The essential thing about Simnel cake

It’s a little too late to think about making a Simnel cake as many recipes suggest, that like Christmas cake, it should be made in advance and left to mature for a few weeks! In fact I wouldn’t make one anyway as no-one but me likes it very much and mucxh as I would enjoy munching my way through a whole cake, I don’t think it would do my waistline any good.

In fact, traditionally Simnel cake wasn’t eaten at Easter, it was eaten on Mothering Sunday. Mothering Sunday should not be confused with Mother’s Day which is a modern invention – Mothering Sunday was a time when servant girls were allowed to go home to visit their mothers, and would pick posies of spring flowers on the way. This in turn was a tradition which grew out of something older, when people would return to their home church, their mother church on the fourth Sunday in Lent, exactly three weeks before Easter.

Maybe servant girls took Simnel cake home to their mothers – which seems unlikely thinking how many rich ingredients it has, but the cake is much older than servant girls going home – it is possibly eight or nine hundred years old – modified over the centuries of course!

The essential thing about Simnel cake, is that it has marzipan cooked in the middle of it, and when it is decorated it has more marzipan on top, with eleven marzipan balls – for the disciples minus Judas, or twelve with one for Jesus.

There are many, many recipes, but essentially it’s a spiced fruit cake; I came across one recipe with twenty-four differed ingredients; this one from the National Mark Calendar of Cooking, in its March section has fewer:

Simnel cake

  • 12 oz flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 8 oz butter
  • 8 oz sugar
  • 12 oz currants
  • 8 oz sultanas
  • 6 oz chopped mixed peel
  • 4 oz raisins
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • pinch of mixed spice
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • salt
  • almond paste, rolled out to ½ inch thick and in two 8 inch circles, plus extra to make marzipan balls
  1. beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy
  2. beat in the eggs one by one
  3. sieve the dry ingredients together and add alternately to the fruit and peel
  4. add a little milk if the mixture is too stiff
  5. put half the mixture into a greased, lined, 8 inch cake tin
  6. carefully put one of the almond paste circles onto the mixture then top with the rest of the mix
  7. bake in a moderate oven, 180°C, 350°, gas mark 4, for 3½ hours
  8. allow to cool, brush top with marmalade (no shreds) or apricot jam and lay the second almond paste circle on top. Add the marzipan balls and brown carefully under the grill

I would at least double the quantity of spice!

Here’s an interesting article, and the 24 item recipe!


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