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Daisy_A's picture

Simnel Cake/British-Style Moist Fruit Cake

Simnel Cake/British-Style Moist Fruit Cake


Easter passed so quickly, but where we live it brought bluebells in the woods, wisteria blooming on the walls of the nearby manor, bright blossoms in our own garden and Simnel cake. Although the festival is gone we are still enjoying this as a regular moist fruit cake by using the recipe below but leaving out the marzipan. It is delicious with a slice of good British cheese.



Over the past few months I've been baking as I imagine some of my forebears might have done - special breads for festivals and in between a tried and trusted mixed grain sourdough to feed the household in good times and bad. 

I've loved attempting festival breads from other cultures. Making panettone was particularly enjoyable and I still hope to attempt colomba. However this Easter I chose Simnel cake for a number of reasons: we normally buy a slice to celebrate the season; it is one of my husband's favourite cakes and it is one of the few typically British festival cakes that is special to its time, that you can't buy all year round. 

I've thought about trying Simnel cake before but lacked the confidence to try it. It's testimony to the support I've had on TFL that I felt confident enough to tackle it this time round. Thank you all.

Legend has it that Simnel cake was made traditionally by mothers and daughters together on Mothering Sunday. I can see why it would be good to have more than one pair of hands on the job. It's quite a complex cake and the baker would  probably benefit from having someone else to turn the spoon, mop their fevered brow when the going got tough and share in the final feast!   

We have benefited from the brilliant cake making skills of friends and family in times past and it was so good to finally feel confident enough to return the gift, Thanks D, D and J for all your wonderful cakes and for being patient about the delayed cake love on our part!  Here it comes now…

I am not good at making more conventional celebration cakes with icing or frosting, as I have the piping skills of a pterodactyl, or some other creature without opposable fingers and thumbs. I also love almonds and fruit cake, so Simnel cake, with its fruity body, marzipan covered top and middle and toasted marzipan balls is my kind of festive cake. 

The account below is more or less the story of my first Simnel cake. I haven't done this enough times to advise on the best way to approach each part, but simply offer this as a record of a 'cake journey'.  

The cake I made was an fusion of two recipes gleaned from the Internet. I needed the mixture to fill our cake tin so took the general ingredient amounts from Recipe 1 but added almond flour and an internal marzipan layer, as in Recipe 2. I preferred the more detailed method outlined in Recipe 2 so followed that. The idea of soaking the dried fruits in sherry also appealed:

The whole cake making journey nearly ground to a halt at the start, however. We had no high sided cake tin when I gamely started the process by plunging my hands into the butter and sugar. This mixture was half way up my arms (and I was missing my uplifting music to hand mix to because the cd was jammed, itunes was stuck and our city lacks the amazing strolling Tuna bands I used to listen to when living in Granada), when my husband rang to say there were no 7" cake tins at the homewares store, not even for ready money… All was saved, however, when he spotted a little 7.5 inch beauty at the very back of the shelf. This depth tin also fitted the only deep decorative ribbon we had in the house - serendipity!  

So the measurements and method I give below are for a 3 egg cake suitable for a 7 or 7.5 inch high sided cake tin. There are also some reflections on the marzipan making and on baking. 

Cake Ingredients

  • 175g/6oz muscovado sugar
  • 3 free-range eggs, beaten
  • 175g/6oz plain flour 
  • 175g/6oz butter
  • 50g almond flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/4 tsp/1/2 coffee spoon ground mixed spice
  • 350g/12oz mixed raisins, currants and sultanas
  • 55g/2oz chopped mixed peel and glacé cherries
  • Grated zest of 1/2 lemon. 
  • 50ml of light sherry (I used Hidalgo La Gitana 
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder


1-2 tablespoons apricot jam

Marzipan - see below


  • At least 12 hours before baking, soak the raisin mix plus any glacé fruit and candied peel in 50ml of  dry sherry. I found it easiest to do this in a kilner/mason jar.
  • On baking day:  Prepare the cake tin by buttering it. Line the bottom and sides with [buttered] parchment, if required. (I did this).
  • Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. It is important to create a light mixture and this may take a few minutes. By hand it can take 10 minutes or more.
  • Mix the salt, baking powder, lemon rind and mixed spice into the flour .
  • Gently fold alternate amounts of flour mix and egg into the creamed batter, until all is incorporated. 
  • Stir in the fruit mix (some bakers dust the fruit lightly with flour).
  • Let the mixture sit, covered, for 10 minutes.
  • Spoon half of the mixture into the cake tin and smooth gently.
  • Cover the first half with a marzipan circle. Try not to press down too hard as this will compress the batter underneath. 
  • Cover the circle with the remaining cake mixture.
  • Smooth off the top.


