Easter Bake-off: Ever heard of Simnel Cake?

Fruitcake is famously associated with Christmas, but less well known – and equally delicious – is its springtime cousin, the simnel cake. Lighter, sweeter and steeped in symbolism, this Easter bake is also one of the UK’s most mysterious traditional treats.

Simnel cake is a light fruitcake eaten during the pre-Easter period in the United Kingdom, Ireland and some other countries. It is distinguished by two layers of almond paste or marzipan, one in the middle and one on top. The top layer is capped by a circle of 11 “eggs” made of the same paste, and is lightly browned under a grill.

It was originally made for the fourth Sunday in Lent, also known as Laetare Sunday, the Refreshment Sunday of Lent, Mothering Sunday, the Sunday of the Five Loaves, or Simnel Sunday – named after the cake. (When the forty-day fast would be relaxed), although in more recent times it is also eaten throughout the pre-Easter period, and even on Easter Sunday.

Conventionally eleven, or occasionally twelve, marzipan balls are used to decorate the cake, with a story that the balls represent the twelve apostles, minus Judas or Jesus and the twelve apostles, minus Judas. An early reference to decorating with marzipan balls appears in May Byron’s Pot-Luck Cookery but with no mention of the modern story, and her version may well be derived from earlier styles, which were sometimes crenelated.

Simnel cake is a light fruitcake, generally made from these ingredients: white floursugarbuttereggs, fragrant spicesdried fruitszest and candied peel. Sometimes orange flower water or brandy is used, either in the cake batter or to flavour the almond paste. In most modern versions marzipan or almond paste is used as a filling for the cake, with a layer laid in the middle of the mix before the cake is cooked, and it is also used as decoration on the top. Most recipes require at least 90 minutes of cooking, and advise using several layers of baking parchment to line the tin, and sometimes brown paper wrapped around the outside to stop the marzipan burning.

115g baking margarine
115g caster sugar, plus extra for rolling out
2 large free-range eggs
125g self-raising flour
225g mixed dried fruit
75g glacé cherries, quartered
500g Marzipan Apricot jam (jelly)
Cocoa powder, for dusting

Brits like Welsh Katie cook by weight not volume like we do. So no cups and teaspoons here! Convert grams to ounces here: https://www.metric-conversions.org/weight/grams-to-ounces.htm

Method: 1. Pre-heat the oven to 150C/130C Fan/Gas 2.
2. Line the base and sides of a 6 inch round cake tin.
3. Beat the margarine and sugar together until creamy. Add one egg and a scoop of flour beat until well mixed. Add the other egg and beat again, stir in the rest of the four and all the fruit.
4. Sprinkle a little icing sugar on a work surface and roll out a 6inch round of marzipan. Fill the tin half full with cake mix, add the marzipan round then the rest of the cake mix.
5. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 mins, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool for 15 minutes in the tin, then remove and finish cooling on a wire rack.
6. Brush the top of the cake with a thin layer of jam. Cut out another round of marzipan using the cake tin, use this to top the cake.
7. Roll 11 mini balls with the remaining marzipan. Put the balls around the edge of the cake, using the jam to stick them in place. Dust with cocoa powder.