Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Catholic Recipe: Shrewsbury Simnel Cake


  • 1 1/4 sticks butter or margarine
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups mixed dried fruit
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/2 cup cherries
  • 1/2 cup mixed peel
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp mixed spice (pumpkin spice) 

    Almond Paste:

  • 2 cups ground almonds
  • 1 cup icing (confectioners) sugar
  • 1/2 cup castor (table) sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 drops almond essence (extract)
  • 1 beaten egg


Yield: 1 cake

Prep Time: 3 hours

Difficulty:  ★★☆☆

Cost:  ★★★☆

For Ages: 15+

Origin: England


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There are differing views about the origin of Mothering Sunday. Some say that the custom originated in honoring the 'Mother Church' and parishioners travelled to the main church or the cathedral to worship on this day. The other view is that it was a holiday to allow young girls and boys in service at big houses and farms to visit their mothers. This came six months after the main hiring fairs in October. Often the girls were allowed by their employer to make a special cake to take home. This was called Simnel cake and would sometimes be kept by the mother for the Easter celebrations.

The origin of the Simnel cake is recorded in a Shropshire legend. The story is told of Simon and Nell who both wanted to make a cake to give to their mother. Unfortunately they could not agree how to cook the cake. Simon wanted to boil it and Nell wanted to bake it. In the end they decided to do both and produced a rather solid indigestible cake. They probably argued about the name as well and settled on Sim-Nel, and so we have the Simnel cake!

There are several different kinds of Simnel cake. The Devizes Simnel is made in the shape of a star but the Bury Simnel is a flat spiced cake. The best known of all is the Shrewsbury Simnel with a central layer of marzipan in a rich fruit cake.

On November 9, the church celebrates the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, called “mother and head of all the churches of the city and the world.” Since this is the "mother church" this is also a day for simnel cake.


1. Cream the butter and sugar together.

2. Sieve the flour, baking powder and mixed spice together.

3. Beat the eggs and add, one at a time, with a spoonful of the flour, into the butter and sugar mixture.

4. Add all the other ingredients and fold in carefully.

5. Make the almond paste. Mix almonds, icing sugar and castor sugar together. Add lemon juice, almond essence and enough egg to form a fairly dry paste.

6. Cut the almond paste in two and roll out one half to the size of the 8 in./20 cm diameter cake tin.

7. Put half the cake mixture into the greased tin, then place the almond paste layer on top of that before adding the rest of the cake mixture.

8. Bake in oven at 300 degrees for 2-2 1/2 hours. This is difficult to test with a fork to see if the cake is cooked as the almond paste is sticky when hot. Press the cake with a finger; it should be firm.

9. Allow to cool in the tin for a short while before turning out.

10. When cool, decorate with the remaining almond paste. A traditional way is to put 11 balls around the top edge, to represent the Apostles minus Judas, who betrayed Jesus.

Recipe Source: Feasting for Festivals by Jan Wilson, Lion Publishing Corporation, Batavia, Illinois, 1990