Mothering Sunday and Simnel Cake

Home » Newsroom » Simnel Cake
simnelcakeedited

This Sunday (11th March) is the fourth Sunday in Lent — and therefore is also Mothering Sunday! Traditionally, it was a day when children, mainly daughters, who had gone to work as domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother and family. The great news is, it can be made in advance (like a Christmas Cake!) and lasts (unless its eaten!!!)

The name 'simnel' probably comes from the ancient Roman 'simila', meaning 'fine flour'. Simple, everyday, cakes of 'simnel bread' have been known in England at least since the 13th Century, and are always described as being boiled as well as baked. We don't know quite what they tasted like, but we do know that, around the time of Queen Elizabeth I, fancy simnel cakes came to be associated with springtime — they turn up in celebrations of Mothering Sunday, Easter, or the day-off from the religious fast of Lent known as 'Refreshment Sunday'.

Ingredients

For the cake
1 kg raisins
175 g glace cherries, halved
50 g ground almonds
125 g currants
300 g plain flour
1 tsp grated nutmeg
0.5 tsp mixed spice
0.25 tsp ground cinnamon
300 g soft margarine
300 g caster sugar
6 eggs
2 tbsp brandy
1 cup melted apricot jam, for glazing

For the marzipan
500 g ground almonds
250 g caster sugar
250 g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
2 eggs
0.5 tsp almond essence
0.5 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice

Preparation Time: 40 mins
Cooking Time: 180 mins
Serves: 16
Step-by-step

  • Preheat the oven to 140C/120C fan/gas 1. Line a 23 cm round cake tin with greaseproof paper (top and sides).

    • Put the raisins, cherries, ground almonds and currants in a large mixing bowl. Add the flour, nutmeg, mixed spice, ground cinnamon, margarine and sugar and beat everything together with a hand-held electric mixer or by hand with a wooden spoon.
    • Add the eggs, beating in one at a time. Add a teaspoon (or 2!) of brandy and mix well. Leave to rest while you make the marzipan.
    • For the marzipan: beat all of the ingredients together in a bowl until it comes together in a smooth dough. Wrap in cling film and store in an airtight container until you are ready to assemble your cake.
    • To assemble the simnel cake, roll out the marzipan on a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar to about 1 cm thick. Cut out 2 circles the same size as the cake tin. Then, with the leftover marzipan, shape 11 little balls about 3 cm in diameter and then 1 slightly bigger ball.
    • Pour half of the cake mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. Top with one of the marzipan discs. Then pour in the rest of the cake mixture. Bake in the preheated oven for about 3 hours. Leave it to cool in the tin, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
    • Brush the top of the cake with apricot jam and cover with the other marzipan disc. Dip the balls in a little of the jam and place them around the cake, finishing with the big one in the middle. Preheat the grill, then put the cake under to just brown the top — keep an eye on it as it will brown quickly (about 1 minute). Alternatively, use a cook's blowtorch.