Traditional English Easter Simnel cake is a rich sponge full of dried fruit and candied peel, with a marzipan layer and - in my version - cheerful yellow glossy icing on top.
Easter baking tradition is the all-out, splash-away end of Lent, saying goodbye to its austerity and fasting. And Simnel cake is the ultimate Easter blow-out.
What is Simnel cake?
It is to an extent a version of English Christmas cake, lavish with dried fruit and syrup again, after the Lent abstinence. It might seem slightly lighter without the booze soaking the sponge but that's before you count in the marzipan.
Traditionally it has marzipan inside, marzipan on top and even features eleven little marzipan balls to boot, apparently meant to represent the eleven apostles, Judas excluded. You can have the twelfth ball in the middle for Jesus.
Without the symbolic marzipan balls it often appeared also on Mothering Sunday, baked for mothers or - more likely - by mothers.
It is a lovely cake but it is almost impossibly rich. Various regional versions feature plums, cherries, sugar crust baked around boiled centre, sugar balls on top or marzipan in the middle.
I was mostly inspired by The Guardian's How to cook the perfect Simnel cake but, pleased to see the relative flexibility in the recipe interpretations, I added my own twist and take.
My version of Simnel cake
I make my own marzipan - I don't touch the shop-bought sugary bricks, that's one spot where I am vehemently snobbish.
I usually make the German version of marzipan which is no more than an honest almond paste but since Simnel means no holds barred, I made the marzipan according to the English recipe for my cake: with egg yolks and lemon.
This is the marzipan that needs to be cooked which is why I only put a layer in the middle of the cake rather than one on top, too. Instead, there's the most wonderful, cheerful and yellow, glossy icing layer on top.
What does it taste like?
I must admit I didn’t trust this cake up till the moment of the first forkful in my mouth. At a glance the recipe was too close to Christmas cake for comfort, which is not my favourite, to say the least.
But this is a lovely cake, not stupidly overloaded with fruit. It is rich, exceedingly so, but in a nice way.
There is also a version of the cake leavened with yeast and the recipe for that is to be found here. I honestly don't know which I like better - but you might be swayed by the fact that the yeasted, teacake version has the full assortment of marzipan apostles on the marzipan layer topping.