fact you had it with pears a la your blog name!

  2. Oh I love the changes you've made! I actually don't like a heavy fruit part in this cake and using chocolate and coffee instead sounds great.

  3. I've never worked with marzipan. I will have to try this out. I'm not a fan of sour cream, so I may have to make some modifications. The cake looks beautiful!

  4. This cake is perfect for me. I am all about chocolate and the darker the better. I have yet to make marzipan at home. So impressive that you covered the whole cake with it!

    Re: your question on Apples and Butter - yes, broad beans and fava beans are the same.

  5. What a beautiful elegant looking cake. The bow around it is really pretty.

  6. I love it! It would delight one's tastebuds I presume! Must try

  7. Very nice indeed, but it isn't a simnel cake, is it, so why call it one?

  8. Lapinbizarre - Personally, I associate simnel cake with marzipan and the eleven balls/apostles - hence I still call it a simnel cake. I acknowledge it's a fairly free interpretation!

  9. Lapinbizarre, I agree. It's a very nice chocolate cake for Easter, but it's not a simnel cake!

  10. In explanation, tho' long in the US South, I'm from Bury and so a bit touchy about simnel cake recipes.

  11. This looks stunigly addictive and wonderful! :D

  12. Just found this recipe from the Chocolate Teapot - wow! I made a chocolate simnel cake this year, but it is as nothing compared to this!

  13. it looks like an angel made it !!!!!

  14. Hi. I followed your recipe and it turned out great! I really liked the subtle coffee flavour and the marzipan works great as less sweet alternative to icing. I found that I needed at least three times the amount of ganache your recipe makes though.

  15. Anon - Glad to hear you liked it! I am usually fairly light on icing, but it does sound fairly low - you're right. I'll put a doubled recipe up - thanks for pointing it out.

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