The Simnel cake is one of the most beautiful traditional English cakes. It looks fantastic, with a covering of preferably home made marzipan, decorated with 11 (the apostles without Judas), or 12 marzipan balls (to include Christ). As a child I enjoyed rolling the marzipan and brushing the top of the cake with lightly beaten white of egg, to be toasted briefly in the oven until lightly bronzed.
Simnel cakes probably go back to medieval times, like most of our traditional cakes and bakes that are rich in dried fruits, almonds and spices from the East. Later they became a Mothering Sunday tradition, when young girls in service would make one to be taken home to their mothers on their day off, very likely with their employers’ generous gift of the expensive ingredients. The word simnel probably derived from the Latin word simila, meaning fine, wheaten flour with which the cakes were made.
Here in Walsingham, Jennifer of Jennifer’s Kitchen makes these lovely traditional cakes for us, simply but beautifully decorated with marzipan and using the best possible ingredients.