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Simnel Cake for Laetare Sunday

Make a traditional Simnel cake for Laetare Sunday!

Traditionally, in England, they eat Simnel cakes (special rich fruitcakes) on this day. Simnel Cake is a rich cake filled with spices and dried fruits and decorated with marzipan. The cake is decorated with eleven marzipan balls representing the eleven faithful apostles (excluding Judas). 

Simnel Cake


  • ½ cup candied cherries ( I used maraschino cherries)

  • 3½ cups mixed dried fruit ( I bought bags of dried apricots, raisins, dates and prunes and combined them)

  • 12 tablespoons soft unsalted butter

  • 1 cup superfine sugar

  • zest of 1 lemon

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger

  • ¼ cup almond meal

  • 3 large eggs

  • 2 tablespoons milk

  • 2½ pounds of marzipan to decorate (recipe for marzipan at the bottom of the page)

  • confectioners’ sugar for rolling

  • 1 tablespoon apricot jam (melted)

  • 1 egg white (optional)


Take everything you need out of the fridge so it can get to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform cake tin with a double layer of brown baking paper. Chop the cherries very finely and add them to the rest of the fruit.

Cream the butter and sugar until very soft and light, and add the lemon zest. You could do this by hand, just with a bowl and wooden spoon, but I own up to using my freestanding mixer here. But it’s not crucial, not least because the intention with fruit cakes is not to whip air into them. Measure the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and ground almonds into a bowl and stir to combine.

Add one of the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar with two tablespoons of the dry flour-and-spice ingredients. Then, beat in the remaining eggs in the same way. Beat in the rest of the dry ingredients and then the milk. Finally, fold in the fruit.

Dust a surface with a little icing sugar, then roll out about 14oz of the marzipan. Cut it into an 8-inch circle, which will fit in the middle of the cake later. Spoon half of the fruit cake mixture into the cake tin, smoothing it down with a rubber spatula, and then lay the marzipan circle on top of it. Spoon the rest of the mixture into the tin on top of the marzipan circle and smooth the top again. Bake for half an hour and then turn the oven down to 300°F for another 1½ hours or until the cake has risen and is firm on top. Let it cool completely on a rack before you spring it open.

Unspring the cooled fruit cake and unwrap the lining. Roll out another 14-oz circle of marzipan, paint the top of the cake with the melted apricot jam, and then stick it on.

Make 11 apostle balls out of the remaining marzipan, roughly 1 inch in size. Beat the egg white just till it’s a bit frothy and loosened up a little, no more, and use that as glue to stick the apostles around the edge of the cake.

Now for the part I love (but you can ignore it altogether). Paint the whole cake with egg white, then blow-torch the marzipan so it scorches slightly, giving a beauteously burnished look.

Recipe from Nigella Lawson.

Homemade Marzipan

This recipe makes about 5 ounces of marzipan. I tripled it and had enough for the Simnel Cake.


  • 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp blanched almond flour 

  • 9 tbsp powdered sugar 

  • 1 1/2 tbsp water 

  • 1/4-1/2 tsp almond extract 


First, process the almond flour and powdered sugar in a food processor. Add the water and almond extract and pulse a couple of times until the dough holds together and forms a ball. If the dough is too dry and doesn’t hold together, add a tiny bit more water. Make sure to add just a little until a thick dough is formed. If it’s too sticky and wet, add more almond flour. Take out the marzipan ball and knead it on a clean surface for about 30 seconds. You can now shape it into a log, wrap it in cling wrap, and refrigerate it. It will firm up slightly in the refrigerator.

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