A simnel cake is a light fruitcake containing sultanas, apricots and cherries that is topped off with a layer of marzipan and decorated with 11 marzipan balls around the edge. This fruitcake is also extra special as it also contains a middle layer of marzipan that is baked into the cake itself, producing a delicious moist and gooey almond centre layer. It’s quite unique and I know of no other cake which does this. The marzipan on top of the cake is often also toasted gently under a grill to give it a lovely golden appearance and a little more depth of flavour. Alternatively you can go at it with a blowtorch (I did!) and find this helps to give a more even browning.
Simnel cake is now often associated with Easter, but it is traditionally a Mothers Day cake and one that has been going on for decades. Young girls who lived and worked away from home in service were given half a day off on Mothering Sunday, during which they would bake this cake and take it home to their mothers.
The eleven marzipan balls around the edge are meant to represent the eleven disciples, minus the traitor Judas. However, I’m unsure if this was present on the traditional Mothers Day simnel cake as this seems to symbolise an event more associated with Easter, so this may have been added later. Either way if you are a lover of marzipan getting a slice of cake with one of the marzipan balls is an extra treat.
My mother and I both love this cake and I try to bake her one every year in secret. Its light and studded with a colourful array of fruits. The sweet gooey marzipan adding a wonderful flavour. I find it a very enjoyable experience as mixing the batter always gets me reflecting back on happy memories, mixing a little love and care into the cake itself. I’m sure this is one of the reasons it tastes so good, as a cake made with love, for someone you love is truly a special thing.
Happy Mothers Day Mum
(Recipe adapted from Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book)
175g light soft brown sugar
175g self raising flour
25g ground almonds
2 tbsp milk
100g dried apricots
50g extra dried fruit of choice – raisins, pear, cranberries etc
2 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp apricot jam
Weigh out the dried fruit and chop the apricots and cherries into large pieces using a pair of scissors.
Fold all the dried fruit into the cake batter.
Pour half the cake mix into the tin and spread into an even layer.
Take 100g of the marzipan and roll out into a circle. Use the base of the cake tin to cut out a circle. Place this circle of marzipan on top of the cake batter in the pan. Top with the remaining cake mix and spread out evenly.
It should be firm yet springy to the touch when cooked.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin. Once cool, release from the tin and carefully peel off the greaseproof paper.
Thinly roll out the remaining marzipan and cut out another circle, using the cake tin as a guide like before.
Heat the apricot jam until soft. Brush over the top of the cake and place the marzipan disc on top. Use your fingers to crimp the edges slightly.
Gather up the leftover scraps of marzipan and roll into 11 balls. Use a little jam or water to attach them around the rim of the cake.
Tie a ribbon around the cake and present to your Mum.