A couple of years ago I was asked if I had a recipe for a plant-based, lower fat version of Simnel cake. At that point, I didn’t, but it peaked my interest. For a start, I wasn’t really sure what Simnel cake actually was! But off I went to do some research and started to adapt the recipes I discovered, resulting in a tasty treat which ticks most ‘free from’ needs (except for nut free, as you’ll see why below).
If like me you’re not too sure what Simnel cake is, it’s a fruitcake traditionally served during the Easter holidays. As well as mixed dried fruit, the cake contains a layer of marzipan both within and on top. It can also be decorated with 11 marzipan balls, meant to represent 11 of Jesus’s 12 disciples (Judus being person non grata by this point!).
Marzipan is a key element of the recipe. And as almonds are the main ingredient, it’s hard to make nut-free marzipan. Hard but not impossible as there are recipes for alternatives out there. However, I haven’t tried any of them myself, so I can’t recommend a good alternative at the moment. So if you are nut free, you could make the fruit cake, leave out the marzipan layers and decorate with icing and Spring flowers or Easter chicks. Of course, that’s not Simnel cake, but still pretty tasty!
Aside from the nut-free challenge, this cake can be made:
low added sugar
fully OMS compliant
If you’re not keen on glacé cherries, feel free to leave them out and add extra dried mix fruit. However, they do give an additional dimension of sweetness, so use them if you can, just chop them super fine if the texture makes you feel a bit green.
One ingredient that definitely enhances this yummy cake is lemon rind. The slight bitterness lifts the sweetness and really does make a surprising difference. Lemon rind also contains a range of healthful phytonutrients and essential oils (although the amount added vs. the sugar content means it can’t really be claimed as health food!). Make sure you use an unwaxed lemon though. They may be slightly more expensive, but much better for eating (unless you fancy a bit of wax in your cake 🙁 )
I shared how to make this yummy Simnel cake during one of my live cooking classes last year and it went down a storm. Everyone was very happy with their cakes which were served over the Easter holidays.
I hope you have fun making this yourself. It’s always such a joy to join in with the traditions rather than being left out because it doesn’t fit with your dietary needs. And if you do make this, don’t forget to let me know how you get on.
Vegan Simnel cake
- 2 large bowls
- 18cm round loose-bottomed cake tin
- non-stick baking paper
- Rolling pin
- Easter chicks or flowers to decorate optional
For the cake
- 270 g self-raising flour wholewheat or gluten-free
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 medium lemon rind grated
- pinch salt
- 400 g dried mixed fruit
- 150 g glace cherries
- 250 ml soya milk or oat milk if preferred
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 50 g coconut sugar optional
- 60 ml of olive or organic rapeseed oil or extra dairy free milk
For the marzipan
- 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
- 5 tablespoons water
- 150 g ground almonds
- 50 g coconut sugar or white sugar if you want a lighter marzipan
- 1/2 teaspoon almond essence
Make the marzipan
- Mix the ground flaxseed and 4 tablespoons of water together in a small bowl and put to one side.
- In a large bowl, add the ground almonds and coconut sugar and mix together.
- Pour in the flaxseed mix and almond essence and bring together, first with a spoon and then your hands to form a soft, kneadable dough. If it's dry, add a little more water but take care as it goes sticky very easy.
- Leave to settle for 10 minutes.
Make the cake
- Lightly grease the cake tin with a little oil. Cut out a double layer of non-stick baking paper for the base and the sides and press them into place (the oiled side should help it stay in place). Pre-heat the oven to 170ºC.
- In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, lemon rind and the dried fruit (not the cherries). Stir to combine well.
- Measure the soya milk out into a large jug and add the lemon juice. Leave it for a moment to curdle.
- Rinse the glacé cherries under a running tap then roughly chop.
- Add the coconut sugar, oil or extra dairy-free milk (whichever you're using) and chopped glacé cherries to the curdled soya milk and mix well to combine.
- Grab the ball of marzipan and cut off a 2/5th portion. Place a sheet of non-stick baking paper on the work top and roll out the smaller portion into a circle the same diameter as the cake tin.
- Pour the wet ingredients in the jug into the dry ingredients in the large bowl and quickly mix to combine, scrapping the flour from the bottom of the bowl.
- Spoon half the mix into the base of the prepared cake tin. Gently invert the baking paper with the disc of marzipan over the tin and peel it off to rest on top of the mix.
- Cover the marzipan disc with the remainder of the cake mix. Tap the tin on the work top and transfer it immediately to the oven.
- Bake for 40 minutes then check with a skewer - if it comes out clean the cake is ready.
- Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack. Peel off the baking paper and leave to cool completely.
- Store in an air-tight container. Wrap the unused marzipan in cling film and store in the fridge.
- The next day, remove the marzipan from the fridge. Cut off 1/5th and divide into 11 small balls. Roll out the remaining 2/5th into a round slightly bigger than the cakes diameter.
- Lay the marzipan disc over the top, crimping the edges slightly. Arrange the 11 marzipan balls on the top. Alternatively, use all the marzipan to cover the cake and decorate with mini eggs, Easter chicks or Spring flowers.