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Simnel cake is traditionally made at Easter, however, I discovered that Mothering Sunday was also known as Simnel Sunday based on the tradition of making a marzipan-topped fruit cake on this day. The cake is decorated with 11 marzipan balls on the top representing the 11 apostles, excluding Judas, and servant girls originally gave it to their mothers on Mothering Sunday when they were given a day off to visit their family. This is a delicious recipe producing a tasty, moist cake.  Although I have included instructions for making your own marzipan, shop bought also works well.

easter simnel-cake


Marzipan Ingredients

  • 225g icing sugar, plus extra for rolling
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 350g ground almonds
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • ½ tsp almond extract
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice

If using pre-made marzipan you will require two packs gently moulded together.

Marzipan Method

  1. Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl, stir in the caster sugar and almonds.
  2. Add the beaten eggs, almond essence and lemon juice and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to come together. Using your hands continue combining the mixture together until it becomes a stiff paste.
  3. Dust the work surface with icing sugar and gently knead the marzipan mixture for a couple of minutes until it is smooth. Place in a bowl and cover with cling film and leave to stand for 1-2 hours, allowing the almonds to swell and absorb the moisture.
  4. Divide the marzipan into 3 equal sized balls.
  5. Balls 1 & 2  –  On parchment paper draw 2 circle templates about 2cm larger than the cake tin. Dust work surface with icing sugar and roll marzipan about 5mm thick. Using one of the templates cut out a circle and leave to rest on the parchment template. Repeat – you will have two marzipan circles.
  6. Ball 3 – Make 11 small balls to represent the 11 apostles

Fruit cake ingredients

  • 20cm greased loose based deep round cake tin (lined with parchment paper)
  • 500g mixed fruit
  • 100g glace cherries (halved)
  • Juice and grated zest of 1 medium orange
  • Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 175g softened butter
  • 175g light muscavado sugar
  • 2 tbsp warmed apricot jam

Fruit Cake Method

  1. Oven 170C/150F/Gas 3
  2. Place the mixed fruit, glace cherries, orange and lemon juice in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring until the liquid disappears. Tip fruit onto a plate to cool.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar together in a food mixer until light and fluffy.
  4. Gradually beat in the eggs, adding a little flour if the mixture begins to curdle.
  5. Add the flour and mixed spice and stir until well incorporated.
  6. Add the cooled mixed fruit, grated orange and lemon zest and mix well.
  7. Spoon half of the mixture into the prepared tin.
  8. Place one of the marzipan circles on top of the cake mixture – don’t worry if it tears just gently squeeze it back together.
  9. Spoon the rest of the cake mixture on top of the marzipan.
  10. Bake the cake for 1hr 30 mins or until well risen, firm and golden brown. If unsure, test by inserting a skewer which should come out clean. If it doesn’t, continue cooking for a little longer. You may wish to cover the cake loosely with foil if the top is beginning to brown too much. Leave to cool.
  11. To assemble the cake brush the top with the warmed apricot jam, place the second circle of marzipan on the top and crimp the edges, score a criss-cross pattern across the top of the cake and then place the 11 marzipan balls around the edge, brush a little jam on each so they stick.
  12. If you have a blowtorch gently toast the top of the cake OR place under a preheated hot grill about 15-20 cm from the element, until it is slightly toasted. Watch carefully!
  13. Decorate with a ribbon if desired.


Recipe by Pauline Mardell

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