Simnel Cake Danielle unrau

A Catholic Easter Tradition

Setting the Table

A simnel cake is a food, often made during Easter or Lent by Catholics, that is made with sugar, flour, butter, eggs, various spices, dried fruit, and zest. The top of the cake is covered with almond paste and decorated with marzipan balls, typically eleven of them to represent Jesus’ disciples. They are represented in this cake because as the families share this cake with each other, Jesus did the same with his disciples during the last supper. The simnel cake comes from early British traditions where it started as a bread made from high-quality flour. As time went on, the dough was replaced with batter making it look more like a cake. (British Food, 2018) The simnel cake was significant in early times as children, usually young girls, would bring the simnel cake to their mothers on the “Mothering Day”. This day is the fourth Sunday of Lent. Families would reunite on these days after all the hard work they had done to spend time together. (British Food, 2018) I think family was the most important aspect during this time because people were expected to give things up to resemble the sacrifice that Jesus made for them. Though they gave up smaller things, their family remained close to them. Catholic families were strict on their beliefs, and most of the time would rely on times like this to strengthen their close-knit bonds with each other.

What attracted me to this dish was that I am part of this particular religion, though I have never heard of or eaten a simnel cake. I wanted to learn more about the history of my own religion and how people used to celebrate their families and Easter. With this dish, I anticipate a few problems. I am not particularly advanced in the kitchen, so that is going to be my biggest problem. I could burn the cake, measure improperly, or it could look unappealing when the job is all finished. My next problem is going to be getting people to eat it when my final project is complete. I am expecting to get help from my mother with this project because she tends to be a great baker and probably has everything, or nearly everything, I need to complete this project. I am excited to see how it turns out.

Nutrition Facts

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)

Another story of the simnel cake that arose along the way was the story of Simon and Nell. During Lent, Nell had leftover dough of leavened bread. Her husband, Simon, reminded her that there was also leftover plum pudding from Christmas. Nell, who didn’t want to waste anything, decided to make a cake for their children out of the two. Then, Simon thought he should mold the cake and Nell thought it needed to be boiled. They argued about the baking method. This argument resulted in a baking stool being thrown at Simon, and that the cake should be boiled and baked. From this point, it is said that the cake was known as the simnel cake. (Miss Food Wise, 2014)

Another story that is told in relation to the simnel cake is the idea of the mothering Sunday. Girls working as servants were given a day off, usually on the same day, to visit their mothers and/or bring her a gift. Mothering Sunday is often known as Simnel Sunday because of the tradition that servant girls would bring their mothers a simnel cake on this day as a gift (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.

When it comes to a person’s well-being, they don’t usually consider sweets as a part of having good health. Often time, people think of vegetables and fruits when they think of their physical well-being. I would relate this idea to the simnel cake by stating that the cake is fruit cake and has a few nutritional values. Although the cake generally has 34 grams of sugar, there are 44 grams of protein which is good for energy (Fitness Pal). Besides the nutrition facts of the simnel cake, other benefits to a person’s well-being include that practicing their own religion could allow a person to be at peace with themselves.

The social justice aspect of simnel cake is that it’s a privilege and an opportunity of society to be able to purchase and make things like cake. In some societies, things are different. People may not be allowed to practice their own religious freedoms the way we are. Also, if a person that celebrates Easter has a family member that isn’t religious, the simnel cake doesn’t have any religious curse, ceremony, or religious act with it so people can eat it without having any religious connections.

Environmental justice relates to simnel cake because if the ingredients that are in it. Things like flour, eggs, milk, and fruit are derived from the environment directly and we would not be able to obtain these things so easily if it weren’t for the people that harvest them. Farmers and production facilities play a big role in our makings of this cake and all of our foods. There is also environmental justice within the people that make the simnel cake. Anyone anywhere can make this even if they aren’t religious. Since Christianity is an extremely widespread religion, people of multiple races and ethnicities can celebrate Easter by making a simnel cake and enjoying it with their family.

Simnel cake gives people the right to practice their religious freedom. Religious freedom is a privilege that we, as Americans, have in reference to our practices. We are allowed to celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter however we see fit and Christians use simnel cake to resemble a story of Jesus. Often times, people who are able to practice their own beliefs at their own leisure are presented with more happiness and less stress. Sometimes people create symbols for a meaning in their life and the creation of the simnel cake was a symbol of the story of Jesus and his disciples.

Kitchen Time

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.

The middle of the cake was to be punctuated with a thin layer of almond paste. This is the reason for only adding half of the batter. It is nearly impossible to get almond paste to be truly thin. It seemed like I rolled the paste for an hour. My muscles ached and it still didn’t seem thin enough for the cake but I cut a circle out of it and laid it over the batter. Another thin layer had to lay on the top still, although, I had my mom do this one for me. I then added the other half of the batter to the cake tin. I was thankful for her help because she was more experienced in using a rolling pin than I was. My mom did her layer much faster than I did mine initially. She definitely deserves recognition for her handy kitchen knowledge!

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!


