The Tasty Tradition of The Simnel Cake

Sopwell House' head chef Gopi Chandran share's his Simnel cake recipe this Easter

Move over Easter eggs, there’s a new tasty Easter tradition in town. In fact, it’s not very new at all, but actually a custom that is steeped in history and meaning. Here TOAST explores the fascinating origins of the Simnel cake and Gopi Chandran, Executive Head Chef at the luxurious Sopwell House, divulges his fool-proof recipe so that too you can enjoy this delicious tradition at home this year

There’s no doubt that the Simnel cake isn’t your traditional cake, aesthetically. In fact you might say it’s quite unusual looking as cakes go. Yes, it is a moist and delicious fruit cake, but it is covered in a thick layer of marzipan with crimped edges, and topped with large, toasted marzipan balls. 11 to be precise. But why? Well, when we started to explore the fascinating history of the cake, this design choice started to make more sense... 

The Simnel cake tradition dates all the way back to the 17th century, when young men and women in service (i.e. domestic helpers, such as providing care for children, housekeeping, etc) were given a rare day off in order to visit their beloved mothers on Mothering Sunday. Dutiful daughters were expected to bake a Simnel cake; although the meaning of the word ‘simnel’ is still unclear, it is said to mean the finest white bread, derived from the Latin simila meaning "fine flour", so it really was a considered to be a special treat for mum.

With the demise of service after the First World War, Simnel cake became more associated with Easter celebrations. 11 marzipan balls were added to the top of the cake representing Jesus’ apostles minus Judas, the traitor. Over time both fresh and sugared flowers were added to the decoration and today you might find decorative fluffy chicks, hens or bunnies!

The cake itself is a light fruit cake with two layers of almond paste or marzipan, one in the middle and one on top, plus the marzipan balls. The top is traditionally toasted, giving the marzipan layer and balls a lovely caramelized look and taste. The layer of marzipan in the middle of this light, fruity cake means that that it doesn’t dry out and remains moist and delicious for much longer, as well as giving a lovely hint of almond flavour.

Simnel cake makes a really delicious spring time treat served with a fresh pot of tea, and it’s also welcome relief when you fancy a change from all that chocolate! If you fancy baking one at home this year and embracing this wonderful, historic Easter tradition then read on for Gopi Chandran’s recipe and also for a selection of the very best shop bought Simnel cakes, if you haven’t got time to bake. A Simnel cake also makes a wonderful Easter gift for friends or family and a great alternative to the usual Easter egg offering.

Sopwell House is a beautiful Georgian manor house located in the city of St. Albans, deep within the Hertfordshire countryside. The hotel boasts an elegant cocktail lounge, conservatory bar and two acclaimed restaurants, led by Executive Head Chef Gopi Chandran. Here, and just in time for Easter, Gopi shares his fool-proof Simnel cake recipe with TOAST.

Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake Recipe from Sopwell House’s
Executive Head Chef Gopi Chandran

What You'll Need

  • 175 g soft butter or margarine
  • 175 g light muscovado sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 175 g self-raising flour
  • 175 g sultanas
  • 45 g dried apricots
  • 45g dried apples
  • 90 g glacé cherries, quartered, rinsed, and dried
  • 30 g candied peel, roughly chopped
  • Grated Lemon zest
  • 1 tsp ground mixed spice

For decorating:

  • 500g almond paste
  • 2tbsp apricot jam
  • 1 egg white


Equipment:  7 inch deep round loose bottom cake tin.



  • Preheat the oven to 165°C.
  • Roll out one-third of the almond paste. Using the base of the cake as a guide, cut out an 18cm disc.
  • Grease the cake tin, then line the bottom and side with greaseproof paper.
  • Combine all the cake ingredients in a bowl. Beat well until thoroughly blended. Spoon half of the cake mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. Top with the pre-cut disc of almond paste.
  • Spoon the remaining cake mixture on top of the disc and smooth the surface.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until golden brown and firm to the touch. If the cake is browning too quickly cover the top of the cake with greaseproof paper.
  • Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin, and leave to cool fully.
  • Warm the apricot jam and brush on top of the cake.
  • To decorate the cake, roll out half of the remaining almond paste and use the tin to cut out another 18cm disc. Put it on top of the jam and crimp the edges. Roll the remaining almond paste into 11 even-sized balls. Place the balls evenly around the edge of the cake, attaching them with egg white.
  • Brush the tops of the balls and the almond paste top with egg white. Place under a hot grill for 1-2 minutes until golden.

