A Perfect Mother’s Day Recipe – Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake

The tradition of making and baking a Simnel cake is ingrained in British food history and symbolism and probably dates back to pre-Tudor times, when cakes made from the finest white flour – simila – were made. In more recent history the making and giving of Simnel cakes has been associated with Laetare Sunday, in the Christian Church, or Mother’s Day, which occurs 21 days before Easter, when, for one day, the strict religious fasting rules were relaxed, and girls who were employed in service would be allowed to return home and take a decorated fruit cake, as a gift, for their mothers.

The richness of the fruit cake is enhanced by a layer of almond paste baked in the centre of the cake, and another layer is used to decorate the top. More recent tradition dictates that there should also be 11 or 12 almond paste balls to represent Jesus’ Disciples – (most people prefer not to include Judas!) – as well as floral or Easter decorations.

Either way, you could make this now – as a perfect Mother’s Day teatime treat, or, in the next couple of weeks, as an Easter delight. If you prefer, you could make smaller cakes to give as edible Easter presents instead of the ubiquitous chocolate – adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Claire Alexander-Brown

Principal of Tante Marie Culinary Academy

For the almond paste:

  • 350g caster sugar
  • 225g ground almonds
  • 1 egg
  • Juice of 1 lemon

For the cake:

  • 175g butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 225g flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½tsp nutmeg
  • ½tsp ground cinnamon
  • 350g currants
  • 100g sultanas
  • 75g candied peel, chopped
  • Milk, to mix

To finish:

  • 4tbsp icing sugar
  • A little lemon juice

To make the almond paste:

Pre-heat the oven to 160ºC, gas mark 3. Grease and line an 18cm (7inch) cake tin.

Place the sugar and almonds in a mixing bowl, add the egg and approximately 1tbsp of lemon juice, mix to a stiff paste, adding extra lemon juice if necessary.

Cut off one third of the almond paste and roll this to a circle 18cm (7inch) in diameter. Wrap the remainder in cling film and keep to one side.

To make the cake:

Place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and cream until light and fluffy; gradually add the beaten egg.

Sift the dry ingredients together into a mixing bowl and stir in the dried fruit and peel. Fold them into the creamed mixture, adding sufficient milk to give a soft dropping consistency.

Put half the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Cover with the prepared round of almond paste.

Put the remaining cake mixture on top, level, and bake for approximately 2 hours. Leave to cool.

To finish:

Make 11  2 cm (3/4 inch) balls with some of the remaining almond paste and, with the rest, roll another 18cms (7 inch) circle and use this to cover the cake.

Arrange the balls around the edge, moistening the bottom with some cooled, boiled water to help them stick, and brush the almond paste and balls with a little beaten egg.

Place under a hot grill, in the top of a hot oven, or use a kitchen blowtorch until the almond paste is lightly browned. (Be careful also with browning the almond paste top – it can easily burn).

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and mix to a thick coating consistency with the lemon juice. Using a palette knife, spread this into a neat circle in the centre of the cake and when set, decorate with crystallised flowers or Easter decorations.

If you enjoy making this delicious Mother’s Day recipe, take a look at some of our other recipe blogs or browse through our Lifestyle Cookery Classes to refine your cookery skills with our teachers.