I’m sure you have heard of Simnel Cakes being associated with Easter. But you may not know why, what a Simnel Cake actually is or, indeed, how to make one. Here at Crafty Bug HQ, we have never made such a cake before so thought a bit of research wouldn’t go amiss. So here we have put together some information on the history and tradition of the Simnel Cake along with some links to recipes you might like to try.
Essentially, a Simnel Cake is a light fruit cake, in some ways like a Christmas cake, albeit much lighter and less rich . It has two layers of fruit cake along with two layers of almond paste or marzipan, one of which is used as the filling between the two cake layers, and one as decoration on top.
Although, today, we very much associate the Simnel Cake with the Easter festival, this is not, in fact, its history. Originally it was a gift for Mothering Sunday. Girls (and boys) in service were given a day’s holiday in which to go and visit their mothers and they took with them a Simnel Cake they had baked especially for the occasion. Timetravel Britain explains:
Simnel cakes have been baked since the middle ages and it is believed that the word Simnel comes from the Latin ‘Simila,’ which meant very fine flour made from wheat. Simnel cakes were difficult to make, but if made properly they would keep for a few weeks. Thus the baking of a Simnel cake for Mothering Sunday was not only a gift from a girl to her mother, but also a test of the girl’s cooking skills. The cake would not be eaten until Easter Sunday, and the whole family would be anxious to see if the cake was still moist.
With the demise of service after the First World War, the Simnel cake began to be treated as an Easter cake in its own right. The cake is decorated with eleven marzipan balls, representing Jesus’ disciples minus Judas the traitor. Originally it was also decorated with fresh flowers, but sugar flowers are often used today. Via timetravel-britain.com
Although today, there seems to be a fairly standard recipe, cake shape and familiar decorations, apparently
Different towns had their own recipes and shapes of the Simnel cake. Bury, Devizes and Shrewsbury produced large numbers to their own recipes, but it is the Shrewsbury version that became most popular and well known. Via en.wikipedia.org
How to Make a Simnel Cake
The video below shows you, step by step, how to make a Simnel Cake. Not only does Paul Hollywood demonstrate each step but as he has a small group of students working alongside, the questions and answers flow very naturally. It isn’t simply a video of “do this”, now “do that”; there is plenty of interaction with the students and you learn lots of hints and tips as they chat about what they are doing. It doesn’t include the actual recipe quantities (which can be found here) but provides a really useful visual and audio (subtitles are available) guide to the process.
For a different take on the Simnel Cake recipe, this one by Edd Kimber uses ground almonds instead of the traditional flour, which gives the cake a much lighter texture. He also suggests soaking the dried fruit in brandy (or orange juice if you don’t want to use alcohol) a couple of hours before you want to make the cake, to swell the fruit and let them take on that richer flavour.
This version of the cake also includes the classic “burnt” look to the marzipan topping by either briefly putting the cake under the grill or by using a cook’s blow torch. The choice is yours!
If you like marzipan (I am definitely a fan!), then you may like the following version. This is one of Delia’s – so guaranteed to work! What I like about this particular recipe is the fact that she includes squares of the marzipan in the cake mixture itself, thus add an extra, almost oozy element to the finished product. The other appealing aspect is the fact that she roasts the almonds prior to adding them to the cake batter. I have to say, I’m quite a fan of roasted nuts as I think roasting really improves the flavour and texture. So if you fancy giving Delia’s recipe a go, just follow the link below and get baking!
First of all, when the oven is pre-heated you need to roast the almonds, just spread them out on a tray and pop them into the oven near the centre for 8 minutes – use a timer to help you remember.
Then cut the marzipan into 1cm cubes and then toss them in 2 level tablespoons of flour (taken from the measured amount above). Now sift the remaining flour, the baking powder and spice into a roomy mixing bowl, holding the sieve quite high to give the flour a good airing as it goes down, then add the butter, caster sugar and eggs. Via deliaonline.com
So if you fancy having a go at making a Simnel Cake for this Easter, I hope you find the above ideas inspiring.
Thumbnail credit deliaonline.com