Sopwell House is a stunning Georgian manor house located in the city of St. Albans deep within the Hertfordshire countryside. Located only 20 minutes from London St. Pancras, the hotel is the idyllic getaway just outside of the hustle and bustle of the capital. The hotel is the perfect place to dine boasting two restaurants, an elegant cocktail lounge, and conservatory bar, all of which look out on 12-acres of beautiful gardens.

Gopi Chandran Sopwell House

Finishing Touches 

With it’s thick layer of toasted marzipan and toasted marzipan balls this show-stopping cake makes quite a statement, which makes it all the more impressive and exciting when you present it to your hungry Easter guests!

For some added Easter decoration we love these brilliant oversized Easter bunny ears by cake topper specialists Funky Laser, or for a more subtle detail, add Meri Meri’s charming Easter Bunny Cake Toppers to your Simnel creation, featuring two lovely bunnies, paper flowers and a little ‘Hop This Way’ sign!

Easter Bunny Ears from Funky Laser or NOTHS £14, Easter Bunny Cake Toppers Meri Meri £6.75. For a touch of traditional Easter kitsch then opt for these sweet little fluffy chicks from Postbox Party at £4.50.  Or for a stylish finish, do as the Victorians did and decorate your Simnel with beautiful, fresh edible flowers which you can order online from Maddocks Farm Organics.

Easter Extras

When you bring your Simnel cake to the table why not give your guests a potted history of the meaning behind this fascinating Easter treat, and perhaps they too will fancy embracing this tasty tradition at home next year!

The Best Of The Rest 

If you don’t have the time to whip up a Simnel cake yourself, or if baking simply isn’t your thing, then you can still enjoy this tasty Easter tradition by buying a Simnel cake to serve up at home or give as a gift over the long weekend. There are some really delicious, traditional options out there – here are just a few of TOAST’s favourites;


All of Betty’s cakes are cakes are made to order in their Yorkshire bakery, delivered with care across the UK and come with their Perfection Guarantee which means that in the unlikely event that your goods are not fresh and perfect on arrival, they will replace or refund at your convenience. Their rich, fruity Simnel cake, is wonderfully traditional and made to a time-honoured recipe packed with sultanas, rum-soaked currants and citrus peels and layered with marzipan. It’s even decorated with the traditional marzipan balls that we learnt about above.

Bettys Simnel Cake Spread

Available from Betty's online at £26 www.bettys.co.uk

Meg River's 

Available in Harrods and online is artisan bakery Meg Rivers’ award-winning Simnel cake. Chosen by Good Housekeeping Magazine as Taste Test Winner 2014 and awarded 2 Gold Stars at Great Taste Awards in 2015, this tasty cake is packed with vine fruits, delicately flavoured with cinnamon and nutmeg and made with only the finest natural marzipan. It also comes in a pretty cream and blue coloured tin, making it a lovely Easter gift too.

Meg Rivers Simnel Cake

Meg River's Simnel Cake from £23, www.megrivers.co.uk

Melrose & Morgan 

Trendy London grocers Melrose & Morgan’s Simnel cake, which is lightly spiced with apple soaked sultanas, currants and glacé cherries, and comes topped with a generous layer of marzipan and the obligatory marzipan balls. Their large cake easily serves 10 and comes in a modern and stylish tin, but new for this year is a smaller Simnel loaf which serves 6, or a box of six Simnel minis - each one the perfect mouthful.

Melrose Morgan Simnel Cake 

Minis £9.95, Loaf £12.95, Large Cake in tin £20, from www.melroseandmorgan.com 

Don’t forget to tag @ToastLifeUK in your Easter celebrations  – we would love to see your photos! 

For more information on Sopwell House visit www.sopwellhouse.co.uk 


Posted in Inspire Me

by Recipe
on on 12 April 2017

  easter, simnel cake, simnel cake recipe

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