Just over half way through Lent we are given a reprieve from the fasting: Refreshment Sunday. This was a time, not only when fasts could be broken, but when those working away from home (think maids in Downton Abbey) were given a weekend off to go home to visit their families, but also their ‘Mother Church’ the church in which they were baptised (Christened). Mothering Sunday is quite a British tradition and quite different from ‘Mother’s Day’ in other countries, the purpose of which is to celebrate mums and to thank them for all they do. Of course this is an important aspect of our Mothering Sunday too, but it was also an important part of the Lenten observations of reconnecting with our spiritual families and backgrounds. A custom of picking posies of wild flowers for mother on the walk back home grew, and we still give posies to our ‘mothers’ in our congregations; also the baking of a cake.
The Simnel cake, a rich fruit cake laced and decorated with marzipan, enabled girls in service to show off the culinary skills they had learned in the Big House. The cake came to be a reminder to keep faithful during the lenten fast for the feast of Easter is on its way. Traditionally decorated with 11 balls of marzipan to represent each of the faithful disciples – Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus, doesn’t get a golden ball! The cake, carefully kept, would keep until the Easter celebrations.
- 250g softened butter
- 250g light muscovado sugar
- 4 eggs
- 300g plain flour
- 1tsp baking powder
- 2tsp ground mixed spice
- 50g ground almonds
- 500g luxury dried mixed fruit
- 1 lemon (zest and juice-2tbsp)
- 500g marzipan
- quince jelly
1. Heat the oven to 150c/gas 2, line the cake tin (8inch) with grease proof paper.
2. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, interspersing with a handful of flour to prevent the mixture from curdling.
4. Add the rest of the flour, baking powder and spice.
5. Fold in the ground almonds, dried fruit and lemon.
6. Spoon half into the tin, and level.
7. Roll out 1/3 of the marzipan into a circle the same size as your cake and lay on top of the mix. Spoon over the remaining mixture and level out.
8. Bake the cake in the centre of the oven for 2 -2 1/4 hours, or until a skewer comes out clean. You may need to cover the top of the cake to prevent it from becoming too ‘suntanned’.
9. Once cooked leave in the tin to cool.
10. Remove the cooled cake from the tin and remove the paper lining.
11. Paint the top of the cake with the quince jelly (traditionally you should use an apricot glaze made with watered down jam warmed through), to act as a ‘glue’.
12. Roll out half the remaining marzipan into a circle as before, then place this on top of the cake.
13. With the remaining marzipan form the 11 faithful ‘disciples’, and ‘glue’ these on top too.
14. Place the whole cake under a hot grill to give a golden edge to the cake.
15. Decorate with a ribbon and give to Mum, or keep in an airtight containing until Easter. Or pop the kettle on, and settle down to a cup of tea and a slice of cake! Happy Mothering Sunday!