Updated: Jun 5, 2020
There are a number of traditions surrounding Easter (not just chocolate eggs 😉) and, just as at Christmas time, cake plays an important part in the traditions of the day. I mentioned a number of these traditions in this post, including a little about the Simnel Cake but I thought it might be interesting to cover this in a bit more detail.
Simnel cakes have been around for a very long time. They used to be boiled and then baked but these days I'm not sure if anyone bothers to boil them any more. The practice did, however, lead to a rather sweet myth about a couple called Simon and Nelly who fell out over how to make the cake. One of them wanted to boil it and the other wanted to bake it. After much verbal and physical abuse they decided to compromise and make a cake that incorporated both ways of cooking. I don't think anyone knows how this myth came about but, like many of the traditions associated with food, it has been passed down over the centuries and has stuck around. That's why there are two halves to a simnel cake, separated by a layer of marzipan. Nobody knows if they then argued about whose cake was on the top and whose was on the bottom 😂
Simnel cakes are often associated with Mothering Sunday as domestic servants were given the day off to go and visit their 'mother church' - the main church or cathedral in the area - usually with their mothers and other family members and they would often make a simnel cake to take with them.
It's not really known where the name came from but there is a reference to "bread made with simnel" in a document from 1226 which is understood to mean "the finest white flour" from the Latin "simila" (fine flour) from which we also get the word "semolina".
Different towns and villages had their own versions of the recipe for simnel cake and, no doubt, still do today but one thing is for sure, simnel cakes have been around for hundreds of years. And no matter what other decorations are on them, they always have a layer of marzipan on the top with eleven balls of the same paste representing the eleven apostles of Jesus, minus Judas, lightly browned under the grill.
Happy Easter everyone! Chag Pesach kasher vesame’ach (I hope I got that right!) if you are celebrating Passover.
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Related: What does Easter mean to you?