Simnel cake is a traditional Easter cake that has been enjoyed in the United Kingdom for centuries. It is a rich fruit cake, typically made with marzipan too. Simnel cake is not only delicious but is also steeped in tradition.
The origins can be traced back to medieval times. The word “Simnel” is derived from the Latin word “simila,” which means fine wheat flour. The cake was traditionally made to celebrate Mothering Sunday. That was held on the fourth Sunday in Lent. The cake was offered to mothers to celebrate the day.
Over time, the tradition evolved, and the cake became associated with Easter. So these days it is usually prepared for Easter Sunday.
The cake typically includes dried fruits such as currants, sultana, raisins, and glace cherries. Mixed peel/candied peel is often included too. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice are often use to flavour the cake. The fruits are often soaked in advance, with brandy, orange juice, black tea or something similar, according to taste. The cake is then baked until it is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
A layer of marzipan is often placed into the middle of the batter before baking. Or, indeed, small chunks of marzipan are mixed into the batter. Once the cake has baked and cooled a layer of marzipan is then placed on the top. Then 11 marzipan balls that are placed on top of the cake to represent the 11 faithful apostles.
Although the cake is more usually baked in a round cake pan a loaf pan can also be used. Indeed, for my recipe, I use a loaf pan, since it makes a great shape and is perfect for slicing.
I soaked my fruit in orange juice for a while in advance. Then, I proceeded to make the batter.
That was all very simple, creaming the butter and sugar, before adding some eggs and a little orange zest. Then the flour and all spices were gently mixed in. After that the fruits were stirred in as well.
Half the batter was then placed into a greased and lined 2lb/900g loaf pan. Next I covered that with a layer of marzipan. The remaining batter then went on the top of the marzipan.
I baked the cake for 90 minutes, until it rose to the top of the pan and turned a nice brown colour. I checked with a skewer to see that it came out clean. Then I took the cake out of the oven and left it in the pan to cool for two hours.
At that stage it was almost completely cool so I placed a layer of marzipan on the top. Then I and added the marzipan balls as well. Having lightly brushed milk on the top I grilled the marzipan until it just began to colour.
I sliced the cake while it was still slightly warm, but it sliced just fine. It was lovely and moist and so full of flavour. My first taste was just of cake but the marzipan came through deliciously, as well as the fruit.
Once the cake had cooled completely it firmed up very well and I sliced it into nice thick portions.
Another great Easter treat is Czech Easter Bread – Mazanec.
Simnel Loaf Cake – For EasterCourse: Cakes, Easter BakingCuisine: British/IrishDifficulty: Medium
150g(10 1/2 tsbp) softened unsalted butter
150g(1 cup, base on scooping packed flour into a 250ml cup) self raising flour(see note below for using plain flour)
150g(3/4 cup, packed) light brown sugar
100g(2/3 cup) sultanas
100g(2/3 cup) raisins
100g(2/3 cup) currants
50g(1/3 cup) mixed chopped peel
50g(1/3 cup) quartered glace cherries
8g(2 tsp) mixed spice
grated zest of one orange
45ml(3 tbsp) orange juice
3 medium eggs(large in USA)
1.5g(1/4 tsp) salt
350g(12 1/2 oz) marzipan
20g(1 tbsp) apricot jam
10ml (2 tsp) milk, for brushing.
- Place all the fruits into a bowl and pour in the orange juice and allow it to soak for about an hour, stirring from time to time.
- Preheat the oven to 170C/150C Fan/340F.
- Grease a 2lb/900g loaf pan and line it with parchment paper
- Take about 1/3 of the marzipan and roll it out, on a work surface lightly dusted with icing sugar, into a rectangle the same size as the base of the loaf pan. Then set it aside.
- Cream the butter and sugar together, in a large bowl, until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until fully combined, adding the zest with the first egg.
- Mix the flour, mixed spice and salt together and pour onto the wet mixture, then mix it in until just combined, don’t over mix.
- Add all the fruit and any excess liquid and stir until it is fully distributed into the batter.
- Spoon half of the batter into the loaf pan and spread it to level it across the pan.
- Place the rolled marzipan onto the batter and press gently to level.
- Spoon the remaining batter into the pan and level it off.
- Bake the cake in the oven for 90 minutes, until it has risen and has turned a nice brown colour(if you think it is browning too much you can cover the pan with aluminium foil part way through).
- Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool completely in the pan.
- Remove the cake from the pan once it is cool.
- Stir the jam to loosen it and then brush it over the top of the cake.
- Roll out about 1/2 of the remaining marzipan into a rectangle just larger than the top of your cake.
- Place the marzipan onto the cake and crimp the edges.
- Divide the remaining marzipan into 11 balls of equal size.
- Brush the top of the cake with milk and place the 11 balls on the top, then brush them with milk too.
- Place the cake under the grill/broiler, for a couple of minutes, until the marzipan begins to colour slightly. Watch it very carefully as it can burn very quickly.
- As soon as the marzipan starts to colour turn off the grill and remove the cake. Allow it to cool before slicing and serving.
- If you wish to use plain flour instead of self raising flour add 1 1/2 to 2 tsp of baking powder to 150g plain four and stir to mix through.