Desserts GREAT BRITISH FOOD Special Occasions

You Can’t Have Your Cake & Eat It

You can’t have your cake and eat it – literally means that you cannot eat the cake and yet still keep the same cake. This phrase seems to have been around for centuries – cropping up in a letter of 14 March 1538 from Thomas, Duke of Norfolk to Thomas Cromwell as “a man can not have his cake and eat his cake“.¹ It’s the sort of sentence your parents use on you when you are a kid, and it confuses the hell out of you, for years.

Since we are currently in Lent and heading fast towards Easter, what we should be talking about is Simnel Cake. Kayte hates marzipan, so I wasn’t allowed to make one for the filming or photographs. She can’t stop me writing about it in here, though… so a big fat “Nerr”… to her.

Simnel started life in medieval times as a thin, biscuit like bread which was boiled then baked. Made of fine flour, it came from the latin simila, from which we get semolina flour. In those days, cake and bread were virtually indistinguishable, with cakes possibly being rounder and flatter than bread, and sometimes sweetened with honey, and certainly not the light and fluffy sweet delicacy we know today.

By the seventeenth century, we Brits had really developed our love of baking (and no; the Great British Bake Off didn’t actually start it). By this point, cake had transformed itself from the flat bready thing to a much sweeter, larger food, often made with dried fruits.

And this was exactly the case with Simnel. By then, it had changed from a biscuit to a fruit cake, baked for Mothering Sunday and it varied from a traditional fruit cake as it had a layer of marzipan (ground almond paste) in the middle.

Over the years, we have come to associate it more with Easter than with Lent itself, all the more so with the addition of a layer of marzipan on the top, now, and 11 marzipan balls, to represent the 11 apostles of Jesus (Judas doesn’t get a look in, and can you blame them, after what he did?). The top layer and balls are traditionally scorched. (Which sounds …painful).

The Easter Egg has been around for centuries too, with most Christian cultures either blowing them, painting them, blessing them, hiding them in the garden for children to find on Easter Sunday. But originally, Easter Eggs were an actual egg, used to symbolise rebirth, and fertility.

All that changed in 1873, however, when Mr Fry of Fry & Sons created the first Easter Egg, and children across the world were ruined forever. Looking at the UK today, you’d think Easter is now less about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ…and more about chocolate.

Which probably isn’t a good thing, but let me just bite into my Creme Egg, while I think about this…

And, since we are talking about having our cake and eating it too, I thought you might prefer the recipe and method for the ridiculously chocolatey, wide-eyed-child of a cake that Kayte prefers (and to be honest, I can’t blame her).



(Warning – this is huge and massively calorie-laden. I would recommend that this feeds about 15 people. Don’t try to eat it all yourself!)


for the cake

  • 450g uUnsalted butter, softened
  • 450g caster sugar
  • 6 large free-range eggs
  • 450g self-raising flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp vanilla bean extract

for the white chocolate buttercream

  • 300g white chocolate
  • 100g double cream
  • 200g butter
  • 400g icing sugar

for the dark chocolate ganache

  • 100ml double cream
  • 200g dark chocolate

to decorate

  • 2 x 90g bags Mini Eggs
  • Small/medium sized Easter Egg


To make the cake

  1. Heat the oven to 160C/140C Fan and line three 20cm/8inch cake tins with baking parchment.
  2. Beat together the sugar and butter until pale and fluffy
  3. Add in the eggs, baking powder, flour and vanilla and beat again until smooth, don’t over whisk it or it will make your sponge tough.
  4. Divide the mixture between the three tins and smooth over. Bake for 35 mins (check after 25 mins, if your oven is a little hot it will bake faster) or until the cake is golden and a skewer comes out clean.
  5. Leave the cakes to cool in the tin for about 5 minutes, then remove from the tins and leave to cool fully on a wire rack.

For the Decoration 

6. In a small bowl, break in the white chocolate and the 100ml double cream. Put in the microwave on low (350w) for 60 seconds. Take out and beat until smooth. If the chocolate hasn’t quite melted, pop back in the microwave for 15-second bursts until they are all melted and the ganache is smooth. Allow to cool while you make the buttercream

7. In a stand mixer, beat the butter with an electric mixer until it is smooth and loose and then beat in the icing sugar 1/3 at a time until it’s fully combined. Keep beating the buttercream for 3-4 minutes on a medium speed so it starts to get fluffier and lighter.

8. Pour the cooled ganache in with the buttercream and keep beating for another 2-3 minutes until the whole mixture is smooth and light.

9. Once the cake is cooled, level them off so that they are flat. Place a small dollop of buttercream in the centre of your presentation plate/cake board to anchor the whole cake, then place the first layer on top. Spread some of the buttercream on the top, then add the second cake and repeat. You need approx 2 tbsp of buttercream per layer – this will keep it moist but not so wet that the cakes slide around.

10. Spread a very thin layer of buttercream on the sides and top of the cake (you should be able to see the cake still through the buttercream) and then pop the whole cake in the fridge for 5 minutes to set a little.

11. Reserve about 5 tbsp of the buttercream for the swirls later on. Use the remaining buttercream around the top and sides of the cake to create a thicker, smooth layer. To achieve a smooth layer, dip a palette knife in hot water and run around the sides and top of the cake.

12. Pop the cake back in the fridge while you make the dark chocolate ganache. You want the buttercream to get quite cold and firm, which will help create the ‘drip effect’ later on.

13. Make the dark chocolate ganache – repeat step 6 with the dark chocolate. Once smooth, leave it to sit for 5 minutes to cool slightly.

14. Take the cake out of the fridge. Gently pour the ganache around the edge of the cake to cause the drips, and pour the rest onto the top and spread evenly.

15. Split the Easter Egg in two, and stick one ‘whole’ half upright into the ganache on the cake. Break the other half into smaller pieces and arrange on the top. Leave the whole thing to set in the fridge (about 30 mins) 1

16. Once the ganache is set, pipe some little rosettes onto the top and top with the whole Mini Eggs. Use any remaining buttercream to stick clumps of Mini Eggs into the Easter Egg pieces.

17. Stand back and await the awed gasps of any children in a 12-mile radius.



1 –  “Definition of cake in English”. Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 21 August 2013

2 – to go nuts – to go mad for something.


(c) Kayte & Nicer Kate 2017. Authors assert moral rights


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