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This Gluten-Free Simnel Cake is a traditional Easter fruit cake decorated with marzipan balls to represent the apostles. This deliciously modern version has been lightened up and baked in a beautiful bundt tin.
What is Simnel Cake?
Simnel Cake is a light fruit cake, synonymous with Easter. Crammed with marzipan, dried fruit and spices. Simnel Cakes have been baked since medieval times to celebrate the end of Lent fasting. Although Wikipedia says that they were originally baked during Lent to break up the fasting.
It’s also interesting that they were adopted for a time by Mothering Sunday as they were a constant presence in our house during Easter due to my Mum’s love of them. My Auntie Lil would dutifully make her one every year. It would reside comfortably in our larder, pecked at over a couple of weeks. Traditional Simnel Cakes can keep for a while but this lighter version has a shorter shelf life.
What does a Simnel Cake represent?
Simnel Cakes are instantly recognisable due to the eleven balls of marzipan perched symbolically around the edge of the cake like a confectionary crown. These marzipan balls represent the eleven aspostles, Judas is NFI for obvious reasons.
Growing up I was not a fan of Mum’s Simnel Cake. Auntie Lil would innocently decorate and colour the marzipan balls to bear a striking resemblance to Cadbury Mini Eggs. It left me terribly scarred which led me to eschew all Simnel Cakes until adulthood. When you are expecting chocolate and are met with marzipan the experience can leave a child feeling more than a little cheated.
Why is Simnel Cake called Simnel?
Well, now this is ironic. The Simnel Cake is called as such because the latin name for white flour is ‘simila’ and that is what was traditionally used to bake the cake. Not this cake my friend. We have used alternative gluten-free flours, only a couple of which are white.
Modernising a Simnel Cake
It must be said that my version of a Simnel Cake has been modernised a little. The intention, taste and celebratory feel is still present but this version is lighter. It also feels more celebratory baked in the beautiful bundt tin.
You often find Simnel Cakes to have a thick layer of marzipan in the centre of the cake as well as draped over the top. Instead we are following Delia’s example and dicing up our marzipan to be dispersed throughout the cake which isn’t so heavy hitting.
Baker's Tip: Try using Homemade Marzipan. The switch from ready-made will transform your Simnel Cake immeasurably. The Homemade Marzipan almost melts into the centre of the cake which is utterly delicious. Plus I guarantee those marzipan balls will be fought over instead of instantly discarded.
Instead of the blanket of marzipan on the surface of the cake we are using a simple lemon icing, spiked with a little almond extract as a nod to the original.
Lightened Up Fruitcake
We are adding buttermilk to our cake batter here which makes for an amazingly moist, light and tangy fruitcake. A lovely contrast with the jewelled fruits.
Baker's Tip: If you don’t have buttermilk then you can use 350ml whole milk + 1½ tbsp. lemon juice. Whisk together then let sit for five minutes before adding to your cake batter.
Obviously the use of alternative flours is not traditional but their presence is completely undetectable. Here we use:
- Sweet Rice Flour for its light neutral taste, we don’t want it to interfere with everything that’s going on. Plus it gives the cake bounce and binding power.
- Oat Flour for its tender crumb and lightness. Swap with sorghum flour if you can’t digest oats.
- Potato Flour for its hydroscopic tendencies. It helps absorb excess moisture and gives lightness.
Bundt Tin. This Simnel Cake is baked in a bundt tin for a further celebratory feel. The marzipan balls then sit happily atop like an Easter garland.
We are keeping things traditional with the choice of add-ins:
- natural marzipan
- glacé cherries
- mixed peel
- I urge you wherever possible to try making homemade versions of these add-ins. There are recipes for the Homemade Marzipan, Homemade Glacé Cherries and Homemade Mixed Peel on this site. I guarantee you will notice the difference.
- Ideally the add-ins should be evenly dispersed throughout the cake. Stir them in a little oat flour to coat before adding them into the batter and it should stop them from sinking.
How do you make Gluten-Free Simnel Cake?
- Cream the butter with the sugars and citrus zest until light and fluffy.
- Eggs. Add them in one at a time.
- Flours. Whisk the dry ingredients with the flour.
- Buttermilk. Add the flour alternately with the buttermilk.
- Add-ins. Finally stir in all the add-ins.
- Bake for 75 minutes in a moderate oven.
- Ice with a simple icing sugar + lemon icing.
- Decorate with the marzipan balls.
How long does Gluten-Free Simnel Cake last for?
This Gluten-Free Simnel Cake won’t be as long lasting as a traditional Simnel Cake but it can certainly be kept for up to a week. Store in an airtight tin in a cool dark place. However, if you are using Homemade Marzipan balls then they should be eaten within three days due to the raw egg in the dough.
Shop the Recipe
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If you make this Gluten-Free Simnel Cake then please leave a comment below and give the recipe a rating which helps others find the recipe on Google. If you then go on to use this recipe as a launch pad for your own baking creation then I’d also love it if you’d share it and tag me on Instagram. It is so lovely for me to see your versions and variations of my recipes.
Gluten-Free Simnel Cake
- 225 g dark brown muscovado sugar
- 175 g light soft brown sugar
- Zest of 1 orange
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 175 g unsalted butter - room temperature
- 4 eggs - medium-sized
- 175 g sweet rice flour
- 175 g oat flour + 2 tablespoons for coating add-ins
- 50 g potato flour
- 125 g ground almonds
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1½ teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tablespoon ground mixed spice
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 350 ml buttermilk
- 150 g natural marzipan - diced
- 100 g glacé cherries - diced
- 125 g sultanas
- 125 g currants
- 50 g mixed peel
- 200 g icing sugar
- Juice of 1 lemon
- ¼ teaspoon almond extract
- 275 g natural marzipan
- 2.4 litres bundt tin - 10 cups
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/160°C /gas 4 and grease your bundt tin with spray oil.
- Beat the sugars together with the orange and lemon zest until fragrant.
- Add the butter, a cube at a time so it creams with the sugar. Continue to beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides every so often.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract.
- Sift the flours in a separate mixing bowl with the almonds, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, mixed spice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.
- Add the flour mixture into the rest of the batter, alternately with the buttermilk, one third at a time until just combined.
- Mix the marzipan, glace cherries, sultanas, currants and mixed peel together in a separate bowl then mix in the extra oat flour to coat. Stir the add-ins into the cake batter until evenly dispersed.
- Pour the cake batter into the bundt tin and bake for about 75 minutes or until an inserted cocktail stick is removed clean. Check the cake at 30 minutes and cover loosely with foil if the cake is browning too much.
- Remove from the oven, and leave for 5-10 minutes to rest in the tin before carefully turning out to finish cooling on a wire rack.
- Mix the icing sugar with the lemon juice a little at a time until smooth and thick but just pourable.
- Stir in the almond extract.
- Spoon the icing over the top of the cake.
- Weigh out eleven 25g pieces of marzipan.
- Roll each marzipan piece between the palms of your hands into the shape of small eggs.
- Place the eleven marzipan eggs around the top of the cake.