Orange Simnel Cake is my version of the traditional cake without any dried fruit and with a lovely orange flavour, made especially for my mum.
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Simnel Cake was traditionally taken by servant girls to their mothers on Mothering Sunday, which falls three weeks before Easter. It’s usually a fruit cake with a layer of almond paste, or marzipan, in the middle and another on top. It’s decorated with 11 balls of marzipan, one for each disciple – apart from Judas Iscariot, who was persona non grata at this point.
Simnel Cake has become more of a general Easter cake, but I thought I’d make one for my mother at Mothering Sunday this year. She isn’t so keen on dried fruit anymore, so I decided to make a version without any fruit in. Essentially this is a Madeira Cake with lots of orange flavour. I’ve made a 17/18cm cake, which will give 8-10 slices, depending on how hungry (or greedy) you are.
I used orange zest, orange juice and orange extract in this cake but you could just use the extract (2-3 teaspoons) or extra zest. Using extra orange juice would alter the consistency unless the eggs aren’t all large, although a little more isn’t going to make much difference. If you omit the orange juice, add milk instead.
You could make the marzipan or buy it, in which case you need about 1kg. Any leftover can be kept in the fridge for a week or so until needed next, made into shapes like petit fours – or Marzipan Stars – or you could just eat it. I’m going to make some baby Simnel cakes in the next couple of weeks so that will use any excess.
To get the right sized circles for inside and the top of the cake, I put the ball of marzipan on a silicone baking mat, so it won’t stick, and pat with the flat of my hand until it’s about the right size and shape. Then I put a baking parchment circle of the right size on top and use a rolling pin to correct the shape. If you want to be exact, roll the marzipan a bit bigger than the parchment circle and use a knife to cut out the shape but, really, why bother?
I put the cake under the grill to brown the top (after a light eggwash). The marzipan balls browned nicely but the cake top didn’t, so I resorted to my blowtorch – the culinary kind of course. Although apparently, you can use them for small DIY tasks. I keep that fact (and the blowtorch) well hidden to prevent it being hijacked for other purposes. Unfortunately, I got a little impatient and moved the blowtorch too close so there’s a little bit of darker brown on top. Not burning exactly, but not the nice golden brown I wanted.
If you are buying a blowtorch, by the way, I would make sure it has a safety catch so that it can’t be accidentally switched on. The flame wouldn’t come on anyway, but you don’t really want a cupboard full of butane gas.
The grill and/or blowtorch also softens up the marzipan, so leave it in a cool place for a while before serving – or just forget about browning it altogether!
A quick note about baking powder, if you’re interested. This sort of cake needs less baking powder than a Victoria Sandwich, so using the all-in-one method to make it without extra BP is fine.
An Orange Simnel Cake will keep well for a couple of weeks in an airtight container in a cool place. I often put cakes like this in the fridge and they really stay very fresh. Actually, this one has been sitting in my conservatory, which is as cold as the fridge at the moment – outside it’s -3 and falling (and snowing). My hope now is that the weather improves enough for me to get to my mum’s before Mothering Sunday or I’ll just have to eat the cake myself. Oh well!
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Orange Simnel Cake is a plain orange cake with marzipan filling and topping in the tradition of a Simnel Cake. Great for Mothering Sunday or Easter.
You will need:
For a 17 or 18 cm (7-inch) round cake:
- 200g butter at room temperature
- 175g caster sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 200g self-raising flour
- 75g ground almonds
- Zest of 1/2 large orange
- Juice of 1/2 large orange (30ml)
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) orange extract
- 1kg marzipan
- Set the oven to 160°C fan, gas mark 4
- Line the base of the tin with a paper liner
- Grease the tin (if it needs it) with butter paper (or a little butter on kitchen paper)
- Take 2/5 of the marzipan and roll it into a ball in your hands then flatten onto a prepared surface
- Shape into a circle about the size of the tin, using your hands
- Using a baking parchment circle as a template, roll the marzipan to fit. Cut off any excess
- Put the rest of the marzipan in the fridge to keep firm
For the orange simnel cake:
- Put all the ingredients, except the marzipan, in a food processor or mixer and mix until well combined. Scrape down and briefly mix again
- butter, sugar, eggs, flour, ground almonds orange zest and juice, orange extract
- Spoon half the mixture into the cake tin
- Place the marzipan circle over the cake mixture
- Spoon the rest of the cake mixture over the marzipan and smooth, making a slight dip in the centre
- Cook for 1 hour 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean of cake mix
- The marzipan will stick to the skewer, so check carefully
- Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then remove and put on a wire cooling rack
For the topping:
- Using another 2/5 of the marzipan, make a second disc – as before, but cutting the edge more carefully
- Divide the remaining marzipan into 11 and fashion each piece into a ball
- Place the marzipan disc on top of the cake and crimp with your fingers if desired (or if the edges are ragged)
- Using a sharp knife, cut a diamond pattern into the marzipan
- Position each ball around the edge of the cake
- If you want a browned top, lightly brush beaten egg over the marzipan and put under a medium grill for a few minutes
- If your cake has dipped or peaked in the middle when it’s cooked, put a piece of baking parchment or a clean tea towel on a cooling rack and turn the cake upside down as it cools in the tin. When you turn it out of the tin keep it upside down, and by the time it’s cooled the top will usually be flat.
- If your cake top is below the surface of the tin, run a palette knife round the sides to loosen first so that the cake drops
Orange Simnel Cake keeps for at least a week in an airtight container in a cool place
- Category: Teatime
- Method: Bake
- Cuisine: British
Keywords: Easter, fruitcake