Simnel cake

Simnel cake
Type Fruit cake
Course Dessert
Place of origin United Kingdom
Cookbook: Simnel cake  Media: Simnel cake

Simnel cake is a light fruit cake with two layers of almond paste or marzipan, one in the middle and one on top,[1] that is toasted, and eaten during the Easter period in the United Kingdom, Ireland and some other countries. It was originally made for the middle Sunday of Lent, when the forty-day fast would be relaxed,[2] Laetare Sunday, also known as Refreshment Sunday, Mothering Sunday, Sunday of the Five Loaves, and Simnel Sunday – after the cake.[3] The meaning of the word "simnel" is unclear: there is a 1226 reference to "bread made into a simnel", which is understood to mean the finest white bread,[4] from the Latin simila – "fine flour", though John de Garlande felt that the word was equivalent to placenta cake,[3] a cake that was intended to please.[5]

Conventionally eleven, or occasionally twelve, marzipan balls are used to decorate the cake, with a story that the balls represent the twelve apostles, minus Judas[1][6][7][8][9][10] or Jesus and the twelve apostles, minus Judas.[11] This tradition developed late in the Victorian era, altering the mid Victorian tradition of decorating the cakes with preserved fruits and flowers.[12]


The cake is made from these ingredients: white flour, sugar, butter, eggs, fragrant spices, dried fruits, zest and candied peel.[13]


Simnel cakes have been known since at least medieval times. Recently, 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. The word simnel probably derived from the Latin word simila, meaning fine, wheaten flour.[14]

A popular legend attributes the invention of the Simnel cake to Lambert Simnel; however, references to the cake were recorded some 200 years before his birth.

Different towns had their own recipes and shapes of the Simnel cake. Bury, Devizes and Shrewsbury produced large numbers to their own recipes, but it is the Shrewsbury version that became most popular and well known.

See also


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Simnel cakes.
  1. 1 2 "BBC Religions: Mothering Sunday". Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  2. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Laetare Sunday". 2009. Retrieved 9 April 2012. Laetare Sunday
  3. 1 2 Massey, Gerald (31 Mar 2007). A Book of the Beginnings. Cosimo, Inc. p. 269. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
  4. John Harland, Thomas Turner Wilkinson (1867). Lancashire folk-lore. F. Warne. pp. 223–224. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
  5. Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne (13 Apr 2009). A History of Food. John Wiley & Sons. p. 206. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
  6. Cory, Lara (19 March 2012). "The Debated History of the Simnel Cake". Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  7. "BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour: Cook the Perfect... Simnel Cake". Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  8. "Traditional Simnel Cake". Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  9. "BBC Simnel cake". Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  10. "BBC Simnel cake recipes". Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  11. Taylor, Anna-Louise (23 January 2012). "BBC News - Food symbolism: Why do we give food meaning?". Retrieved 9 April 2012.
  12. Broomfield, Andrea (2007). Food and cooking in Victorian England: a history. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 155. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
  14. "simnel - definition of simnel by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia.". 2012. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
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