Catholic Recipe: Easy Simnel Cake
Laetare Sunday falls in mid-Lent. Once this day was called Refreshment Sunday, or Sunday of the Golden Rose, because on this day the Holy Father blesses the Golden Rose, a beautiful ornament of gold and jewels containing a receptacle holding balsam and powdered musk. The Pope prays that the Church may show forth the fruit of good works and "the perfume of the Flower sprung from the root of Jesse."
Laetare means "rejoice," and we may well rejoice in this break that comes during the long, bleak weeks when altars have been bare of flowers and vestments dark. On this Sunday rose vestments are worn, and flowers adorn the altar.
"Mothering Sunday" is another name for Laetare Sunday, perhaps because it was once the custom to visit the cathedral, or Mother Church, on this day.
Simnel Cake is the traditional sweet served on Mothering Sunday. It was the custom to "go a-mothering" with a gift of simnel cake, a custom that is still observed in many parts of England. The cake probably takes its name from a fine flour called, in Latin, simila. The first simnel cakes were first boiled, then brushed with egg and baked, so that the outer crust was extremely hard and quite inedible. Inside, the cake, tinted yellow with saffron and rich with fruits, was somewhat like a Christmas fruit cake. Modern versions are really elaborate, layered with almond paste, frosted with almond butter icing, and lavishly decorated with roses, leaves, scrolls, and so on, made with tinted decorative frosting put through a pastry tube.
Or you can make a beautiful Simnel Cake with far less effort, using modern convenience foods. It's the decoration that sets the cake apart.
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.
Bake yellow cake mix in two deep 8-inch layer cake pans. When the layers are cool, split them crosswise to make four layers. Now put the layers together with an almond-flavored butter cream frosting. Cover top and sides with a fluffy white frosting made with a packaged mix, keeping it smooth. Then, with the pastel tinted frostings that come in pressurized cans equipped with 4 interchangeable tips, decorate the top and sides with flowers, leaves, and ribbons in a pattern of your own making.Recipe Source: Cook's Blessings, The by Demetria Taylor, Random House, New York, 1965