This luscious simnel cake is a light fruit cake laden with homemade marzipan. As tradition dictates, it has a surprise squidgy layer of marzipan in the middle and a layer on top. It’s then decorated with eleven large balls of the stuff. Less traditionally, the cake contains pieces of chocolate. Scrumptious.
I love marzipan, so I get very excited when I start to see Simnel cake posts appearing on the blogosphere around Mother’s Day. It’s Easter now and I haven’t made a simnel cake for a couple of years, so it just seems the right thing to do. Last year I made these Amaretto cupcakes decorated with crystalised primroses which were delicious, but just not quite the same as a proper Easter simnel cake. I do like my traditions.
Simnel Cake Traditions
For me Eastertide food conjures up nostalgic memories of boiled eggs for breakfast, hot cross buns, Easter biscuits, Easter eggs of course but most of all Simnel cake. I love simnel cake, the fruit cake is nice enough, but it’s the way that middle layer of marzipan oozes into the cake as it cooks that makes it so special. And then, there is all that lovely marzipan on top complete with eleven luscious balls.
Although simnel cakes were traditionally made for Mother’s Day or by serving girls who were allowed this mid-lenten feast day off, they have become more recently associated with Easter. The eleven marzipan balls on the top of the cake are meant to represent eleven of the twelve apostles. The twelfth is Judas Iscariot who, being a traitor, is not deemed worthy of remembering!
Simnel Cake with Homemade Marzipan
I wanted to make something rather different to the chocolate simnel cake I made last time, which although good, was not quite good enough. I managed to burn the marzipan under the grill and I used shop bought marzipan rather than making my own. This time I based my recipe on the one from the Great British Bake Off: How to Bake by Linda Collister.
I decided to substitute some milk chocolate chips and my homemade candied citrus peel for the glace cherries in the recipe – mostly because I didn’t have any cherries, but I did also want to use these two ingredients. The chocolate bits seem to enhance the flavour and combine particularly well with the marzipan.
For the marzipan I thought I’d try Pam Corbin’s recipe from Cake. The last marzipan I made for the battenberg, using a recipe from Bake & Decorate by Fiona Cairns was a bit difficult to work with.
Soaking the Fruit
It’s not strictly necessary to soak the dried fruit before mixing up the cake. But it does give it a more delicious dimension and it makes the cake moister too. I soaked the fruit for this cake in Amaretto and lemon juice. But you could use the alcohol or fruit juice of your choice. Orange juice works well. It’s best to soak it overnight if possible. You can, however, leave it in a warm place, such as the airing cupboard and the fruit will soak up the liquid in a much shorter time.
Homemade marzipan is so much nicer than any marzipan I’ve bought. It’s not as sweet and has more almonds in it. It’s made with raw egg, but because there’s so much sugar in it, it will keep for a few weeks without going off. You’ll need to make the marzipan for this simnel cake when you make the cake as you need to bake a layer into the middle. But that’s fine as the rest will keep happily in the fridge until you’re ready to decorate the cake. Once decorated, it will keep at room temperature for a week or so.
You can, of course, substitute shop bought marzipan for homemade. You will need 500g.
Browning the Marzipan
The cake looks best (in theory) if it’s bronzed a little. But take care when grilling. Like King Alfred, I have, unfortunately been known to burn my cake. In fact, I’m inclined to just leave the grill well alone next time as the marzipan top looked better before it went in than after. Alternatively, you could use a cook’s blow torch if you have one.
Appearance aside, I have to say that marzipan is absolutely delicious. Indeed, I had a very hard time stopping myself eating too much of it. But despite the urge to munch I did have 100g left over from the amount I made, so I will resist temptation and keep it for something else.
Easter Update 14 April
The Simnel Cake I made went with us to friends for tea on Easter Monday. I wish I’d taken pictures of their lovely spread which included some delicious chocolate brownies topped with clotted cream and raspberries. After eating egg on home made bread, home made scones with home made jam and clotted cream and a brownie, we were all too full to really appreciate my cake. Having said that, the cake was deliciously moist and made a good impression on all that partook of it. Still quite a bit of it came back home with us and is, in fact, still keeping us going.
Other Easter Recipes You Might Like
- Almond & lemon surprise Easter egg cupcakes
- Almond Easter thumbprint cookies with Amaretto chocolate ganache
- Easter brownies
- Easter nests
- Homemade Easter eggs with dark chocolate salted caramel popcorn
- Hot cross bun pancakes
- Hot cross buns
- Spicy chocolate & orange Easter bundt
If none of these recipes do it for you, I have a few more ideas in my Easter Recipes category.
Keep in Touch
Thanks for visiting Tin and Thyme. If you make this simnel cake with or without the homemade marzipan, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Do share photos on social media too and use the hashtag #tinandthyme, so I can spot them.
Simnel Cake. PIN IT.
Simnel Cake with Home Made Marzipan – The Recipe
Simnel Cake with Homemade Marzipan
- 350 g mixed dried fruit
- 1 organic lemon - zest and juice
- slug of Amaretto
- 175 g unsalted butter - softened
- 175 g light muscavado sugar
- 4 large eggs (I used a goose egg)
- 50 g ground almonds
- 225 g wholemeal spelt flour - or use half plain and half wholemeal
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- pinch of Himalayan pink salt
- 2 tbsp milk (I used sour milk)
- 50 g chocolate - chopped (I've used a dark milk chocolate, but have also found dark chocolate works well too)
- 50 g crystallised orange and lemon peel - chopped (I used homemade)
- 1 medium egg (I used a small duck egg)
- 2 tbsp orange liqueur or juice
- 125 g caster sugar
- 250 g ground almonds
- 125 g icing sugar
- Place the fruit in a bowl and squeeze in the juice from half a lemon. Add a good slug of Amaretto.
- Cover the bowl with a plate and leave to soak overnight.
- Cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy.
- Grate in the lemon zest and cream some more.
- Beat in the eggs, one by one until combined. If the mixture starts to curdle, add the ground almonds.
- Stir in the ground almonds.
- Sift in the flour, baking powder, spice and salt then fold into the egg mixture and stir in the milk.
- Fold in the dried fruit, chocolate and crystallised citrus peel.
- Spoon half of the mixture into a 23 cm round silicone cake mould or lined tin.
- Pat out ⅓ of the marzipan (about 175g if using shop bought) into a large round slightly smaller than the cake tin. Place it on top of the cake mixture.
- Spoon the remaining mixture on top of the marzipan and level the top.
- Bake at 180℃ (350℉, Gas 4) for 20 minutes and then turn the oven down to 170℃ (338℉, Gas 3) and bake for a further 40 minutes or so. If the top of the cake looks like it’s beginning to burn, cover with some brown paper or tin foil.
- Leave to cool for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- Wrap in greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin for up to a week.
- In a large bowl whisk the the egg with the orange liqueur or juice.
- Add the sugar and ground almonds and mix.
- Sift in the icing sugar and mix again.
- Turn out onto a work surface and knead until soft.
- Remove a third of the mixture for the middle of the cake as mentioned above. Wrap the rest well and store in the fridge until you’re ready to decorate the cake.
- Divide the remaining mixture into two more or less equal portions.
- Roll the bigger half out into a 23cm circle.
- Brush the top of the cake with Amaretto and press on the circle of marzipan. Plum or apricot jam work well too.
- Neaten the edges with a knife then score a diamond pattern on the top.
- Place under a hot grill for 2 minutes to brown.
- Divide the remaining mixture into 11 equal sized pieces and roll into balls.
- Place marzipan balls around the edge of the cake.