Simnel cake

Most years I bake a simnel cake for and most years it’s eaten by my dad, slice by slice over a week or two. Really, I should start a tradition of a tower of Mothering Sunday profiteroles. Ma G&C would appreciate those a lot more.

But that would betray the ancient cultural practices that dog these islands and ensure every special occasion is marked with a dried fruit cake that can double as a cosh if the celebrations get out of hand. What marks simnel cake out as different to Christmas cake, wedding cake, christening cake, congratulations on your divorce cake and all those other fruity party bakes is the emphasis on marzipan.

The majority of simnel bought and baked in Britain this Sunday and over Easter will have a layer of marzipan in the middle as well as a layer on top, decorated with 11 marzipan balls to represent the true apostles of Christ (no cake for you Judas). It’s a type of simnel that originated in Shrewsbury and I’ll guess it became so popular, destroying all other simnel competition, due to the excellent amounts of marzipan in it, which helps keeps it moist.

Be warned! The marzipan recipe below is made with raw egg yolks and you could DIE from eating it. Or get a bit sick. Or neither. If you don’t want to eat raw egg marzipan, then you’ll need about 400g of ready-made marzipan. I also decorate my simnel cakes with 12 marzipan balls on the grounds that 2,000 years is a bit long to hold a grudge. Happy Mother’s Day.

Simnel cake
Serves 6–8

180g caster sugar
180g ground almonds
3 medium egg yolks
2 tsp rose water
1 tbsp brandy
Icing sugar, for rolling
130g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
130g dark brown soft sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
130g plain flour
1/2 tsp mixed spice
90g sultanas
90g raisins
90g stoned dried dates, chopped
30g mixed peel, chopped
Grated zest of 1/2 small lemon
2 tbsp brandy
Apricot jam
Beaten egg, to glaze

1 Make the marzipan by placing the sugar and ground almonds in a bowl and beating in the egg yolks, rose water and brandy to make a soft dough. Bring it together with your hands and knead for 1–2 minutes until smooth. Dust your work surface with icing sugar and roll out 1/3 of the marzipan to make a round approximately 14cm across. Set aside. Wrap the remaining marzipan and chill.

2 Preheat the oven to gas mark 1/140°C/fan oven 120°C. Grease a 15cm cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.

3 Beat the butter and sugar together until pale, fluffy and combined. Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, then sift in the flour and mixed spice. Stir to combine. Add the dried fruit, mixed peel, lemon zest and brandy and stir to thoroughly mix.

4 Spoon half the cake mixture into the cake tin and level the surface. Top with the marzipan circle, then spoon over the remaining cake batter. Level the surface and bake for about 11/2–13/4 hours, until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Check it after the first hour and if it’s starting to over brown, cover with some baking parchment. Leave to cool in the tin.

5 Once cool, turn out of the tin and remove the baking parchment. Warm 1 tbsp apricot jam until it’s liquid and brush over the top of the cake. Roll out  1/3 of the remaining marzipan on a work surface dusted with icing sugar to make a 15cm circle and lay it over the top of the cake.

6 Shape the remaining marzipan into 12 equal sized balls. Arrange the balls around the edge of the marzipan to make a circle. Brush with a little beaten egg to glaze (you’ll have to make a tiny, tiny omelette with the remaining egg). Preheat the grill to high. Grill the top of the cake for 1–2 minutes, until browned. Leave to cool. Serve in slices.

Edit: It has been pointed out that I haven’t told you how to stick the marzipan balls onto the top of the cake. You can either egg wash the marzipan top, then stick on the balls, egg wash and grill. Or, if you don’t want to grill the cake straight away, dab a spot of vodka on to the marzipan and lightly press a ball onto it. Repeat, until all the marzipan balls are attached.

Tagged with: BakingCakesEnglishMother's DayMothering Sunday

14 Responses to Simnel cake for Mothering Sunday

  1. Woah – look at that! Very professional and impressive! Homemade marzipan, too – I’m in awe…

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      Ah, it’s easy to just stir it all together. Much coarser than bought marzipan, but more boozy too, so its swings and roundabouts. Home-made marzipan does make the middle of the cake much moister than bought though, it leaks fat and sugar all over the place (cake).

  2. uberVU - social comments says:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by ginandcrumpets: New Post: A simnel cake for Mothering Sunday with home-made marzipan. Coo.

  3. curlywurlyfi says:

    Wow. That’s a beauty. I’d pick off the marzipan + eat it separately, of course.

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      That was always the point of wedding cakes when I was little! Of course, back in those dark old days, people would have royal icing on their cake so you’d have to chisel that off with a knife as well as peel off the dark, sturdy fruit cake to get at the only good layer. Now I’m a greedy grown up, I think they’re all good layers (and miss royal icing, even though it is an arse).

  4. Rahul says:

    Great post (as always he he). You made me laugh. You should be writing (say for WFI) as much as you are cooking. I wish I were inspired/ talented enough to bake. All that butter and sugar turns me off (even though it doesn’t turn me off from consuming the outcomes).

  5. oxfordfood says:

    It looks so good, why have I never made simnel cake before? Possibly because I thought I was the only person who liked fruit cake. I should stop letting that put me off.

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      The number of people who like fruit cake when they’re offered a slice is suprisingly high. Worked it it’s just over a month until Ballymaloe – starting to get very excited!

  6. […] up to it’s name, like an eccles cake on steroids, and the Simnel cake, while not a patch on mine of course, was Bellerina’s first taste of this Easter bake. The New York cheesecake was […]

  7. I made it! Sadly, as you know, you were a touch too late with the vodka-marzipan-sticking pearl of wisdom…! It smelt delcious when it came out of the oven so I’m sure it must taste mighty fine.

    I dropped it off with Helen ( in our food exchange today so I’ll leave her to report back on whether I’ve done your recipe justice…

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      Thanks to your feedback, I have added in the edit so no one else suffers marzipan balls rolling everywhere. You have done simnel cake bakers everywhere a service (or at least, the ones who use my recipe). Glad it smells nice, hope Helen enjoys it.

  8. raynah says:

    Fab blog – love the images and the recipes and the text – very entertaining. Hope you don’t mind that I’ve quoted you…

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