Bury Simnel Cake (Mothers Day)

Food tradition - Mothering Sunday: The Simnel Cake is one of the oldest English sweet breads. Now more usually linked with Easter it was traditionally baked by the children of the family for Mothering Sunday. Mothering Sunday, or Mid-Lent Sunday falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent and is also know as Refreshment Sunday as the fasting rules were relaxed for the day. Traditionally, it was a day when working children, especially girls in domestic service, were given the day off to visit their homes and families. Its origins are probably pre-Christian and the name may be derived from the Roman white flour called simila.

Originally, Simnel Cake was a rather heavy boiled cake that was coated in a flour and water paste and baked until very hard. Indeed there are stories of people using them for years as footstools! Nowadays, Simnel Cakes are the familiar fruit cake with a layer of marzipan in the centre and on the top. Usually decorated with sugared primroses for Mothering Sunday and with eleven marzipan balls and a candle for Easter. The candle represents the ‘light of Christ’ and the eleven marzipan balls represent the Apostles (for obvious reasons Judas is not included). Modern Simnel Cakes are based on the ‘Shrewsbury’ recipe. The recipe I am using is for ‘Bury Simnel Cake’, which is closer to medieval versions of the cake.

Ingredients - Makes 8” (20cm) approx cake

8oz (225g) plain flour ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon baking powder ¾oz (20g) chopped candied peel *
2 tablespoons butter 1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons lard A few: glace cherries and halved walnuts
6 tablespoons caster sugar ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
10oz (275g) dried currants, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes and drained

* I recommend buying the pieces of whole candied peel available in many shops and chopping it yourself. It is far softer and much tastier than the tubs of ready cut peel, which can be very hard.


  1. Rub the butter and lard into the flour until it resemble breadcrumbs.
  2. Add the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, currants and chopped candied peel and mix well.
  3. Add the egg, and mix all of the ingredients into a stiff dough, adding a little milk if necessary.
  4. Form the dough into a round, flat cake, approx 8” (20cm) round and 1” (25mm) deep and place it on a baking tray covered with baking parchment.
  5. Decorate the cake with the nuts and cherries, and bake in a preheated 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 oven for 35 - 40 minutes, or until golden brown.

The resulting “cake” has the consistency of an oatmeal flapjack. Imagine the dismay of my Official Taster when he came in from gardening to try a piece. When I mentioned Simnel Cake he automatically thought “marzipan”. A favourite of his. But he soon tucked into this recipe!

For purely medical reasons I had to dip into the Smoking Bishop. Purely to ease a sore throat you understand. I can highly recommend it.


bury simnel cake (Mothers Day)