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Traditional British Easter Food: Simnel Cake

Even though it does not in itself or in its ingredients have any religious significance, the tradition of eating simnel cake during the Easter period has persisted, as have many other ancient cumstoms whose raison d’etre has long disappeared into the mists of time.

Simnel Cake – Religious Significance

Back in the not so good old days when, in England, many poor people worked as servants for the wealthy, it was normal to ‘live in’ and to have only Sundays off to visit their families. In the 17th-century servant girls were allowed to bake a rich fruit cake to take to their mothers on the 4th Sunday of Lent. The cakes were decorated with eleven marzipan balls representing Christ’s apostles minus Judas, who betrayed Christ.

Originally ‘Mothering Cake’.

This cake was, and still is, known as a simnel cake and traditionally the eating of it marked the end of the forty days of Lent. Its name is said to come from the Latin word Simila which is the name of a fine wheat flour that the cake was traditionally made from. Some historians believe this special cake was originally known as a mothering cake. It was through the passage of time, when the poor were no longer at the beck and call of the rich, that it reverted to the plainer name of simnel cake.

Simnel Cake Recipe

(Makes a 2-1/2 – 3 lb. (1-1/4 – 1-1/2K) cake oz. 120g oz

  • Ingredients
  • 5 oz (150g) butter
  • 4 oz (120g) muscovado (softbrown) sugar
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 8 oz (240 g) plain white flour
  • 12 oz (360g) mixed dried fruit
  • 1\2 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1\2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 treaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 lb. (1/3k) almond paste (marzipan)


1. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees F, 170 degrees C, gas mark 3. Grease and line with baking parchment a 10-inch (25-cm) round, loose bottomed cake tin.

2. Beat together butter and sugar, gradually add the beaten eggs and stir well. Mix dry ingredients together and fold into mixture. Use a small amount of milk to blend, if necessary.

3. Cut 200 g. (just under half) of the marzipan/almond paste into smallish cubes and fold into the mixture. Spoon mixture into prepared cake tin and level the top. Bake for approximatel 2-1/2 hours or until well risen and firm and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave in tin to cool completely.

4. To decorate, remove the baking parchment. Roll out the remaining marzipan into a round that fits the top of the cake, press and trim off the extra marzipan. Shape the rest of the marzipan into eleven balls and place around the edge of the cake. Place under pre-heated high grill until slightly browned – about two minutes.

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