I found when looking into the baking of Simnel cakes that instructions for baking a 3 egg cake differed wildly, from just 1 3/4 hours at 140C/275F to 2 3/4 - 3 1/4 hours at 150C/300F. I am also sure that this is a recipe that will bake differently in different ovens so the notes below are a rough guide only. 

Baking in my simple gas oven I have gone for a middle path, baking the cake in a preheated oven for 2 1/4 hours. 

If I want a moist cake (because I am preparing the cake in advance or am baking it to mail and will need a cake that cake that can mature without drying out), I bake at 150C/300F for 1 3/4 hours 45 minutes, 150C/300F for 15 minutes and then leave the cake in the oven with the heat off for another 15 minutes.

I have also baked this mixture without the marzipan as a medium, moist fruit cake to eat straight away and in that case I have baked for the whole 2 1/4 hours at 150C/300F.

If your oven is particularly strong you might consider tenting the cake with silver foil in the last stages to avoid burning the top before the middle is cooked. 

Leave the cake to cool in the tin from anywhere to 15 minutes to an hour depending on preference, then turn onto a cooling rack. 

Once cool, glaze the top of the cake with apricot jam and place the second marzipan circle carefully on top. 

Glaze the top of the marzipan with apricot jam also (or egg if you prefer), and place the marzipan balls in a circle on top. 

Toast the cake briefly under a preheated grill until the top just begins to turn golden.  My husband gamely assisted with this, taking it out at just the right moment! This took less than 2 minutes under our grill.


I knew from the start that I wanted to make my own marzipan and that I wanted it to be egg free, as not everyone in our family can eat raw egg. I also wanted the cake to be good to eat after posting.

Moro's Sam and Sam Clark note that when making marzipan with fresh Spanish almonds they don't need to add egg as the oil in the almonds acts as the binding agent. This fits with what I have found when using almonds from a friend's Spanish finca and have struggled to find such fresh almonds in the UK. However, I also discovered that in the Middle Ages British marzipan was made in this way, with rose water added to some versions, and that this is the way it is still made in many Asian cultures. 

I had also read that one common problem with Simnel cakes is that the marzipan layer simply melts during baking. As sugar has a high boiling point I reckoned that using an eggless marzipan with a high sugar content would help to stop this happening, which it did.

I followed a formula that uses sugar syrup taken to soft ball stage. If you prefer not to use sugar syrup (which can burn badly if you accidentally touch it or spill it on yourself), recipes on links below give formulae for egg free marzipan with unmelted sugar. {Trust me I know about the burn part, having followed a recipe that suggested you 'roll the sugar ball between your finger and thumb' to test its consistency. I did this and watched my thumb blow up to something that resembled a barley sugar in its size and translucent orange colour. After that it was no touching the sugar and gloves all the way…)

The day before baking, I prepared 550g of marzipan using proportions in the formula below. Another time I would prepare more, to make thicker marzipan layers and to leave more for the decorative balls. The formula as I give it below makes about 730g.

The marzipan produced by this sugar syrup method is quite crumbly, like the lovely marzipan found in German and Austrian sweets. For the Simnel cake, however, it needed to be more malleable, in order to be rolled out. Therefore, on baking day I hydrated the marzipan by adding sunflower oil, little by little, until the marzipan was soft enough to roll without cracking. That took about 8 tablespoons of oil. Glycerin can also be used. Having prepared almond paste again to fill an ensaimada, and finding that I needed far less oil, I'm even more convinced that the amount of oil used is closely linked to the freshness of the almonds. So in this case be guided by your own nuts, as it were. 

I prepared one marzipan layer before baking and one while the cake was cooling. However, another time I would prepare both together, as the un-oiled marzipan began to stiffen again when returned to the fridge.

