Simnel cake is a light fruitcake eaten during the pre-Easter period in the United Kingdom. It is distinguished by two layers of marzipan, one in the middle and one on top. The top layer is capped by a circle of “marzipan balls” made of the same paste, and is lightly browned under a grill.
The Simnel cake is now simply called an Easter cake. Before we all started ordering these for Easter, the cake was mostly associated with Mothering Sunday.
In 17th Century Gloucestershire and Worcestershire the custom of live-in apprentices and domestic servants going home to visit their mothers on Mothering Sunday started, checking that their families were well and taking food or money if needed. This was a time of year when food stocks were low, and the high-calorie simnel cake was useful nutrition.
Conventionally eleven marzipan balls are used to decorate the cake, with the story that the balls represent the twelve apostles, minus Judas. You will notice a gap in the marzipan balls which signifies the space of Judas.