Easy simnel cake recipe
A traditional Simnel cake is heavy on the fruit, but to belie the wintry weather outside, I wanted to make a lighter, more springlike version, so I haven’t put so much in.
I also added some lemon juice for a bit of zing and glace cherries for a bit of brightness. It is sort of a ‘cake with fruit’ rather than a fruitcake, I suppose. It is also supposed to have 11 marzipan balls on top to signify the 11 apostles (minus Judas), but as I baked a relatively small cake, I only had 6. Sorry, apostles.
If you haven’t heard of this cake before, it is a great thing for an Easter celebration; if you have, I hope you enjoy my take on it. This is how to make and decorate a Simnel cake:
Easter Simnel Cake
- 4 oz plain flour mine was a gluten-free blend
- 4 oz butter
- 4 oz soft brown sugar
- 2 medium eggs
- 1 oz glace cherries chopped
- 2 oz sultanas/raisins/currants
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 1/2 a lemon zest and a generous squeeze of the juice
- 2 tsps shredless marmalade
- 1 pack marzipan
- Grease and line a small, round cake tin and preheat the oven to 170oC.
- Dust a work surface with icing sugar and roll out enough marzipan to cut a circle the size of the tin. Cover in cling film and set to one side.
- Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add a pinch of flour to prevent the mixture curdling.
- Fold in the flour, baking powder and spice.
- Stir in the cherries, dried fruit and lemon zest & juice.
- Spoon half of the mixture into the tin. Cover with the circle of marzipan, then spoon in the rest of the mixture.
- Bake in the center of the oven for about an hour, or until risen and brown.
- Leave to cool for a few minutes in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- Roll out some more of the marzipan quite thinly and cut out a circle just larger than the top of the cake.
- Spread a thin layer of shredless marmalade over the top of the cake, then cover with the marzipan. Crimp the edges with your fingers to make a decorative 'wave'.
- Roll small pieces of marzipan between your fingers into small balls and stick on top of the cake with a little dab of marmalade.
- Dust with icing sugar and serve.
What is Simnel cake?
Simnel cake is a very traditional British cake, originally baked for Mother’s Day by servant girls who were given the day off to visit their families. It was sort of a mid-lent treat, packed with goodies such as dried fruit, spices, and marzipan.
Over time, it came to be synonymous with Easter, baked at the end of Lent as a celebration of the end of the fasting period. By the 17th century, it had become a popular Easter treat. Today, it is a beloved dessert enjoyed not only in the UK but also in other parts of the world with British heritage.
So, why called Simnel cake? One story involves a couple named Simon and Nell, who couldn’t agree on how to bake the dough, resulting in a “Sim-Nell.” Another theory links it to Lambert Simnel, a historical figure, though it’s less likely. Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell mentioned this in a letter while recalling her childhood memories of eating this cake on Mothering Sunday in 1838.
What sets the Easter Simnel cake apart from other fruitcakes is its unique decoration and symbolism. Traditionally, it is decorated with 11 marzipan balls or figures on top, which represent the 12 apostles of Jesus, excluding Judas Iscariot. Some variations may include a center marzipan layer, symbolizing Jesus in the middle of the cake.