Easter Apostle Simnel Cake

By Published On: 1 May '23Last Updated: 9 Apr '24

Easter Apostle Simnel cake is a classic fruity cake between two layers of marzipan. Served at Easter, and topped with 11 marzipan balls representing Christ’s apostles, with Judas excluded as he betrayed Jesus.

Easter Apostle Simnel Cake

Dating back to Medieval times, an Easter Apostle Simnel Cake (Simnel Cake) is a cake for the baking enthusiasts. It originated in Britain and is a most commonly served Easter dessert.

A quick online search tells us that the word "simnel derives from simila, the Latin word for the best and finest sort of flour".

During the Victorian times, this spiced fruit cake was baked by the young women who lived away from home in service at the country and manor homes of the upper class families, to bring as a gift to their mother, on Mothering Sunday (fourth Sunday in Lent).

I have never made the Simnel Cake before, but it was so much fun to make and the results were amazing! I tasted the cake on Easter Sunday and it was delicious. The marzipan in the centre melts into the cake during baking and creates a gooey core that is simply moreish! This cake is definitely on the Easter cards from now on.

For me, it was a good alternative to chocolate over Easter, due to health reasons!

Continue scrolling as I discuss what is Simnel Cake, how this cake is different from Christmas cake and how you can create this stunning cake for your own Easter table. I hope you love making this cake as much as I have!!

what is a simnel cake?

A Simnel cake is a rich spiced fruit cake that originated in Lancashire, England. The cake is sandwiched between two layers of marzipan. In addition, it is decorated with 11 marzipan balls symbolising 11 disciples who were faithful to Jesus. Number 12 would be Judas, who was excluded because of his betrayal.

A Simnel cake is typically served on Easter Sunday and is a traditional Easter dessert. It was originally served on Mothering Sunday, which falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent.

In Lancashire alone there are three types of simnel cakes: The first - Barn simnels are a yeast-raised bun, the second - Bury simnels a rich biscuit and the third - this very grand Easter Simnel Cake, which is sandwiched between two layers of marzipan and topped with more marzipan decorative marzipan balls, fluffy chickens and nests.

In Victorian times, a simnel cake was made on the Mothering Sunday or mid-Lent Sunday (fourth Sunday in Lent). This was one day in the year when young people, apprentices and live-in farm workers living away from their parents would make a point of going home for the day to share a meal with their family. Simnel cakes were taken as presents during this visit.

Mothering Sunday was a custom in some western parts of England in the mid-17th century which later spread to other parts of western and mid-land England (and Wales) but was never universal. Although some writers claim that they had never heard of Mothering Sunday, it persisted into the early 20th century in some areas. The visiting died out gradually as living-in with employers became a rarity.

Mothering Sunday has been eclipsed by the unrelated North American custom of Mother’s Day and now Simnel cakes are typically associated with Easter Sunday.

Most British people now use the term ‘Mother’s Day’ although church going Christians still tend to call the day ‘Mothering Sunday’.

simnel cake -v- Christmas Cake

Simnel cake and Christmas cake are spiced fruit cakes and both are celebration cakes.

A simnel cake is typically served on Easter Sunday, but a Christmas cake is traditionally served only during the Christmas season. Excuse me if I said, some people simply love their fruit cakes and bake them and enjoy them all year round! Sorry I have let my little secret out!

Although they are similar in many ways, a simnel cake is an unusual cake and is distinguished by the use of marzipan or almond paste.

A simnel cake unlike a Christmas cake has icing in the middle and icing on the top.

This Easter simnel cake has four layers: The first layer is the raw cake mixture, the second layer is the marzipan layer, the third layer being the remaining raw cake mixture and the fourth layer again is a marzipan layer.

In this simnel cake recipe, half the raw cake mixture is put into the tin, covered with a sheet of marzipan and then the remaining cake mixture is added. Once the cake is baked and cooled, it is then covered with more marzipan, decorated with little marzipan balls and grilled under a hot grill until lightly brown.

They are both similar in taste but different, as the Simnel Cake is slightly lighter both in taste and colour to its Christmas counterpart. In my opinion, both the cakes are delicious, sweet, moist and celebrate two major Christian festive occasions!

Before you start making the cake batter, prepare the marzipan, if you are making your own. If you have store bought marzipan, then you are set to go!

ingredients for the marzipan

Marzipan has been my childhood favourite dessert, but it is always a challenge to find it on shop shelves off season. Most carry it only around Christmas so, my best bet was to make my own marzipan at home.

Marzipan is easy to make at home and can be done in minutes. It is a simple dough made by combining equal quantities of almond meal/ground almonds and pure icing sugar/confectioners' sugar. Egg white is added as a binder and almond extract makes the cake deliciously flavourful.

