Simnel Cake appears to be the lesser of the two traditional bakes in the Christian calendar. I adore rich fruit cake and I also adore marzipan, Christmas couldn’t come quick enough in my book to enjoy a slice of cake. So why I’d not been making a Simnel Cake every year baffles me!
What is the meaning of a Simnel cake?
Simnel Cake was originally meant as a celebration of Mothering Sunday or Simnel Sunday as it is known in some parts of the world. Mothers Day in the UK moves about like Pancake Day and Easter as it is dictated by the dates of lent. Mothering Sunday is always the 4th Sunday of lent. To make a cake and celebrate mothers meant a brief breaking of the lent fasting.
The marzipan balls that decorate the top of the cake symbolise the 12 disciples. However, you only add 11, Judas lost his marzipan rights.
What does the word Simnel mean?
I knew that the word Simnel had something to do with the cake ingredients but wasn’t sure if it was to do with the marzipan layer, I was wrong! It took a while to get to the bottom of it, most dictionary definitions just referred to the links to the cake but Merriam-Webster had the best definition. So the word Simnel in fact refers to the word originating from the Latin simila which was use for the finest of white flours. This explains the connection to it being a celebrated cake with the finest of ingredients at a time when lent was being observed. In other words a bit of a indulgent treat.
What type of marzipan should I use for my Simnel Cake?
I don’t think there are folk law and rules about the type of marzipan you use. It’s probably down to preference, however, I find that natural coloured marzipan is far more subtle and less garish making the final cake far more elegant. Happy to be challenged or corrected though so please do feel free to comment below on your thoughts.
Can I make this gluten free Simnel Cake dairy and egg free too?
This type of fruit cake is a rich fruit cake. As I’ve mentioned above it’s just like Christmas Cake, therefore egg is best for holding the structure together. I find you can replace up to two eggs-worth of eggs with my flaxseed egg method, but replacing more than two eggs is a tall order. To make it just dairy free is a simple swap for you usual dairy free alternative to butter, but if new to this can I recommend a block of fat rather than a spread like a dairy free margarine.
If you would like a recipe that’s been developed to be dairy and egg free as well as gluten free then you’ll want to check out my latest Easter recipe my Small Vegan Simnel Cake made gluten, dairy and egg free.
How to make a flax egg
to make 1 flax egg you need the following ingredients:
– 1tbsp ground flax seed
– 3tbsp water
– 1tsp psyllium husk (optional but does add elasticity to baking)
simply add all ingredients to a glass and stir before measuring out the other recipe ingredients, by the time you come to use your ‘egg’ mixture it will have thickened to a frog-spawn consistency (thicker if you added psyllium husk)
Then just add to your baking as you would an egg. For 2 eggs double the ingredients but note that recipes that require more than two eggs may fail due to lack of support in the structure.
How do you get the marzipan in the Simnel Cake?
- Roll out approximately 300g of marzipan to 1-2 cm thick (depending on how much you like it)
- Cut a circle about 1 inch smaller than the size of your cake tin (this will prevent seepage)
- When you’ve made the fruit cake mix according to the instructions below add 1/2 the mixture to the tin
- Place the marzipan disc onto of the mixture and top with the remaining mixture making sure no marzipan is touching the sides of the baking tin (it will burn to a toffee harder than diamonds if it does).
Nut free marzipan
The recipe below is for a gluten free, dairy free, egg free and nut free mini Christmas cake using my own homemade nut free marzipan.
How to Decorate your Simnel Cake
- Once cooked and completely cooled, using the unused marzipan, roll a further circle out to top the cake. Use all remaining marzipan to make the 11 marzipan balls to depict the disciples.
- Preferably using a mini kitchen blow torch gently heat the marzipan to get the beautiful toasted effect. If you have no lighter then you can pop it under the grill but you may not get an even toast.
Other delicious gluten free recipes
Gluten Free Simnel Cake Recipe
Delicious and rich, this gluten free traditional Simnel Cake is the perfect centre piece for the Easter table. Also easy to make dairy free following the simple ingredient substitutions and instructions.
- 250 g currants
- 450 g sultanas
- 150 g raisins
- 75 g mixed peel
- 75 g ground almonds you can choose to leave this out
- 300 g gluten free plain flour
- 2 tsp mixed spice (½ clove, ½ cinnamon, ½ ginger, ½ nutmeg)
- 1 tbsp treacle
- 275 g dark brown sugar
- 275 g butter
- 5 eggs
- 100 ml orange juice
- 2 tbsp apricot jam
- 700 g marzipan white or yellow, it's up to you.
Add all the fruit and nuts to a large bowl and soak in the orange juice for a couple of hours.
Prepare the cake tin, I use a deep 8inch/20cm round cake with loose bottom, ensure that you have double, if not treble lined the tin (my mum always wraps newspaper around her round Christmas Cakes) the idea is to insulate as much as possible to reduce risk of the cake mixture catching and burning.
Preheat oven to 150°C | 130°C fan | 300°F | Gas 2.
In a mixer, cream the butter, sugar, treacle until paler in colour, then add the eggs, don't worry if it appears to curdle once the dry ingredients go in it will be fine.
Add the flour and spices, continue to beat until light and fluffy then add the fruit, juice too. Mix until thoroughly incorporated
Spoon half the thick mixture into the prepared tin and smooth down.
Now take 300g of marzipan and roll into a circle approx. 5mm thick, make sure the circle is small than the cake tin, you do not want your marzipan to touch the sides of the tin during baking.
Place the circle of marzipan onto the 1st layer of fruit cake and press gently into the dough mixture
Now spoon the remaining mixture over the marzipan disc and smooth out with a spatula or back of a spoon
TIP: I use a wet spoon to do this to get a smooth finish. Then add a round disc of greaseproof paper to the top to prevent any burning.
Cook on the bottom shelf of the oven for 4 and a half hours, this is a thick fruit cake so it needs a while to bake just like a Christmas cake.
Remove from oven when inserted skewer comes out clean, allow to cool slightly then remove the baking paper and allow to cool completely.
- Allow to cool completely and, still in the greaseproof paper, wrap in a second coat of tin foil.
Brush the cake with apricot jam to allow the marzipan to stick.
Roll out the marzipan to an 8 inch circle about 1cm in thickness. Using your offcuts roll eleven large marble sized balls to represent the 11 apostles.
Place the marzipan disc on top of the cake and press down gently to secure. Dip each marzipan ball in the remaining jam and decorate the cake with each ball spaced evenly.
TIP: I place the balls around the cake first and when I'm happy with the position I dip each one in jam and return it to the cake.
If you have any left over marzipan you might like to add this rope effect simply by rolling out two thin lengths of marzipan and twisting them together.
Finally place your cake under a preheated hot grill to brown the tops. Alternatively use a kitchen blow torch.
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