Simnel cake – to boil, bake or both?
There is a delightful legend about this cake. In medieval times, regulations suggested simnel cakes should be boiled and then baked; but how did this double cooking convention come about? Well, a mythical couple, Simon and Nelly, fell out over making the cake because one wanted to boil it, and the other wanted to bake it. It came to blows and they beat each other with various household implements until, exhausted, they decided to compromise on a method which used both boiling and baking!
Simnel cake is basically a fruit cake, including candied peel and spices, with an almond paste or marzipan layer on the top and in the middle. The top of the cake is also decorated with a circle of little balls or ‘eggs’ made from almond paste or marzipan. There are different ideas as to what these ‘eggs’ represent. As it is often an Easter cake, are they Easter egg? Or, as there are conventionally 11, or occasionally 12, marzipan balls, do they represent the 12 apostles minus Judas (i.e. 11), or Jesus and the twelve apostles minus Judas (i.e. 12)? Confusing, eh?
As for the name, simnel, although it is by no means clear, the word may have originally been used for very fine white bread. Or it may derive from the Latin ‘simila’ which means fine flour (from which the word semolina is also derived). It certainly seems to indicate top quality ingredients so it fits well with 7Marvels traditions.
The simnel cake is associated with Easter but also with Mother’s Day (Mothering Sunday). At one time, Mothering Sunday was also called Simnel Sunday because it was this cake that girls in service (maids) would take to their mother on their annual visit home. It would have been most welcome, as Mothering Sunday has yet another name, Refreshment Sunday, because it was when the church allowed you to take a break from Lenten fasting. The cake’s ingredients would have tasted decidedly rich and delicious compared to the very plain food allowed during Lent.
I hope this has whetted your appetite and piqued your curiosity enough to try simnel cake this Easter. If so, have a look at the 7Marvels website for our mouth-watering version, as well as many other delicious cakes to celebrate Easter with.