According to Jenny Baker, who cites The Art of British Cooking, by Theodora Fitzgibbon, as her source, Simnel cake derives its name from the Roman siminellus which was a special bread eaten during spring fertility rites. Later, the name attached itself to a fruit cake enriched with marzipan which girls in service were allowed to take home to their mothers on Mothering Sunday. Perhaps the Roman bread was transformed over the years, and it became the enriched cake. Who knows? Either way, the cake has become associated with Easter and, like its Christmas cousin, it is a cake that keeps well. So although Easter Sunday has been and gone, for most families the school holiday has only just begun, which means that there is plenty of time to bake and consume this cake.
So here is the recipe I use, from Jenny Baker’s Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool, though I imagine that there are many other versions out there online.
This one calls for an 18cm (7inch) tin with tall sides, and I think the dimensions are important as the cake doesn’t rise much — there is no raising agent.
350g marzipan (the recipe in the last post will give you more than enough, I roll the scraps into balls and dip them in melted chocolate as you can see here if you scroll to the end of the post); 100g butter or margarine; 100g soft brown sugar; 3 large eggs, beaten; 150g plain flour, sifted; 1/2 tsp mixed spice; 350g mixed dried fruit; 50g chopped mixed peel;1 lemon, grated rind and juice; Apricot jam;1 egg white for the glaze.
Heat oven gas mark 3/325/160. Grease and line tin.
Take one third of the marzipan and knead it and roll into a disc the same size as the cake tin. Set to one side
Cream butte and sugar together and once it is light and fluffy add the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the sifted flour, mixed spice , dried fruit, mixed peel, lemon juice and zest.
Pour HALF the mixture into the tin, level it and then place the marzipan disc on top. Pour the rest of the mixture on top, smoothing it over.
Bake for 1 hour at gas mark 3 / 325/160 and then lower the temperature to gas mark 2/ 300/150, and bake for another hour.
Allow cake to cool and turn it onto a rack after about ten minutes. Once totally cold, brush the top with apricot jam, roll another third of the marzipan into a disc and place this on top. With the remaining marzipan make eleven balls (to represent the eleven faithful apostles). Brush with egg white and then return to the oven for ten minutes until the top is lightly browned – gas mark 4/350/190.