Simnel Cake for Mothering Sunday
Yes, they are already in the shops for Easter. The ones with the 11 marzipan balls on the top represent the 11 faithful disciples, Judas by Easter having betrayed our Lord. I suspect the true meaning of this symbolism is somewhat lost with the addition of little yellow fluffy chicks! Nevertheless, a home-made Simnel cake remains my most favourite of cakes.
Simnel cakes were written about in medieval times as a rich celebration cake for the Fourth Sunday of Lent when people went in procession to their ‘mother church’ for a blessing. It was a permitted day of celebration which - because of the severe Lenten fasts that were kept in medieval times - the clergy, monks and nuns and lay people all needed; a day of feasting to keep body, mind and soul together throughout the six weeks of fasting. Hence, this Sunday is also known as Laetare Sunday meaning ‘Rejoice!’, or Refreshment Sunday. Even the clergy are allowed to lighten up by wearing a rather fetching shade of pinky mauve, rather than the deep purple of the penitential season.
By the 16th century, and certainly during the Victorian period, the Simnel cake was the cake which the lady of the house permitted the young girls in service to bake to take home to their mothers as a Mothering Sunday gift. They were decorated with preserved fruits and fresh flowers.
There are several ideas about where the name ‘simnel’ comes from but I rather like this one from About.com: The name came from a sister (Nell) and brother (Simon) who wanted to make a cake for their mother. One wanted to bake the cake, the other to boil it. They decided to do both and bring them together in one which became the Simnel Cake.
Everyone is welcome at our Mothering Sunday service when our Sunday School children will be leading part of the service for us.
PS - You will find a recipe for Simnel Cake elsewhere in the parish magazine which doesn’t need to be boiled as well as baked!
Mary Berry’s Simnel Cake
Taken from Mary Berry's Baking Bible (BBC Books, £25)
§ 100g red or natural glacé cherries
§ 225g softened butter
§ 225g light muscovado sugar
§ 4 large eggs
§ 225g self-raising flour
§ 225g sultanas
§ 100g currants
§ 50g chopped candied peel
§ grated rind of 2 lemons
§ 2 level tsp ground mixed spice
§ FOR THE FILLING AND TOPPING:
§ 450g almond paste or marzipan
§ 2 tbsp apricot jam
§ 1 large egg, beaten, to glaze
1. Preheat the oven to 150°C, fan 130°C, gas 2. Grease a 20cm-deep round cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper.
2. Cut the cherries into quarters, then rinse under running water in a sieve. Drain, then dry thoroughly on kitchen paper.
3. Beat all of the remaining cake ingredients together in a large bowl. Tip half of the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface.
4. Roll one third of the almond paste or marzipan to a circle the size of the cake tin, then place it on top of the cake mixture. Spoon over the remaining cake mixture and level the surface.
5. Bake for about 2½ hours until well risen, evenly browned and firm to the touch. Cover with foil after 1 hour if the top is browning too quickly.
6. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out, peel off the baking paper and finish cooling on a wire rack.
7. Warm the apricot jam in a small pan then, when the cake is cool, brush the jam over the top of the cake.
8. Roll out half the remaining almond paste to fit the top of the cake. Press it on firmly and crimp the edges to decorate. Mark a criss-cross pattern in the top with a sharp knife.
9. If this is for Easter, form 11 equal-sized balls from the remaining almond paste. If it’s for Mothering Sunday, you may want to try to make some almond paste flowers or a Mummy with children.
10. Brush the almond paste with beaten egg and arrange the balls around the edge of the cake. Brush the tops of the marzipan balls with beaten egg too, then place the cake under a hot grill to turn the almond paste golden.