In this quiet way, the first fortnight of her visit soon passed away. Easter was approaching, and the week preceding it was to bring an addition to the family at Rosings, which in so small a circle must be important.
-Pride and Prejudice
Simnel cake is a light fruit cake, similar to a Christmas cake, covered in marzipan, and eaten at Easter in England and Ireland. A layer of marzipan or almond paste is also baked into the middle of the cake. On the top of the cake, around the edge, are eleven marzipan balls to represent the true apostles of Jesus; Judas is omitted. In some variations Christ is also represented, by a ball placed at the center.
The cake is made from these ingredients: white flour, sugar, butter, eggs, fragrant spices, dried fruits, zest and candied peel.The French version of this cake is more of a Bun or muffin size and decortaed with sugar crosses on top. These were their equivalent of the English Hot Cross Bun.
Simnel cakes have been known since medieval times, and were originally a Mothering Sunday tradition, when young girls in service would make one to be taken home to their mothers on their day off. The word simnel probably derived from the Latin word simila, meaning fine, wheaten flour with which the cakes were made. A popular legend, however, attributes the cake’s creation to the English pretender Lambert Simnel, who according to legend devised it during the time in which he was forced to work in Henry VII’s kitchens.
Different towns had their own recipes and shapes of the Simnel cake. Bury, Devizes and Shrewsbury produced large numbers to their own recipes, but it is the Shrewsbury version that became most popular and well known.
Simnel Cake: A History
It is an old custom in Shropshire and Herefordshire, and especially at Shrewsbury, to make during Lent and Easter, and also at Christmas, a sort of rich and expensive cakes, which are called Simnel Cakes. They are raised cakes, the crust of which is made of fine flour and water, with sufficient saffron to give it a deep yellow colour, and the interior is filled with the materials of a very rich plum-cake, with plenty of candied lemon peel, and other good things. They are made up very stiff; tied up in a cloth, and boiled for several hours, after which they are brushed over with egg, and then baked. When ready for sale the crust is as hard as if made of wood, a circumstance which has given rise to various stories of the manner in which they have at times been treated by persons to whom they were sent as presents, and who had never seen one before, one ordering his simnel to be boiled to soften it, and a lady taking hers for a footstool. They are made of different sizes, and, as may be supposed from the ingredients, are rather expensive, some large ones selling for as much as half-a-guinea, or even, we believe, a guinea, while smaller ones may be had for half-a-crown. Their form, which as well as the ornamentation is nearly uniform, will be best understood by the accompanying engraving, representing largo and small cakes as now on sale in Shrewsbury.
Chambers’ Book of Days, Robert Chambers (1802-1871)
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Historical information from Wikipedia.com