Marzipan/Almond paste with sugar syrup

  • 190g sugar 
  • 236g water 

Cook this to the end of the soft ball stage, or 240F 

Then add:

  • 250g ground almonds: (add these first if the mixture is still hot or it will spit
  • 30g water
  • 15g rose water
  • Small capful (approx. 1/2 coffee spoon), of natural vanilla essence
  • Small capful (approx. 1/2 coffee spoon), of natural almond essence

Mix thoroughly

If using for Simnel cake, add oil or glycerin little by little until the paste can be rolled out without cracking

Link to a recipe for egg free marzipan with unmelted sugar:

  • Pushed down too hard at the right hand side but marzipan makes it through baking, phew.
  • More even marzipan on the other side but where is the rest of the cake?
  • Cake before grilling
  • DH pulls the cake out at just the right time
  • Crumb shot
  • All done and dusted: cake in the once sunny garden. 

Marzipan balls

Legend has it that the balls on the top of the Simnel Cake represent 11 disciples, excluding Judas. Poor Matthias elected after Judas' departure seems not to have been granted a ball!

I am quite nervous of cake decorating and it soon became apparent that the British 'turn out a hearty dollop' approach to making scones and rock cakes was not going to work with the marzipan balls. Decoration on this cake is minimal so If the balls are not similar in size the overall effect can be a bit odd. I really have to thank Akiko for pointing me to a biscuit making technique that helped to get the balls more even. This involves rolling the dough into a long rectangular or circular roll, chilling it for 15-20 mins and then cutting it carefully into even sections using a tape measure or ruler. I followed this up by weighting the segments, until I had 11 of  10-11g each, which I palmed into a ball, as a baker shaped buns. (Pictures below for marzipan roll and square biscuits). My apologies to experienced cake makers for whole making decorative balls is second nature! I thought it worth including for beginners such as myself, as many recipes just say 'put the balls on the top of the cake', which is a bit baffling if you are new to all this. 


Again this is a record of my first marzipan ball making journey. It is not a 'how to do it' instruction, although it worked quite well. There are likely to be ways of improving on this and I look forward to finding them out.

If you make this as a Simnel cake or regular moist fruit cake I do hope you enjoy it.


© Daisy_A 2011 FIrst published on The Fresh Loaf, June 17, 2011 at 17.32 GM time. I love to share bread stories and read other bakers' posts about bread. If you republish this page for 'fair use' please acknowledge authorship and provide a link to the original URL. Please note, however, I do not support the unauthorized and unattributed publishing of my text and images on for-profit websites.


txfarmer's picture

Parmesan Batter Bread - so easy, so quick

Recipe is from KAF(, I used instant yeast rather than active dry, which means I could skip the "warm milk to proof" bit, and make the whole thing even easier. Also skipped the cream cheese on surface, since I didn't have any. Very delicious though, a good base for all kinds of add-ins, next time I will try green onion and bacon.


I highly recommend using a cast iron pan to make this, the crust is perfection


And a fluffy soft delicious crumb


Sending this to Yeastspotting.

dvuong's picture

What to do with sweet dough?

I've been making cinnamon rolls nearly every weekend now at the request of my brother.  I'm starting to get a little bored of the cinnamon rolls and have been trying to think of what other things I could do with a sweet dough.  Any ideas?

codruta's picture

New STARTER from scratch

I made a new starter few days ago, just to taake photos of the process.

I started with 100g (tap) water, 50g AP flour and 50g rye flour, let it sit 24 hours at room temperature. It almost tripled it's volume.

The next day I switched to a 12 hours feedeing schedule, keeping 75g culture, adding 75g water, 50g AP flour and 25g rye flour. Here are some pictures taken in day 2, 3, 4

after day 4, I feed it only with APflour and water, and in day 5 it looked like that:

The smell changed during these days, from sour, sprouted grains, yogurt, sweet and sour, yeast.

This is how it developed in 5 days:

I'm happy with the result, but I don’t know what to do with it now, cause I don’t want to keep two starters, I want to give it away, but I’m from Romania and I don’t know if there is a safe way to “mail” it.  It's a shame to throw it away in the garbage...

I'll bake a bread with it to see if it has a different taste than my old starter, I'm very curious.

For a complete post and pictures, you ca visit my romanian blog Apa.Faina.Sare. (whitch means Water. Flour.Salt.)

