Let’s talk about Easter traditions. I’ve explained some of our family traditions in previous posts (welly wanging features heavily – not as rude as it sounds!), but I wanted to share another really special one: the Easter tree.
Each year my mum bough in a bunch of branches and, together with my sister and I, we’d decorate them with a motley collection of eggs, rabbits and chicks. There are eggs from all over; school fetes and craft fairs, holidays abroad and local shops. Often the branches would carry on putting out leaves and blossom indoors, which was totally magical.
Last year I bought a beautiful hand painted egg for mum from Romania, and she gave me some she found in Prague, and this year I’m having my own Easter tree to carry on the tradition. It may not be as conventional as a Christmas tree, but its such a glorious celebration of spring.
These Nut-free Easter Simnel Cupcakes were a result of my recent experimentation with nut-free marzipan combined with a heavy does of inspiration from a Dan Lepard recipe. They have a line of nut-free marzipan running through the middle and are topped with a disc of marzipan which I torched with a blowtorch – not necessary, but it does look pretty! They’re the perfect antidote to one feature of Easter that I absolutely hate – constantly reading ingredient lists in tiny font on the side of eggs to make sure I can eat them without dying. So not my favourite thing to do, are you with me my food-allergic friends?
Mahleb is the ingredient that makes the marzipan sing. Its the kernel of a specific type of cherry, and has a bitter almondy aroma. It’s close enough to the smell of almonds to fool my well-trained brain into thinking its going to be eating something it’s allergic to! You can make the marzipan in advance, cut it into discs and freeze it until you need it. Then the rest of the cake baking is fairly simple, just make sure not to put too much mixture in each muffin case.
Make these for whoever you have coming at Easter, whether they have a nut allergy or not, and you’ll have some seriously happy guests. The finished muffins are warming from the spices, and rich with dried fruit, set against a moist cake and delicious seam of fragrant marzipan. I promise you’re going to love them.
Nut-free Easter Simnel Cupcakes (Adapted from a Dan Lepard Recipe on BBC Good Food)
Makes 12-18 muffin sized cupcakes
Ingredients: nut-free marzipan
75g unsalted butter, at room temperature
5g of ground sieved mahleb
100g icing sugar
100g fine semolina
Ingredients: Simnel Cupcakes
150g caster sugar
125g Demerara sugar
150ml sunflower oil
50g golden syrup
75g full fat cream cheese
1/4 tsp ground all spice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp fine salt
200g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
225g dried mixed fruit
- First, make the marzipan. Cream together the butter and mahleb in a stand mixture. Then sieve the polenta and icing sugar and mix in until it forms a ball. It will be quite soft at this stage. Pat into a disc, wrap in cling film and pop in the fridge for 15-30 mins, until it is firm enough to roll. Don’t leave for too long, as it dries out and gets very brittle.
- Roll out the marzipan on a surface dusted with icing sugar to about half a cm thick and cut out 18 5cm circles and 18 6cm circles using cookie cutters. You can freeze them at this stage and use them straight from frozen.
- Preheat the oven to 180C. Line 2 12 muffin tins (I used silicone cases) and set aside.
- In a large bowl mix together the sugars, oil, syrup, vanilla, cream cheese. Then add the eggs. I used a whisk which made it easier to incorporate the eggs.
- In a separate bowl sift together the spices, flour salt and baking powder. Add to the wet ingredients and stir to just combine. Add the dried fruit and fold over a few times to distribute.
- Add a tablespoon worth of mix to each muffin tin, then add one 5cm disc of nut-free marzipan to each. Top with another spoon of mixture. For me I ended up with 18 cupcakes, but it will slightly depend on the size of your tins.
- Bake for 25-30 mins until turning golden brown and a cocktail stick comes out clean. Turn the oven off and straight away place a 6cm circle of nut-free marpizan on top of each cupcake. Place back in the turned off oven for 30 secs to a minute to let the marzipan soften (don’t let it get to hot or it will bubble). Take back out the oven and push down the edges gently. Leave on a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Optional Toast the marzipan with a blow torch until browning in places.