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Although we usually thing of Simnel cake as an Easter Sunday treat, it was originally made for Simnel Sunday, which is celebrated on Mother's Day in the UK.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 (opens in new tab) 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
To make this Simnel cake, start by setting the oven to cool, Gas Mark 2 or 150°C.
Put the butter and sugar into a bowl and beat together. Add the eggs, flour and mixed spice alternately and mix well. Add all the fruit and citrus zest and mix again.
Roll out some of the marzipan so that it fits roughly into your cake tin. Put a third of the cake mixture into the tin and spread evenly over the base. Lay your marzipan piece over this mixture.
Put half of the remaining cake mixture into the tin and lay another marzipan piece on top. Top with the rest of the mixture and level the top. Cook in the centre of the oven for 3-3¼ hrs, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool in the tin, then remove cake from tin and level the top. Turn the cake over.
Cut a third off the second block of marzipan and reserve. Roll out the larger piece and lay your cake tin on top of it, cutting the marzipan to fit the size of the cake. Lay the marzipan on top of the cake, and put under the grill to brown slightly.
Use the reserved marzipan and trimmings to make 11 neat cubes and 11 balls. Roll the balls in the ground almonds.
How to make simnel cake
Arrange the balls in a circle on top of the cake, using a little water to hold in place. And there you have it, the perfect Easter simnel cake.
Top tips for making Simnel Cake:
As befits a cake as old as Simnel, there are many variations on this recipe. Some add spices separately - half a tsp each of allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. You can also add a pinch of saffron - which is more traditional than it sounds, at least in areas like Essex where it was grown. It adds a lovely warmth and aromatic muskiness, and helps make the cake feel different to a richer, heavier Christmas cake. To keep it light and moist, exchange 70g of the flour for ground almonds.
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Jessica Dady is Senior Content Editor at Goodto.com and has over 10 years of experience as a digital journalist, specialising in all things food, recipes, and SEO. From the best food hampers to cookbooks, from the best cake stands to baking sets, Jessica has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to must-have food products. A passionate baker, she spends much of her time creating celebration cakes for friends and family - particularly for her two lucky children.
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