Simnel cake is the most traditional Easter cake there is – a dense, spiced sponge cake packed with juicy dried fruit. If you’d like to have a go at making your own this year, this guide makes it so easy. And it’s really worth it – a homemade version will be spongier and sweeter than the shop bought varieties, which can sometimes have a bitter aftertaste to them.
Although we usually thing of Simnel cake as an Easter Sunday treat, it was originally made for Simnel Sunday, which is celebrated on Mother’s Day in the UK. The last Sunday in Lent, this was traditionally a day when domestic staff had a holiday to return home to see their mothers. It was also regarded as a holiday from traditional Lenten fasting – so cake was an appropriate gift for people to share with their families. These days it’s more usual for people to eat Simnel cake over the Easter weekend itself.
Simnel cake is traditionally topped with a sheet of sweet, almondy marzipan, which is finished with 11 little round marzipan balls. These represent Jesus’ twelve apostles, minus Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus. Sometimes people add a twelfth ball in the middle to represent Jesus. When you cut the cake open, you find the best bit (in our humble opinion): a hidden layer of marzipan baked into the middle. It adds sweetness and a lovely gooey texture to each slice.
You can make this cake in a classic round tin which makes spacing the balls on top nice and neat, but use a square one if you prefer. In a square tin you can create a lattice of marzipan by cutting flat ribbons and interweaving them.
For this Easter recipe you will need:
- 250g butter, softened
- 250g light soft brown sugar
- 4 medium eggs
- 250g self-raising flour
- 2 level tsp mixed spice
- 250g sultanas
- 125g currants
- 175g glacé cherries
- 125g ready-to-eat dried figs, chopped
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- Grated zest of 2 oranges
- 2 x 500g packs white marzipan
- 2tbsp ground almonds
- 11 flaked almonds
Use either metric or imperial measures – do not switch from one to the other. Calorie and fat contents given are approximate values and assume you are making the maximum number of servings stated.Recipe and props stylist: Judy Williams. Photo: Chris Alack