Decorating Simnel Cakes


  1. Make cake(s) following a simnel cake recipe, and including a layer of almond paste (marzipan) through the middle.
  2. Make sure you have enough marzipan – it’s surprising how much you need for the top of the cake plus the balls.
  3. Brush the cake with apricot jam (or home-made jelly in my case) so the marzipan will stick to it.
  4. Use half the marzipan for the top (and possibly sides) of the cake and the other half for the eleven balls (12 disciples minus Judas = 11)
  5. Roll out the marzipan to cover the top (and possibly sides) of the cake
  6. Divide the rest of the marzipan into 11 and roll into balls to go round the edge of the top of the cake
  7. If you like, gently grill the marzipanned cake so the marzipan browns but beware – it burns very quickly so needs watching all the time
  8. Add ‘frill’, eggs, Easter chicks etc.

I made four cakes, for us in Cambridge, to send to Will and Jenny, for Elin and for John P. who always likes a good fruit cake. The two that look like puddings or pies (!!) are for us and W+J.

Preparing the balls for the two larger cakes. Dividing pieces of marzipan into 11 equal sized pieces is slightly less easy than it seems. I have never resorted to using scales even though that would make it more precise. Icing sugar is great for stopping the marzipan from sticking, including as I roll the balls in my palm. It’s surprising how it gets absorbed so there are no puffs or smears of white sugar left on the marzipan.

This is one of the bigger cakes under the grill. I watched each cake carefully and turned them round so the tops of the balls toasted evenly. That’s why there is foil under the cake, to slide it round on the grill pan.

This is what happens under the grill – not actually burnt but well toasted. The foil in the middle of the cake on the right is to stop that one toasting in the middle.

The next thing was to add ‘frills’ made of a plain ribbon (gold or dark blue) with a narrower check yellow ribbon stitched on top to give a spring feel rather than Christmas. It was a bit of a fiddle and the rough and ready cake sides have not allowed the ribbons to lie nice and flat. But never mind!

And here they are pretty much finished. Will and Jenny’s (top left) will have a separate packet of mini eggs in the parcel and ours will get its mini eggs and a small fluffy chick at Easter. I stuck the mini eggs on with small blobs of icing. Intriguingly the sugar shells of the mini eggs on the cake on the right (for John) split soon after I put them on the cake whereas the ones on the bottom middle cake (Elin’s) have not. I’m unenthusiastic about the shocking green ribbon on our cake and we’ll take it off as soon as we start to eat it – the ribbon is easy to handle as it has wire edges (as with florists’ ribbon) which may have swung the decision to use it.

These cakes keep well although the marzipan can get a bit crispy if kept out of a tin for too long.

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