And if any of you have any idea what to do with it... I'm all ears.


freerk's picture

royal crown's tortano

shaping slugs again, but hey, they are still photogenic, right? X Freerk



P.S. You would do me a big favor endorsing my BreadLab iniative. Every "like" will get me closer to realizing a 6 episode documentary/road movie; chasing the best bread Europe has to offer. Thanks in advance! 

breadsong's picture

Herb rolls

There are a couple of herbs in my garden, that thankfully, come back each year –
I so look forward to when these fresh herbs have started growing!
Chervil is one of the first things to start growing in spring. It reseeds itself, and there will be new chervil in the fall also :^).
I love the tender, lacy leaves and delicate anise flavor.
Golden sage, which I am so grateful made it through our cold winter, is now producing some pretty
golden-and-green variegated leaves.

Time for some herb rolls! 
(the image is an experiment with merging photos):

This idea I first saw in a Better Homes and Gardens ‘Holiday Cooking’ magazine, from December 2000.
After proofing, the rolls are gently brushed with egg white; the herbs are applied; then the rolls are gently brushed with egg white again, making sure the whole herb leaf is covered; then the rolls are ready for the oven.
Parsley (Italian flat leaf) is another nice herb to use for this technique.

Susan at WildYeast also made a lovely! version, using parsley, for her Roasted Garlic Bread.

The chervil rolls were the herb version of this recipe:

The golden sage rolls were based on Sylvia’s excellent ‘buns for sandwiches’ recipe (Thanks, Sylvia!).
The potato adds such a nice flavor and texture to these rolls!


The chervil rolls were baked in a pan on a rack in the oven (no baking stone). The chervil didn’t brown at all and kept its green color through the bake :^)

I was a little worried about the golden sage browning as the leaves are thicker and wanted to lift off the roll a bit after being brushed with egg white. Also, these rolls were baked on a baking stone, starting out at a hotter temperature but baking in a reducing oven. After 2 minutes of baking I covered the rolls with foil, turned the oven down to 325F convection for the last two minutes of baking and removed the foil, so the tops of the rolls would finish browing (but hopefully not the sage!).

Crumb shot, Sylvia's sandwich bun:


I want to try making a big loaf using some Italian parsley – Susan’s loaf was so pretty!
Happy baking everyone!
from breadsong

Submitted to YeastSpotting

breadsong's picture

Chile and Cheese (two quickbreads and one sourdough)


These are three bakes using chile (jalapeno or chipotle) and cheddar cheese (I've had a craving lately for some spicy things!).

The first bake is a Cornmeal Biscuit with Cheddar and Chipotle, an old favorite from Bon Appetit Magazine, March 2006:

The baked biscuits (cheesy, oniony, with some background heat from the chipotle); we love these!:

It mixed up into a wettish dough; I folded the dough a few times incorporating some extra flour.
I froze the biscuits before baking:

The second bake is Sourdough Cheese Bread from Advanced Bread and Pastry (scaled to 1500 grams for two loaves, including 212 grams cubed sharp cheddar and 90 grams diced, seeded jalapeno slices (from a jar)).  Lots of gooey cheese melting out during the bake! I’ve been wanting to try making a cheddar and jalapeno bread for a long time.
We couldn’t wait to let this cool down before cutting into it to try. Mmmm, good!:

The third bake is Southwest Corn Bread, from Baking Artisan Pastries and Breads by Ciril Hitz.
With thanks to Mr. Hitz for this lovely corn bread formula! This is a Cheddar, Corn, Chile and Lime version.

I included the zest and juice (50 grams) of one lime, and 60 grams of crème fraiche, in place of some of the milk called for in the formula.  The lime flavor really came through and was very tasty.

I added four roasted, diced jalapenos and although my husband thought this was fine!, some parts were very spicy
(I thought sometimes the heat overtook the lime and other flavors). Next time, I might just add two jalapenos.
I roasted four peeled cobs of corn, and took the corn off the cob, to add some deeper corn flavor to the bread.
The tops of the corn breads are decorated with roasted red pepper. We really enjoyed these too!
Here is the crumb shot:

Happy baking everyone!
from breadsong




amateur's picture

New to sourdough - what to do?

Okay, I'm sure this has been covered many a time; my apologies.

I have sourdough starter in a crock-pot in the kitchen. No mold. Brown stuff on top - hooch, is that what it's called?

I made a loaf out of it. The loaf didn't rise. Even after two days at room temperature. I finally gave up and baked it. It rose, and I ate some. SOUR! I mean, really sour.

