I had never heard of Simnel cake, but on a search for Easter recipes, it was one that kept cropping up as a traditional Easter cake, so I thought it was worth trying out.

A quick investigation led me to learn that its origins stem back to the 17th century, when female servants would bake this type of cake to take home on the rare visits to see their mothers on Mothering Sunday, which was the fourth Sunday during the Lent period.

The word Simnel comes from the Latin word Simila, which means fine wheaten flour. The cake was traditionally made from this fine wheaten flour.

Similar in taste to a Christmas cake, but lighter, Simnel cake is a rich fruit cake with a layer of sweet baked marzipan running through the centre of it. It is then topped with another layer of marzipan and 11 small balls of marzipan are placed in a circle on top. The 11 marzipan balls are meant to represent the 11 disciples of Jesus, minus Judas, who had betrayed him.

The recipes vary from light to rich type cakes, and the one I’ve used is the simplest recipe I’ve seen and one which produces a light fruit cake. For the ‘mini’ Simnel cakes, it suggested using four 220g tins (eg empty small baked bean tins), but since I didn’t have any, I used three slightly larger (10cm) ramekins. These are too big for single portions, so using the smaller tins and making four cakes out of the mixture (as the recipe said!) would probably work better.

You’ll need four empty small tins (215g/220g)


115g butter, softened

115g caster sugar (plus extra for rolling out marzipan)

2 large free-range eggs

125g self raising flour

225g dried mixed fruit

500g pack of golden marzipan

4tbsp no bits apricot jam

Cocoa powder for dusting


1. Preheat oven to 150C/130C Fan/Gas 2. Line the base and the sides of each tin with non-stick baking paper.

2. Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Add one egg and beat until well mixed. Add the other egg with 1tbsp flour and beat again. Stir in the rest of the flour and all the fruit.

3. Sprinkle a little caster sugar on a work surface and roll out four rounds of marzipan about 5mm tick (the same size as the tins). Divide half the cake mixture between the tins and level the tops. Put the marzipan rounds on top and cover with the rest of the cake mixture.

4. Bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool for 15 minutes in the tins, then remove and finish cooling on a wire rack.

5. Trim the cakes with a sharp knife to make the tops flat. Cut four more marzipan rounds to fit the top of the cakes. Heat the jam and brush on the tops of the cakes. Cover with the marzipan.

6. Make 44 mini balls with the remaining marzipan. Put 11 balls round the edge of each cake, using the jam to stick them in place. Dust with cocoa powder.

And the verdict is...

Easy to make – mine turned out fairly well for a first attempt – but one large cake would be simpler as the individual ones can be a bit fiddly, but they do look quirky. Tastes lovely – as long as you like marzipan!