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Simnel Cake

Posted on: 26th March 2015 By: Sue Davies

The cake above was made using a recipe that I found in the Museum’s archives.  It intrigued me because, despite being entitled “Simnel Cake”, it did not include the eleven balls of marzipan that I considered an essential feature.   It seems that those are a 20th century invention and that simnel cakes have taken a variety of forms over the centuries. 

The earliest ones were enriched dough cakes.  Some sources suggest that the very first one was named after Lambert Simnel, a cook working for Henry VII around 1500.   Other sources claim that the name comes from the Latin word “simila” used for white flour.  It is difficult to be sure. 

By the 19th century simnel cakes had evolved into rich fruit cakes and were associated with Mothering Sunday rather than Easter.  The idea being that they were an acceptable treat half way through Lent and a suitable gift to bring home to your mother. 

The recipe came from The Currant Recipe Book by Sylvia Wayne which was produced by the Central Currant Office, London.  It is undated but probably from the 1930s.  The book was part of a donation from Mrs Woods (84.3167). 

 “SIMNEL CAKE

 
¾ lb Castor sugar ¼ lb Chopped citron peel
¾ lb Butter ½ lb Currants
1 lb Flour   Pinch mixed spice
8 Eggs Grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
6oz Ground almonds Almond icing
Silver Dragees   Crystalized fruits
   
Cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs separately, stir in the flour, spice, fruit, almonds, lemons rind and juice.  Bake in a cool oven for 2 and a half or three hours.  When cool, make a thick ring of almond paste on the top of the cake, and place round a border of various crystalized fruits fastened on with royal icing, interspersed with the silver sweets.”

The original recipe was for a very big cake so I halved the quantity, used a 20cm tin and baked it at 140oC for two and a half hours.   To convert the recipe to metric you need to know that there are 16 oz in a lb and one ounce equals 28g.