In recent years, the traditional simnel cake has perhaps fallen a little out of fashion and has become harder to find in bakeries and shops. If you’re craving this nostalgic Easter staple, we thought we would share our recipe for you to give a try so maybe it can make an appearance back on your table this year.
The history of the Simnel cake can be traced back to medieval times. The word simnel originates from the Latin simila – the whitest and finest of flours. It is said to have started life as a simple yeast-leavened dough made from the best flour available.
Like a lot of recipes, it is one that has evolved over centuries. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the mixture of fruits, almonds and spices were boiled before the flour, butter, sugar and eggs were added. It was recorded to then have been wrapped in pastry, glazed with and baked until the crust was hard. It wasn’t until toward the end of the 19th century that it began to resemble more of the cake we know today and not until the 20th century, did we see the addition of the marzipan almond paste with the reference of the apostles via the balls of marzipan adorning the top as we know it today.
The eleven marzipan balls that famously decorate the top, represent Jesus’ eleven loyal disciples – although you may recall there being twelve apostles, only eleven are included due to Judas’ betrayal.
To make this recipe local (as we love to do here over at Taste HQ) you could order your flour from Calbourne Water Mill – who are still serving the local community virtually through their online shop. Alternatively, Grace’s Bakery are also offering their flour, yeast, egg and milk as well as a whole host of their baked goods. Use local eggs from Brownrigg’s or Hazlemere Farm if they are easily available to you. See our area guides for more details on where you can shop locally during lockdown for the best local produce.
We have also included a guide at the end of the recipe for how to make your own edible sugared spring flowers to decorate with if you are feeling extra creative. You will need these a day or two before so they are dry in time.
- 225 g Natural marzipan
- 225 g Plain flour
- 1 tsp Baking powder
- 1 tsp Mixed spice
- 175 g Spreadable butter
- 175 g Golden caster sugar
- 3 Large eggs
- 3 tbsp Milk
- 175 g Currants
- 225 g Sultanas
- 50 g Glacé cherries (cut into quarters)
- 50 g Unblanched almonds (roasted and chopped)
- 50 g Chopped candied peel
- Zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
For the topping:
- 300 g Natural marzipan
- 1 dsp Apricot jam
- Sugared spring flowers
For the decorations:
- 1 egg white
- Caster sugar for coating
- Edible flowers you could try: Primroses, Violets, Rose, Borage, Pansies
You will need a 20cm round loose-based cake tin, with greased base, sides and lined with baking paper.
- Pre-heat the oven to 150°C.
- Cut the marzipan into small cubes then toss them in 2 level tablespoons of flour.
- Sift the remaining flour, baking powder and spice into a large mixing bowl, then add the butter, caster sugar and eggs.
- Using an electric hand whisk, mix to a smooth, creamy consistency. Then whisk in the milk.
- Take a metal spoon and gently fold in the fruit, nuts, candied peel and grated orange and lemon zest followed by the marzipan cubes.
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level it out with the back of the spoon.
- Bake the cake near the centre of the oven for about 2 hours 30 minutes or until the centre is firm and springy.
- Leave the cake in the tin to cool for 15 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack.
- Roll out the marzipan to a round saving some for the marzipan balls on top.
- Brush the top of the cooled cake with apricot jam, top with the round of marzipan, and scallop the edges.
To toast the marzipan:
- Cut out a circle of foil to cover the top of the cake inside the scalloped edge and place the cake under a pre-heated grill so the marzipan is a good distance from the heat source and watch carefully until the scalloped edge is toasted to a golden brown. Alternatively this works well with a cook’s blowtorch.
- Finally, top with the sugared spring flowers and marzipan balls.
For the decorations:
- Beat egg whites until frothy. Add a couple of drops of vodka to help the flowers dry quicker.
- Using fresh-picked flowers, paint each flower individually with beaten egg white using a little paintbrush – a party brush will probably be a bit too clumsy for this.
- When thoroughly coated, sprinkle with fine sugar and place on the wire rack to dry. Flowers are completely dry when stiff and brittle to the touch.