To make the marzipan, place the icing sugar/confectioners' sugar in a deep glass bowl. Add almond extract and half the egg white. Knead with your hands until the mixture begins to come together (approx. 2 minutes). Add the rest of the egg white, gradually, until the right consistency is reached. Place the dough in between the palms of your hands, squeeze and work the mixture until it makes a smooth dough (approx. 3-4 minutes) Roll into a ball or log. Cover tightly with clip wrap and leave in an airtight container in a cool dry place away from sunlight, until ready to use.

The marzipan is now ready!!

This home made marzipan is delicious and cheaper than store bought!

Pure icing sugar - Added for sweetness and smooth texture. Sift the sugar before use.

Almond meal/ground almonds - In the absence of nuts, almond meal brings a rich nutty flavour to the cake. Freely available in your local supermarkets in the baking shelf.

Almond extract - Infuses that characteristic aroma into the marzipan and when the cake is baked, it permeates the cake too. A little goes a long way. Add only what is called for in the recipe. Substitute: Vanilla extract or food grade rose water or orange blossom water.

Egg white (medium to large egg) - Makes the marzipan pliable. If you are on a vegan diet, stick to egg-free marzipan recipes, so it is safe for everyone to enjoy.

 

ingredients for the dried fruit mixture

Simnel cake is made with store brought dried fruit mixture or individual dried fruits. It is lighter than a traditional rich fruit Christmas cake as the amount of fruit used is much lesser than a traditional Christmas cake. It does not usually contain alcohol, but I have added a good splash of the famous Australian Bundaberg Black Rum to add a richness and flavour.

I prefer to start making this cake on the earlier day, so the fruit has a chance to macerate overnight. To make the dried fruit mixture, place all the fruit in a deep glass bowl. Add the zest and juice of 1 orange and rum/brandy (whichever alcohol you have on hand). Combine well, cover with cling wrap and place in a cool place for 1 hour or overnight in the refrigerator (if time permits).

On the next day, remove the fruit from the fridge and leave aside to come to room temperature.

The fruit mixture is ready!!

Mixed dried fruits - I have used a combination of fruits such as sultanas, raisins, mixed peel, currants and glaze cherries (roughly chopped) weighing 400g in total. Proportions: 130g each of sultanas and raisins: 50g each of mixed peel and currants: 40g cherries. Substitute: equal quantity (400g) of ready mixed dried fruits available in the baking section of your supermarket such as Woolworths or Coles that comes in 1kg or 375g packets eg., Sunbeam or Woolworths or Coles brands.

Orange zest and juice - Citrus zest adds a wonderful citrusy flavour and the juice gives a fruity taste to the cake. Use a micro plane grater and zest only the orange layer leaving the bitter white pith behind or you can cut off a very thin layer of of the peel with a paring knife, finely chop it and add it to the dried fruit mixture. Substitute: Zest and juice of 1 large lemon.

Rum/brandy - Alcohol is not an essential ingredient in this delightful simnel cake, but adding a dash or two makes it into a classic, flavourful and celebratory cake.

 

ingredients for the cake BATTER

The basic ingredients for the simnel cake are very similar to the mixed fruit Christmas cake. The only big difference is, this cake has a marzipan icing in the middle and the top. It's for this reason that we made the marzipan, so we can use it to sandwich the cake batter in between two layers of marzipan.

Further, this cake uses light brown sugar (simply marked as brown sugar on the packet) as this is a lighter cake than the dark Christmas cake.

As there is no baking powder in this cake, the cake has a slight rise which works very well, because it helps the marzipan to sit flat when we place it on the top of the cake.

Dry fruit mixture - The bulk of the cake is the dry fruit mixture. You may use dry fruits such as apricots, raisins, sultanas, cherries and mixed peel. The total quantity of the fruit I have used is 400g.

Marzipan - Made up of almond meal, icing sugar and egg white, marzipan adds flavour and a gooey core in the middle of the cake when the cake is baked.

Butter - Unsalted. Substitute: salted butter.

Light brown sugar - Gives a lighter colour and flavour than its dark counterpart. Do not substitute with dark brown sugar, as we want the cake to be lighter than a Christmas cake. Available in the supermarkets as brown sugar.

Eggs for the cake and 1 for the glaze - Beat the eggs only until just combined with the sugar mixture in the bowl, as we do not want the cake to rise too much. Use 4 eggs room temperature eggs for the cake. Use the leftover egg for the marzipan glaze.

Self-raising flour - This is a cake which requires only a slight rise as we are topping the cake with marzipan. If you add plain flour without any baking powder, you are likely to have a very flat cake. Further, adding baking powder to the plain flour might end up with a cake that has risen way too much, that you may need to cut the cake to even it. So, best to use self-raising flour as called for in the recipe!

Almond meal/ground almonds - Coarser than almond flour, it is added for the nutty taste. It also makes a slightly denser textured cake, which is what we are looking for in this Easter cake.

Lemon zest - 1 medium to large size lemon zested. Do not add the juice. Substitute: zest of orange

Mixed Spice - A teaspoon or two of mixed spice adds a touch of flavour as this cake is a spiced fruit cake.

