Bake a traditional Simnel Cake topped with marzipan for Easter! Follow my step by step tutorial and watch the recipe video on how to make this fragrant light fruitcake.
You will also love my Victoria Sponge
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If you want to bake something traditional for Easter then you can’t go wrong with Simnel Cake.
This gently spiced bake filled with dried fruit and mixed peel and two layers of marzipan may not be as popular as the ubiquitous Creme Eggs but it’s the perfect way to celebrate Easter.
Simnel Cake History
This light fruit cake has a really long history behind it, dating back to Medieval times.
“Simnel” likely derives from the Latin “simila” meaning fine flour though there are all sorts of legends and stories associated with the name.
Traditionally the cakes were given by servant girls to their mothers when they went home on Mothering Sunday, also known as Simnel Sunday. These days a Simnel is mostly considered the traditional Easter Cake.
Easter cake decoration
Simnel cakes are easy to spot – they are commonly decorated with eleven marzipan balls, one for each of the Apostles minus Judas, although some add twelve to include Jesus.
For a more modern take you could decorate with eleven mini chocolate eggs or simply with fresh (edible) spring flowers.
Ingredients and equipment
My Simnel cake recipe is easy to make all in one bowl, using a stand or hand mixer, or a food processor. You will also will need a deep 20cm (8in) cake tin, a rolling pin for the marzipan and a microplane for the citrus zest.
The batter is made with flour, light brown sugar, milk and eggs and flavoured with mixed spice and orange or lemon zest.
I added raisins and mixed peel to my cake (leftover from Christmas) – feel free to vary the dried fruit, add glacé cherries or chopped nuts if you like.
The cake has a layer of marzipan in the middle of the batter as well as marzipan decorations on top. I used store-bought marzipan for ease, I found the Dr Oetker one to be easy to work with and not too sweet.
How to make a Simnel Cake
TOP TIP Using room temperature ingredients makes it easier to make the cake all in one bowl and will prevent the batter from splitting. Please note you will find the full recipe, including ingredients in the recipe card at the end of this post.
Preheat the oven to 150C (300F). Spray a 20cm (8in) deep cake tin with cake release or grease with a little butter. Line the bottom and sides with baking paper (the paper can be a bit higher than the sides of the tin).
Sift the flour, sugar, raising agents, mixed spice and salt into a bowl (I lazily didn’t in the recipe video but don’t follow my lead). Mix together with a balloon whisk.
Add the butter and mix together on low speed until combined, you should have a texture like fine breadcrumbs.
Add the eggs and beat them in on low speed until combined.
Gradually add the milk, mixing on medium speed initially then increasing to high speed and beating about a minute once all the ingredients have been incorporated.
Add the dried fruit and mixed peel and fold into the batter using a spatula.
Dust your work top and rolling pin with icing sugar and roll out a third of the marzipan. Use your cake tin as a guide to cut out a circle slightly smaller than your cake tin. Keep any marzipan that you aren’t using straight away covered otherwise it will dry out.
Add half of the mixture into the prepared tin and level. Place the marzipan circle over the batter. Add the remaining batter into the tin and level.
Make a small dent in the centre with your spatula to help the cake rise evenly. Bake for 2 hours, or until the cake is risen, firm to the touch and just coming away from the edges of the tin.
Cool the cake in the tin then carefully turn out onto a plate or cake stand, flat side up (you might need to level it if it has domed while baking). Fill any small indents on the cake surface with small pieces of marzipan so that the top is even.
Roll out the remaining marzipan to a circle the size of the cake tin (slightly larger than the cake itself). Brush the top of the cake with apricot jam and place the marzipan on top, pressing it down so it sticks. Use your hands to crimp the edges.
Gather any scraps of marzipan and roll into eleven evenly-sized balls.
Brush the marzipan on top of the cake with egg wash and decorate with the little balls, spacing them out evenly around the edge of the cake.
Brush them with the beaten egg as well and place the cake under a hot grill (broiler) to lightly toast the marzipan until golden. Keep a close on the cake as the marzipan can easily catch and burn.
Serve on Easter Sunday and keep any leftover cake in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.
Easter Simnel Cake
For the gingerbread cake
- 350 g ( 2 ¾ cups) plain flour (all purpose flour)
- 330 g (1 ⅔ cups) light brown sugar
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
- ½ tsp salt
- 200 g ( ¾ cup + 1 heaped tbsp) unsalted butter room temperature, cubed
- 3 large eggs
- 1 orange zest only or lemon zest if preferred
- 200 ml ¾ cup + 2 tbsp whole milk room temperature
- 200 g (1 cup) raisins or currants or use dried fruit of your choice
- 100 g ( 1 ⅓ cup) mixed citrus peel (candied peel)
For the topping
- 500 g (1.2 lbs) ready to use marzipan
- icing sugar as needed to roll the marzipan (powdered sugar)
- 1 egg lightly beaten for egg wash
- 5 tbsp smooth apricot jam warmed for a few seconds in microwave
- Preheat the oven to 150C (300F). Grease (or spray with cake release) and line the bottom and sides of a deep-sided 20cm | 8in layers cake tin with baking paper.
- Sift all the dry ingredients and add them to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed to combine.
- Add the cubed butter and mix for a couple of minutes until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Add the eggs and mix well on medium-low speed until the are incorporated into the batter.
- Gradually add the milk and beat together. Stop and scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl. Continue mixing for a minute until batter is smooth.
- Add the dried fruit and mixed peel and fold into the batter using a spatula.
- Dust your work top and rolling pin with icing sugar and roll out a third of the marzipan. Use your cake tin as a guide to cut out a circle slightly smaller than your cake tin (so that it fits inside)
- Add half of the mixture into the prepared tin and level. Place the marzipan circle over the batter. Add the remaining batter into the tin and level.
- Make a small dent in the centre with your spatula to help the cake rise evenly. Bake for 2 hours, or until the cake is risen, firm to the touch and just coming away from the edges of the tin. If the cake is browing too much, tent with some foil after 1 hour.
- Cool the cake in the tin then carefully turn out onto a plate or cake stand, flat side up (you might need to level it if it has domed while baking).
- Fill any small indents in the cake (usually created by the dried fruit) with small bits of marzipan so that the top is even.
- Roll out the remaining marzipan to a circle the size of the cake tin. Brush the top of the cake with warm smooth apricot jam then place the marzipan on top, pressing it gently down so it sticks. Use your hands to crimp the edges (optional).
- Gather any scraps of marzipan and form into eleven evenly-sized balls.
- Brush the marzipan on top of the cake with egg wash and decorate with the little balls, spacing them out evenly around the edge of the cake.
- Brush them with the beaten egg and place under a hot grill to lightly toast the marzipan until golden (keep a close on the cake as the marzipan can easily catch and burn.
- Serve on Easter Sunday and keep any leftover cake in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.
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