The ethics of s simnel cake are probably not often discussed. Though not all issues are pressing, they are still characterized as problems with the dish. Some topics to consider when discussing these issues are well-being, environmental justice, social justice, and religious freedom.

The wellbeing of a person should always be considered when consuming foods. In the making of the simnel cake there is unhealthy aspects such as sugar and an excess of butter. Butter is known to have a high number of calories which can cause weight gain in people who don’t monitor their intake. As a concrete example, butter may cause an increase in cholesterol which clogs arteries (Medical News, 2018). Clogged arteries can then lead to heart attack which can be fatal. Sugar is also detrimental to the heart. Too much sugar increases the risk for heart disease. This disease can also cause a heart attack or a stroke. Even though the simnel cake is a fruit cake, overall, it is not a healthy choice if a person is watching their diet. Allergies should also always be monitored and consider in the diet. The allergies in this cake may be almond and/or cinnamon.

It is easy to forget about people of less fortunate families and countries when thinking about our work in the kitchen but environmental justice includes the involvement of everyone. In third world countries, and even in America, some families are unable to make desserts and religious dishes like the simnel cake simply because they do not have the resources to do so. Some products are harder to access in different places, including electricity and even an oven that burns warm enough to bake the cake. Some ovens may be run on fossil fuels for electricity and fossil fuel are harder to access in certain areas of the world, not to mention these fuels are running low. I think environmental justice is an important factor to consider when discussing the ethics of making a simnel cake.

The factor of social justice in the making of this cake is one that plays a big role for people in poverty. When shopping for this cake, it costed me twenty-five dollars to obtain all ingredients, some of which I already had at home. As mentioned before, people may not have access to the things needed to make this cake and sometimes, it’s for economic reasons. When some families cannot afford to buy groceries, they will not waste their money on ingredients to make a simnel cake. In third world countries, twenty-five dollars will get a family pretty far as far as food goes but not a simnel cake (Simple Dollar, 2017). Families in poverty may never get to taste this cake, even if their religion goes along with it. Also, the utensils that this cake calls for are complicated. I needed a round pan, whisk, spatula, rolling pin, cutting board, and a mixing bowl. These utensils are not always found in the kitchens of people who are less fortunate. Social justice concerns everyone and their economic situation and it is important to consider just how fortunate some families are.

Religious freedom concerns many people. There is an obvious issue with the simnel cake being religious, not everyone is Christian. Besides this, there are a few other concerns pertaining to religious freedom and the cake. Jains will not be able to eat this cake because it contains egg and they don’t consume animal products. On the other hand, if a person would follow kosher rules, they could eat the cake, but they wouldn’t be able to eat meat until hours of eating this dessert (Greenburg). At that point, they could have had something else! A simnel cake is not the right dessert for every person, but it is a good one for Christians and/or followers of Jesus.

The Finished Product

Just Desserts

After making the Simnel cake, I have a different relationship with it. I really didn’t know about the cake before I did any research about it. I have realized that it is part of my religion for some people to make this dish every Easter for their families. I have learned about the background of this dish as it is something I didn't know before. I probably won't continue to make this dish because my family and I didn't like the taste, but the experience was something different for me. While I followed the recipe, it made various points about how it is connected to the Christian religion. I believe I chose the dish because the picture I saw of the Simnel cake made it look really good, and it was part of my own religion. This is ironic because everyone who tasted my cake said they weren’t fond of it. The dish taught me that Christian food can be ordinary food but with a religious connection. For example my cake had specifically eleven almond paste balls to resemble a story from the bible. The food I ordinarily eat could be made into religious dishes if I made the connection, but I don’t typically think of my food this way. Before the research I did, I never would have made a religious connection to the simnel cake. I would say that the religious connection refers to the followers of Jesus. On Easter, were able to celebrate his resurrection as his followers as well.


“Simnel Cake.” British Food: A History, 19 Mar. 2018, britishfoodhistory.com/2018/03/19/simnel-cake/.

“253.” Myfitnesspal, www.myfitnesspal.com/food/calories/by-sainsburys-easter-simnel-cake-489453101.

Regula, et al. “Of Simon, Nell and Simnel Cakes.” Miss Foodwise, 18 Oct. 2015, www.missfoodwise.com/2014/03/of-simon-nell-and-simnel-cakes.html/.

Cloake, Felicity. “How to Cook the Perfect Simnel Cake.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 26 Mar. 2015, www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/mar/26/how-to-cook-the-perfect-sinmel-cake.

Cadman, Bethany. “Butter and Cholesterol: What You Need to Know.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321990.php.

“Don't Eat Out as Often (188/365).” The Simple Dollar, 18 Oct. 2017, www.thesimpledollar.com/dont-eat-out-as-often-188365/.

Greenburg. Food Laws and Practices. moodle.morningside.edu/pluginfile.php/778087/mod_resource/content/4/Greenberg, Food- Laws and Practices.pdf.

Created By
Danielle Unrau


https://www.bbc.com/food/recipes/simnelcake_792 https://thelivingstonpost.com/no-easter-joy-without-the-cross-a-truth-more-relevant-than-ever/

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