So, since it didn't rise, I made another loaf, added a lot of honey to it, and just baked it without leaving it at room temperature. It's dense and heavy. It tastes all right, but it didn't rise at all.

What's the best way to approach this thing called sourdough?




varda's picture

Vermont Sourdough with Banana Yeast Water

Yeast water Vermont Sourdough with peony...

After being pushed over the edge by Akiko's magnificent baguette, the desire to ferment just became too strong.    So over the last few days I've been making banana yeast water.   I followed Akiko's instructions in her blog post which also refers to a very detailed and helpful web page.   I replaced raisins with sliced bananas but otherwise followed instructions.   This means that I started with banana and water only rather than weaning my flour based levain to fruit as I have seen others write about.  After 5 days it seemed that the yeast water was ready.   I strained out the water, took half of it, added flour, left it overnight on the counter and baked with it the next morning.   The results were tasty but not quite ready for prime time.    Meanwhile I fed the yeast water with another banana and water as per Akiko's instructions and this morning was ready to try again.   I decided to bake Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough partly because it's good and Codruta reminded me of it, and partly to have a well recognized formula to experiment with.   Further I baked two loaves - one with a banana yeast water levain and the other with my regular levain.   Since these were different hydrations the only difference in the two doughs was how much water I added to the final dough.    All of the percentages matched Hamelman's instructions.   While preparing both doughs, I noticed that the yeast water version was always more manageable and with a more silky texture.   Really though, there was very little difference between the two doughs.   However during final proof it became clear that the one with regular levain was fermenting much more rapidly.   In fact so quickly that the oven wasn't entirely ready for it when I put it in.   Unfortunately this caused me to stumble technically.   The loaf bottom split in the oven and so the whole loaf came out misshapen.    I am almost sure this was due to the fact the oven wasn't steamed properly and also possibly the stone wasn't sufficiently preheated.   Oh well.   I waited until the first loaf was done (and the oven resteamed) before putting in the yeast water loaf.    This had definitely needed the extra 55 minutes of proofing and did much better in the oven.  As for taste, what can I say - they are both tasty breads, but the regular levain sourdough has a tiny bit of sour tang which is quite delicious, where the yeast water loaf is a bit flat.   Also if you look at the crumb shots below, even with the poor misshapen loaf, the regular levain wins the competition.   So maybe I simply chose the wrong formula to test out my yeast water on and picked one that is more appropriate for a regular levain.    I will probably try, try again, and I simply love the fact that I can take a piece of fruit, doctor it for a few days, and end up with something that very competently raises bread.   


Yeast water Vermont Sourdough crumb...

Vermont Sourdough with standard levain crumb...

Juergen Krauss's picture
Juergen Krauss

Rye Sourdough Recipes with added Commercial Yeast

I recently posted in my blog a general formula to make German style breads with a rye-wheat flour mix.

The formula has been derived from the blog of a German baker, and it contains a bit of yeast in the final dough.

This fact caused some surprise.

I further researched this practise: the primary reason to use yeast is to have a predictable schedule, but yeast is also a means to influence the acidity by cutting the bulk fermentation short (Hamelman, Bread, p.169, in the comment)

The German "sourdough guidance" wiki gives a table of different starter types and their effect on the dough, and where the use of yeast is appropriate or necessary.

Just for reference I also checked some of the books I have for rye sourdough formulas with yeast, and found quite a few:

Peter Reinhart

The Bread Baker's Apprentice

New York Deli Rye, page 236

PR's comment: “The best rye breads are made with a mix of wild-yeast starter and commercial yeast. This is what makes them so flavourful.”

Pumpernickel, p.248

Sunflower Seed Rye, p.249

Crust & Crumb

Team USA Swiss Sunflower Bread, p.185

Daniel DiMuzio

bread baking - An Artisan's Perspective

Deli-Style Rye Bread, p.216

Hearty Sourdough Rye, p. 220

Jeffrey Hamelman

Bread, A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes

Whole Wheat Multigrain, p.169: Yeast shortens bulk proof to prevent acidity to hide grain flavors

Golden Raisin Bread, p.172

Five Grain Levain, p.175

Cheese Bread, p.180

Normandy Apple Bread, p.181

Roasted Garlic Levain, p.183

Roasted Hazelnut & Prune Bread, p.185

All breads from the chapter “Sourdough Rye Breads”

 Happy Baking,