When I was little my Granny used to make a Simnel Cake each Easter. I remember her making the 11 toasted marzipan balls it’s traditionally topped with (to represent the 12 disciples minus Judas) and secretly hoping she’d make 12 after all and give Judas’ share to me…
Marzipan seems to be like marmite – you either love it or hate it. In our family we’re split between marzipan-lovers and marzipan-shunners. My youngest brother and I were definitely in the former camp and would make marzipan fruit at Christmas stuck with a clove “stalk” and calyx and painted with edible food colouring. Neither of us was that keen on heavy fruit cake like Christmas or Simnel Cake but we’d beg the almond paste and fondant off our other brothers’ share or anyone else overcome with the sugar rush of too-thick icing. My best friend is the marzipan queen though – for many, many years part of my Christmas gift to her was a box of marzipan that I had moulded into sweet shapes – plums with a “stone” created from a whole almond and dusted in sugar. Little white marzipan pigs with white chocolate drop trotters, ears and snouts. Tiny teddy bears coated in dark chocolate. Each year got I more and more inventive trying to outdo the year before but truly, I think she would have been just as happy with a big lump of plain marzipan to sit and nibble on!
A few days ago @knittingtastic mentioned Simnel Cake on Twitter and I fell to wondering if I should bake one after all – purely for memory and old times sake. There are only two of us here at home though and heavy fruit cake still isn’t my most favourite thing although I no longer pick off the icing and leave the dark, crumbling cake on the plate…
One of my favourite baked goods is Welsh Cakes which along with Bara Brith are two of the traditional tea time treats offered in Wales. I was thinking how amazing it would be if you could combine buttery Welsh Cakes with marzipan and Simnel Cake and all the good bits of these time-honoured baked goodies. I’ve also been meaning to make some Kanelbullar, the Swedish cinnamon buns served with coffee for fika – the fabulous tradition of pausing with coffee and pastry and just being present in the moment; so much more than a snatched coffee break. Or as my friend Jo used to call it “meeting up for a cup-of-coffee-and-a-sticky-bun!”. I decided I’d make a version of Kanelbullar with marzipan tucked inside and create a sort of mash-up of my favourite things as an Easter treat. Normally we have Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday; I thought it might be nice to try something different.
I decided to use parts of some recipes and adapt them to include other things which is my normal method of using recipes – I’m not sure I’ve ever used one except as a rough guideline to quantities! Mostly I prefer to cook ad lib according to taste and whim and I decided here that including the cinnamon and cardamon of Kanelbullar was probably a flavour too far with the other spices and marzipan so I went with a more traditional Chelsea Bun approach instead.
I wanted to use some of our own Welsh honey from my mum’s bees – not only is honey more tasty than sugar, it also acts as a humectant and helps keeps baked goods moist. And although sadly no sugar is actually very good for you, I like to think that raw unfiltered honey has some microscopic goodness suspended in it’s amber depths that the empty calories of refined sugar crystals completely lacks. So I swapped out the sugar in the dough for our own honey and also cut back on the quantity of butter which seemed alarmingly excessive – I think in future I could probably cut back even more, these ones certainly didn’t suffer from the reduced fat content!
As well as using our own free range eggs from the hens and our honey, I like to use organic, stoneground flour where possible – my favourite flours are milled just 4 miles away at Bacheldre WaterMill. Heavier than regular flours, the slow stoneground method keeps the flour cool and so doesn’t destroy the wheatgerm in the way that more modern methods of milling flour do. It tastes far nicer and is better for you. Sadly I didn’t have any to hand. I rarely bake these days and when I do, prefer to buy artisan flour freshly milled so it doesn’t go rancid. So when the urge to bake hits you late in the evening you just have to go with whatever is on the shelf!
I soaked the fruit beforehand to plump it up – instead of rolling it up inside the dough swirls I wanted to incorporate it a la Welsh Cakes. I wasn’t sure how much the honey would alter the dough texture but I’m happy to improvise and this actually worked out spot on with the reduced butter content.
It kneaded beautifully and I put it in a warm spot to prove.
More melted butter was needed for assembling the swirled buns (against my better judgement – high fat diets not being my thing!). However, this was meant to be a treat so I tried to ignore the nagging voice that was squeaking with alarm at the amount of naughties going into this concoction and set to rolling out the dough and marzipan.
This is where baking in the evening becomes a problem – the heavy fruit and butter filled dough is slow to rise, as with homemade Stollen. I decided instead of trying to get them to rise sufficiently in a warm place and end up baking them at one ‘o’ clock in the morning or something crazy, that I’d allow them to rise gently overnight at room temperature and bake the next morning. This worked really, really well for this heavy dough and I’ll do this overnight slow rising in future when I bake other fruit breads I think.
So this morning these beauties were almost ready but I gave them a little longer in a warm place to sit and think about things whilst I threw open my house to the glorious Good Friday sunshine and fresh air and indulged in a spot of Spring Cleaning before turning the oven on. Soon the house was also filled with the warm scents of spice, yeast, honey and marzipan as it melded into one delicious almondy fruity chewy tray of baked gorgeousness.
Mum and I “tested” them and declared them fabulous. I also tried them out on my friends Dawn and Laurie who called round this afternoon to see if Marley and I wanted to join them on a walk to make the most of the beautiful weather before the forecasted storm closes in tomorrow. They also agreed they were yummy – Dawn commented that they were “like Christmas and Easter all rolled into one” which is exactly the flavour I was aiming for!
I’m pretty happy with how they turned out. I’m calling them Welshie Buns in honour of their hybrid ancestry and the land of their birth – and I’m thinking I might make them my new Easter tradition instead of the heavier Simnel Cake in the same way that for us a small Stollen has replaced the big traditional iced Christmas Cake I always used to make when our family was larger.
I’m planning – all being well – on writing up the recipe tomorrow to include in my first newsletter this weekend. If you’d like to try making Welshie Buns too make sure you hop over to my new website barber-blacksheep.co.uk and subscribe to my newsletter (scroll down to the bottom of the home page and you’ll find the subscribe tab). I’ve got a couple of new woolly things to talk about and I also thought maybe a nice baking recipe might be a good way of wishing my internet friends a Happy Easter too.