Sunday, April 05, 2009

Simnel cake

I consider myself very fortunate in always having my children home for the holidays. I know that will change as they are now married, so I intend to make the coming Easter weekend as special as I can. And that inevitably means some hours in the kitchen beforehand.

Today I made my simnel cake. I don't know if this is just an English tradition, I would love to know how other people celebrate Easter. When I was growing up, I always thought of it as a Lambert Simnel cake and wondered why Perkin Warbeck wasn't similarly commemorated but now I know that this lovely almond cake has nothing to do with rebellions and pretenders to the throne. In the days when girls were put into service, they were allowed to make a special cake to take home on Mothering Sunday; the name simnel comes from the Latin simila meaning fine flour, as used in the cake. That doesn't sound nearly so interesting, does it?

I start by making an almond paste. Mix together equal quantities (about 6 ounces/175g) of caster sugar and ground almonds. Add 1 teaspoon almond extract and enough beaten egg to give a soft consistency. Knead the mixture until it forms a pliable paste.

The cake is a simple, all-in-one light fruit mixture.

Blend together:
6oz (175g) softened butter
6oz (175g) light muscovado sugar
3 eggs
6oz self-raising flour (I add a teaspoon baking powder)
2 teaspoons mixed spice
10oz (275g) mixed vine fruits (I use sultanas, currants, raisins and cherries or cranberries for colour)
1 oz (25g) ground almonds

Spoon half the batter into a prepared 8 inch (20cm) cake tin. Roll out one third of the almond paste into a circle the size of the tin and place on top of the batter. Cover with the remaining mixture. Cook in a cool oven (I use my Aga cake baker) for about 1 hour 20 minutes.

Let the cake cool on a wire rack then spread the top with a little apricot jam. Take another third of the almond paste and roll it into a circle to cover the top of the cake, crimp the edge. Make small balls with the remaining paste and arrange around the edge of the cake. Brush the top with egg white and place the cake in a hot oven for about 3 minutes until the almond paste is lightly browned.
When cool, decorate the top with glace icing and small foil-wrapped eggs or candied flowers.

Now if anyone has a recipe for Perkin Warbeck cake, I would love to hear. I used to love saying those names when I was small, in fact I still do.


  1. I've seen recipes before for simnel cakes but never made one - maybe I should try it. I have store-bought almond paste, it is very sweet but I want to use it before I have to through it away.
    When you say mixed spice - is that something you buy or do you mix it yourself? Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice
    Wv says worsest - can't mean the cake!?

  2. Margaretha, I hope you will try the cake. Store-bought almond paste is fine - perhaps a little extra almond extract would cut through the sweetness a little? I used a store-bought mixed spice but the mixture you suggest is one that I would make myself.

    Do you have any special Easter dishes that I might try?

  3. Well, as a child I was told (by my Granma; how can she be wrong!) that Simnel cake was named after two children, Simon and Nell, whose Grandmother was a cook and who owned a cake shop. She made a special Easter cake one year and didn't know what to call it so it was named Simnel cake after her special Grandchildren. It was the same Nell who use to help her Gran in the kitchen (While Simon was in the garden playing cricket no doubt, working up an appetite and preparing to rule the world. But Granma didn't tell me that part of the story.) At the end of the day Nell would sweep up all the bits of flour and fruit from the floor (!) mix it with water and cook it into a very fruity, moist and delicious slab cake a chunk of which would have kept an army fed for a day! This cake was called 'Wet Nell'. As children we would buy a piece for a penny (1d) and would take it to ward of hunger when we spent those sunny and endless days of my youth in the park.

  4. Crinny, I think our version of that 'Wet Nell' was made with stale bread and lots of sultanas. I think it was soaked in tea, giving it a very muddy colour!

    Isn't it amazing how the weather has changed since we were small - it was always sunny and we always played outdoors.

  5. Oh, that looks delicious! I had simnel cakes when was in Ipswich. Of course, they were from Tesco, not homemade, but they were still yummy! Thanks for the recipe. I would love to try this at home. :)

  6. Hi, it is Liz from California.

    My daughter-in-law is British, and (unexpectedly) here in California for the duration. (She can't go back to the UK until she has legal status here in the US--long story.)

    Anyway, she's homesick & requested a simnel cake for Easter. I've been collecting recipes and illustrations to make sure I get it right.

    I'm going to make two versions (both with store-bought almond paste) one with vine fruits as you suggest, the other heavy with California fruits (apricots and dried berries).

    Oh! and suet is hard to find around here -- I went to a specialty butcher who had suet so that dumplings can be made.

  7. Hello Liz, I hope the cake-making went well. I like the sound of apricots and berries and will try that for my son's next visit.

    I am surprised that anyone - even a Brit - would want to eat dumplings in sunny California! I have seen a vegetable suet in the supermarket, I imagine that could be used in place of beef suet. Good luck with your search.


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