Easter baking: how to make a classic simnel cake

Suraj Karmakar, executive pastry chef of the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, shares his recipe

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      For Suraj Karmakar, Easter is all about family and fun.

      Born in a small city in Northern India called Kanpur, the executive pastry chef of the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver grew up in different parts of the South Asian country, as his father worked for the government.

      As a kid, he always loved sweets.

      “Pastry art for me is something I have learned and developed passion for over the years,” Karmakar tells the Straight. “I am fascinated with the aroma that comes out of the oven when a freshly baked product comes out, the calm and peaceful environment of a pastry kitchen, and the fact that I get to play and create.

      “I believe firmly that a day is incomplete without a sweet note,” adds the father of a five-year-old boy. “My favourite part of my job is to see people smiling while they enjoy their sweets. I also love to train and develop my young team and see them creating new desserts and breads.”

      Before joining the Vancouver Four Seasons, Karmakar worked at several other of the luxury chain’s properties, including resorts in the Maldives, Singapore, Shanghai, and Bali (where he got to make desserts for former U.S. president Barack Obama and his family). Before that, he gained experience working for India’s Oberoi Hotels and Resorts.

      Suraj Karmakar got to make desserts for former president Barack Obama while working at the Four Seasons Hotel in Bali.

      For YEW seafood + bar’s upcoming Easter brunch buffet on Sunday (April 21), Karmakar is planning an entire long table of Easter-themed desserts.

      The spread includes “broken egg” panna cotta, baby chick cake pops, lemon tarts with sweet basil grass, deconstructed carrot cake, log cakes with choux mushrooms, and a live s’mores station for kids. (In addition to desserts, YEW's Easter brunch buffet, which runs from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., will feature carvery stations with roast leg of lamb, honey-glazed ham, and prime rib; seafood such as poached prawns, freshly shucked oysters, snow-crab claws, and salmon en croute; and salads, soups, and other dishes.)

      Then there will be traditional goodies like hot cross buns. Simnel cake is another classic, albeit one that’s not as widely known.

      Karmakar likens it to a Christmas cake but says it's much lighter, with spring flavours. It has two layers of marzipan: one in the middle and one on top.

      Suraj Karmakar’s Simnel Cake



      1 c unsalted butter
      ¾ c + 1 Tbsp brown sugar
      ¼ c castor sugar
      2 eggs
      Pinch salt
      1 c cake flour
      ¼ c bread flour
      ½ tsp nutmeg
      ½ tsp cinnamon
      1 tsp baking powder
      3 ½ c candied mixed dry fruit, such as apricots, prunes, glacé cherries, raisins, and/or lemon and orange peel
      2 ½ c almond paste/marzipan


      In a mixing bowl, place butter, brown sugar, castor sugar, and salt. Start creaming the mix slowly at first then at high speed until fluffy.

      On slow speed, add eggs.

      Pass dry ingredients through a sieve and add to butter mixture.

      Fold in candied mixed dry fruit.

      Pour into desired cake ring.

      Bake at 1700C/3400F for 45 to 50 minutes, until a nice golden colour. Test for doneness with a knife or wooden skewer.

      Let cool to room temperature.

      Cut the cake horizontally into two parts. Roll out the almond paste/marzipan so that a layer can be placed atop one, then put the other cake half on top.

      Cover the cake completely with a layer of marzipan.

      Conventionally 11, or occasionally 12, marzipan balls are used to decorate the cake.

      Lightly toast the cake with a pastry blow torch.

      Optional: decorate with dried apricot, figs, and/or cinnamon.