The Origins of Simnel Cake
The origins of Simnel cake are a little unclear, but it is thought that it dates back to medieval times where it started out as a yeast-leavened bread.
Over time, dried fruit, spices and almonds were added and it became more of a baked pudding glazed with egg.
The cake we know today gained popularity in the 1900’s with its marzipan topping featuring 11 marzipan balls to represent the apostles (minus Judas, who betrayed Jesus). It was traditional for girls to give simnel cake to their mothers on Mothering Sunday, it being a way to celebrate and to show off their cooking skills.
Simnel cake tends to be lighter than the traditional rich fruit cakes served at Christmas and it does not usually contain alcohol.
Over the years the Simnel cake has become synonymous with Easter and Mothering Sunday.
What Does Simnel Mean?
The word Simnel is thought to be derived from the Latin word “simila” meaning fine flour (from which semolina also derives) although there are other interesting suggestions of where the name is from.
One theory is that it was named after Lambert Simnel who invented it whilst working in the kitchen of Henry VII.
A taller tale is that a couple by the name of Simon and Nelly made a cake to mark the end of Lent using left over Christmas pudding. They disagreed on how it should be cooked and agreed to boil it first then bake it – the resulting cake was christened the Sim-Nel cake! I’m not sure about this one!
Classic Large Cake or Cute Individual Portions?
This classic Simnel Cake recipe (pictured above) is taken from the Around Britain cookbook and features in the “Feasts and Festivals” chapter alongside other classic celebratory recipes for Easter, Christmas, New Year, Shrove Tuesday and the days celebrating Britain’s patron saints.
For a different take you could try these Mini Simnel Cakes too which have a marzipan surprise hidden inside each one and are decorated with almond icing and 11 gold balls to keep the tradition going.
I look after communications and marketing at Dairy Diary. I’m a busy mum and love home baking and cooking for my family. In my spare time I enjoy visiting the theatre, eating out with friends and exploring the great outdoors!