Last year I revealed how my cruel, Dickensian parents never gave me an Easter egg, instead supplying me with a bar of chocolate and a book. While I will never forgive them for depriving me of egg-shaped chocolate, I am always grateful that they fostered in me a love of reading. It’s something I’ve always taken for granted, and it’s only through talking to other people and seeing my students that I’ve realised how valuable it is to create enthusiasm for reading at an early age.
So for me, a good book is as much part of Easter as the eggs. At the moment I’m reading The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt, and eating not a chocolate egg but a simnel cupcake. These are really beautifully spiced and tasty, and I’d actually make them again at Christmas – they’ve got the dried fruit, a hint of spiciness, and layer of marzipan that I associate with that other great holiday. And the good news is, if anyone’s given up chocolate for Lent they can still treat themselves to one of these!
Easter Simnel Cakelets
Makes 12, by Pam Corbin (recipe from The Guardian website)
250g mixed dried fruit
finely grated zest and juice of 1 large unwaxed orange
250g self-raising flour
1 tsp ground mixed spice
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
175g caster sugar
175g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and softened
250g icing sugar
2 tbsp hot water
1. Put the dried fruit into a bowl with the orange zest and juice. Leave in a warm place for an hour or so to allow the fruit to plump up.
2. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180C. Sift the flour, mixed spice and nutmeg into a large mixing bowl. Add the caster sugar and mix together.
3. Add the butter, eggs and milk to the flour and spice mixture. Using a hand-held electric whisk, beat for 1½–2 minutes until light and fluffy.
4. Fold in the fruit and any residual orange juice.
5. Half fill the muffin cases with the mixture. Take 150g of the marzipan and divide it into 12 pieces. Flatten each piece into a disc and place on top of the mixture in the muffin cases.
6. Spoon the remaining mixture over the top of the marzipan.
7. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until the cakes are nicely golden and spring back into shape when lightly pressed. Leave in the tray for about 10 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool.
8. When the cakes are completely cold, make the glace icing. Sift the icing sugar into a mixing bowl. Add 1 tbsp of the water to start with and then a little at a time, beating until the mixture is smooth and glossy and thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Adjust, if necessary, with a drop more water or a little more sifted icing sugar. Use to decorate the cakes. Place either a seasonal shape or 2–3 chocolate eggs on top of each one to decorate.