Vanilla extract - Adds a delicious, subtle lift of flavour and enhances the flavour of other ingredients in this cake. It will be a flat cake without vanilla extract!!

 

how to make the simnel cake

IMPORTANT: Due to some technical issues while creating this post, I am forced to recreate this post with minimal photos of my Step-by-Step Instructions. Thank you kindly for your understanding in this matter.

The degree of difficulty to make this cake is 'medium'.

It may appear that this cake is difficult to make and you may be put off. I would like to assure you that this is the first time I have attempted to make this cake and it took me a lot of convincing that I could actually make this cake. Now that I have done it, it is not really so difficult at all. It's even easier, if you have made Christmas fruit cakes before.

On the other hand, if you have never made a fruit cake before, then the recipe in the Recipe Card below will walk you through all the precise steps and instructions to do this spiced fruit cake. I would strongly recommend you to read the recipe, collect the ingredients, set yourself enough time and then start making the cake.

You will find full instructions and measurements in the Recipe Card at the bottom of this post. This is the summary of the process to go along with some of the process photos.

With the level of difficulty marked to 'medium', there are 4 stages to making a simnel cake:

1. Making and rolling the marzipan

2. Making the dried fruit mixture

3. Making the cake

4. Finishing the cake

1. making and rolling the marzipan

Make the marzipan as per the instructions on the Recipe Card below, if you are making your own.

Cut approx. 185 of the marzipan and roll out into 2mm thick disc. Using the base of the cake tin as a guide cut a disc to fit your cake tin. I used an 8 inch or 20.5cm cake tin. Cover the remaining marzipan tightly with cling wrap. Cover the rolled disc with a damp tea towel. Wondering why the sultana is staring at you, its simply because my camera will not focus on the disc without it!!

2. making the dried fruit mixture

Place the dried fruit mixture in a bowl with the orange juice, zest and brandy. Combine well. Cover and set aside for 1 hour or overnight (if time permits). The dried fruit mixture is ready!!

3. making the cake

My apologies, although I have taken all the necessary photos for the Step-by-Step instructions, I am unable to post them due to some technical issues with this post. May I request all my readers to kindly follow instructions on the Recipe Card below to make the cake. I will however, post minimal photos to guide you during the process of making this cake. I thank you for your understanding.

In the Recipe Card below, follow instructions 2 - 6 and make the cake batter. It's pretty easy once you have made a Christmas cake. It follows the same method as making any fruit cake! That simple!!

 

When you get to Step 7 of the Recipe Card, spread half the batter on the base of the prepared cake tin.

Using your hands carefully lift the rolled marzipan and drop it over the cake batter. Spoon the remaining batter over the marzipan and spread evenly. You are right, there is batter under and over the marzipan!!

The cake is now ready to bake. Check if your oven is at the correct temperature before you place the cake in the oven!! It should be preheated to 150°C (300°F/Gas mark 2). Bake for 1¾ hour or until the skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean! Cool in the tin for 20 minutes before turning on to a cooling rack with the right side facing you.

4. finishing the cake

You are almost there! Yayyyyy!!! There is really not much to go once you get to this point!!

Place the cake in a tray lined with foil. Read the instructions in the 'Recipe card' below carefully under the heading 'Finishing the Cake'. You do not want to miss any steps while finishing the cake!

Under the instructions in the Recipe Card under the heading 'Finishing the Cake' follow Steps 1 - 5. The cake should be cooled completely (I cooled mine overnight). Then, using 185g of the leftover marzipan, roll another disc to fit the top of your cake and place the disc on the top of your prepared cake. Make 11 equal balls with the remaining marzipan (approx. 16g for each ball). Brush the marzipan with the beaten egg. Place the balls on the top in a circle and brush the balls too (as shown in the image).

Preheat grill to 220°C. Grill the cake under a hot grill for 3½ minutes or until the marzipan begins to caramelise. Watch very closely once the cake is in the oven as it can burn very quickly.

serving suggestions

  • Fruit cakes can be enjoyed on their own or had with some tawny port or some delicious dessert wines. Just make sure you pair a glass of wine that is as sweet or sweeter than the cake.
  • Tea or coffee also makes beautiful substitutes.

The amount of cake mixture makes 1.5kg cake and serves 12 people.

If you have tried this recipe, I would love to hear your feedback. Please be sure to rate the recipe and/or leave a comment below. If you want to see more recipe inspirations, you can follow me on Instagram @lavina_mendonsa.

Easter Apostle Simnel Cake

Easter Apostle Simnel Cake

Catherine Lavina Mendonsa
Simnel cake is the fruity, spiced cake that is sandwiched between two layers of marzipan. Traditionally served on Mothering Sunday, eventually came to be called as Easter Cake. In the late Victorian times, 11 apostles were added on the top of the cake, representing Christ's eleven apostles. Number 12 would be Judas and he was excluded because of his betrayal.
Prep Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 45 minutes
Dry fruits soaking time 1 hour
Total Time 4 hours 5 minutes
Course