Catholic Culture Podcasts
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Catholic Recipe: Simnel Cake V


  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) sweet butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups currants, lightly tossed with flour
  • 1/2 cup mixed candied fruit peel, lightly tossed with flour
  • About 2 cups almond paste, homemade (see below) or store-bought
  • flavoring for almond paste (optional, see below)
  • Glacéed cherries (optional) 

    Almond Paste:

  • 1 cup finely ground blanched almonds
  • 1 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 egg, separated; beat the yolk and the white lightly
  • Optional flavorings:
  • 1-3 teaspoons brandy or rum
  • a few drops almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


Yield: 1 8 or 10 inch round cake

Prep Time: 3 hours

Difficulty:  ★★★☆

Cost:  ★★★☆

For Ages: 11+

Origin: England


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Also Called: Shrewsbury Simnel Cake

There are many recipes for Simnel Cakes. Here is a description of how one kind, from Shrewsbury, was made.

They are raised cakes, the crust of which is made of fine flour and water, with sufficient saffron to give it a deep yellow color, and the interior is filled with the material of a very rich plum cake, with plenty of candied lemon peel and other good things. They are made up very stiff, and boiled for several hours, after which they are brushed over with egg, and then baked. When ready for sale, the crust is as hard as if made of wood.

I'm not quite sure I'm ready for that cake but here is a traditional recipe that, with its almond paste layer and topping, makes a delicious and unusual light fruitcake. I hope that you—and your mother—will agree.

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.


Preheat oven to 350° F. In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly after each addition. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt. Blend the flour gradually into the butter-sugar mixture. Stir in the currants and candied fruit peel and mix lightly but thoroughly.

Grease an 8-to-10-inch round cake pan and line with greased parchment or waxed paper. Pour in half of the batter.

Roll out half of the almond paste to the same diameter as the cake pan and lay it on top of the batter. Then pour on the remaining batter. Smooth out the surface of the cake.

Bake at 350° F. for about 1 hour and a quarter, or until the cake pulls away slightly from the sides of the pan.

Roll out the remaining almond paste to the same diameter as the pan and lay it on top of the cake. If you like, make patterns on it with the tines of a fork. Return the cake to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the almond paste melts a little into the cake.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then remove it carefully to a rack. If you wish, you can decorate the top of the cake, while it is still somewhat warm, with glacéed cherries.

Combine the almonds and sugar, blending well with a fork. Mix in the egg yolk. Add just enough of the flavorings and egg white to form a thick paste. Knead briefly until smooth. If the mixture is too wet, add a little more sugar.


You can vary, increase, decrease, or eliminate the fruits, according to taste—and what you have on hand. If you eliminate the fruits entirely you might wish to flavor the batter with a little cinnamon or allspice (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon) or vanilla extract (about 1 teaspoon).

Recipe Source: Continual Feast, A by Evelyn Birge Vitz, Ignatius Press, San Francisco , 1985