The simnel cake dates all the way back to mediaeval times in Britain. The tradition started as a bread so it really wasn’t something we would consider a cake until later in the 19th century. The name simnel is derived from the word ‘simila’ which means “the finest of white flours” in Latin. The four that the bread was made out of was of high quality and this was what gave the bread its significance during this time. This tradition continued to the seventeenth century where the bread dough was replaced with a batter that was boiled, like pudding. When the batter was cooked, it would form a crust and resembled the Scottish black bun. Prior to cooking, the bun was glazed over with an egg mixture, and wrapped with pastry. Finally, in the nineteenth and twentieth century, the simnel cake begins to resemble the cake that we know today. (Miss Food Wise, 2014)
Today, the simnel cake amounts to this: a light fruit cake that is accented by almond paste coatings in the middle and on top, and eleven marzipan balls that reside on top. Sometimes, bakers use a raising agent that allows the cake to be lighter. (The Guardian, 2015) The perfect simnel cake contains many nonreligious ingredients, but the message of this Easter desert still reins; it is a representation of Jesus and his disciples. Though the cake doesn’t appear on tables as often as it used to, it is still a part of the Christian history and tradition.
As I began the process of making my own simnel cake, I realized it was going to take significantly longer than I had originally thought it would. The recipe said that it would take two and a half hours, but after I took the time to measure all my ingredients prior to making the cake, half an hour had gone by already. Although I already knew that box-cake was much farther within my limits, this is when I learned how time-consuming kitchen time really is.
Measuring the ingredients was actually the least time consuming of the whole cake. The next thing I did was begin to mix the ingredients. I tried to hand-mix the butter and sugar, gradually adding eggs and flour. It was hard for me to get the consistency right as the un-melted butter made the mixture look clumpy so I stirred until the clumps were mostly gone which felt like an eternity. Next, I was supposed to add mixed spices, but instead I added cinnamon for a more familiar flavor. As soon as I mixed it in, I thought to myself that this cake was going to be a good one because it made our kitchen smell like the cinnamon rolls my father makes on Sunday mornings. I am well aware that you are not supposed to eat batter with raw eggs, but I had little discipline in that moment, and I did anyway. I was quite impressed with the taste of the batter. From here, I added in the dried fruits and zest that the recipe called for and added half of the batter to the baking dish.
Originally, I put the batter into a cheesecake round (these are not sealed tightly around the bottom) thinking it would be okay if the batter was going to become spongey, but I was wrong. After about 15 minutes of being in the oven, a little bit of the batter seeped through the bottom and I had to take it out of the oven. My mother suggested I bake it in a glass pie pan instead, so that’s exactly what I did. It was her idea to slip the bottom out from under the cheesecake round, and let it set in the pie pan. I unbuckled the cheesecake tin, plopped my cake into the glass pan, and placed it back into the oven. Even though she doesn’t always bake, my mother was a big help while making this cake. I have no experience in the kitchen, and she learned so much from her mom that she’s able to apply it when she needs the knowledge (like when I am trying to bake).
The cake had to bake for two hours. I was not prepared for this to take as long as it did and my family had to put off supper for an extra hour. When the cake was complete, I topped it off with apricot jam and eleven marzipan balls and I cut it for my hungry family to try. My family is not a fan of fruit cake, so they were not fond of my cake. I’m not completely sure how it was supposed to taste, but I’m confident that I succeeded even though my family didn’t enjoy it. My mother is a health nut, so I knew she was going to have an opinion about it in the first place since it smelled like cinnamon. The texture was dense. Usually when I think of cake, I expect light and fluffy with smooth frosting but the simnel cake was quite different. Its batter was thick, and the “frosting” was sugary and thick as well. The smell of cinnamon and almond filled the room when I placed it on the table. My family and I agreed that the cake was not the worst, but would be better without dried fruit. Mostly, the taste was cinnamon-like, but as soon as I bit into a piece of fruit, that all I could taste!