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13 November 2014

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You are in: Shropshire > Features > General Features > A Shropshire tradition that's spread around the world

Jan Bailey with her simnel cake.

A Shropshire tradition that's spread around the world

The simnel cake is one of those lovely English traditions that make the rest of the world look at us a bit strangely. In earlier times a simnel cake would have been taken home by a girl in service when she visited her mother on Mothering Sunday.

Once a tradition for Mothering Sunday or mid-Lent, the simnel cake is now eaten at Easter.

There are many recipes for simnel cake, and the dictionary describes it in a way that bears little resemblance to the version we are familiar with now.

The idea was that a girl who hadn't seen her mother in six months - since the last hiring fair - would be allowed to take home a cake made of whatever ingredients were available.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there was 'a kind of bread or bun made of fine flour and prepared by boiling, sometimes with subsequent baking' or 'a thick copped Cake, or Loaf made of white Bread, Knodden up with Saffron and Currans' or 'a plumb-cake having a raised crust for the exterior'.

In Jersey, a simnel was 'a kind of thin biscuit made of the finest wheaten flour and water.'

But now, probably the best known recipe for a simnel cake is the Shrewsbury recipe. We thought as far as baking is concerned, we couldn't do better than to ask the WI.

Jan Bailey's simnel cake.

Jan Bailey of Shawbury makes a simnel cake every year. Here's her recipe.

Shrewsbury Simnel Cake

Ingredients for a 6 inch cake tin:

  • 3oz butter or margarine
  • 3oz sugar
  • 3oz plain flour
  • milk to mix
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 12oz mixed dried fruit
  • 3oz glacé cherries
  • marzipan - use a large packet - or better still - make your own.
  • apricot jam


  1. Start with the flour, spice and baking powder - sieve them into a bowl.
  2. Work the butter and sugar together.
  3. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar with just enough milk to make a smooth paste.
  4. As you stir in the flour, add the beaten eggs a little at a time.
  5. Mix in the fruit thoroughly.
  6. Roll out the marzipan into two six inch circles (use your baking tin as a guide).
    Keep enough to make the decorations.
  7. Spoon half the mixture into the baking tin, which should be lined.
  8. Level the mixture and place one of the marzipan circles on top.
  9. Smooth the top.
  10. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 150ºC or gas mark 2 for about two hours.
  11. When the cake feels firm to the finger, it's done.
  12. Allow the cake to coo, for a few minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack.
  13. When it's cool, spread a thin layer of apricot jam on top and then place on the second circle of marzipan.

The traditional decoration for the simnel cake is eleven balls of marzipan arranged in a circle. These represent the disciples - omitting Judas.

The cake can be served as it is, or you can glaze the marzipan with egg-white, and a nice touch is to place the cake under the grill until the marzipan just begins to turn brown.

As you can see from the photographs, Jan has trimmed her cake with a yellow ribbon to make it look really stylish.

last updated: 13/11/2008 at 11:38
created: 12/04/2006

You are in: Shropshire > Features > General Features > A Shropshire tradition that's spread around the world

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