This Gluten Free Simnel Traybake offers perfect squares of moist traditional Simnel Cake. A twist on an old Easter favourite, this traybake is ideal for sharing with friends and family… And super-ready as a gluten free bake sale offering. Optional Dairy Free.
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Gluten Free Simnel Traybake twist – All the deliciousness in perfect portions
We’ve done the big Simnel Cake and now it’s time to share my gluten free Simnel Traybake… All the deliciousness of the traditional Easter cake, but cut into perfect portions, ideal for sharing. Actually, I think I may prefer this version to the large round one. Although the base recipe is exactly the same, there is something a little bit special about getting your own flower-decorated square of fruit and marzipan lusciousness.
What is Simnel Cake?
Simnel cake appears to be another peculiarly British treat with a lengthy history. Made to celebrate Easter and also associated with Mothering Sunday, Simnel cake is basically a fruit cake. We Brits do seem to love a fruit cake!
This fruit cake however, is rather special. And if you love marzipan, you’re in for a treat… Because not only is there a wonderful almond marzipan layer on top of the cake, but there’s an extra marzipan surprise hidden inside as well. This would traditionally be a layer of marzipan sandwiched within the fruit sponge… But for this Simnel Traybake, I’ve strategically hidden a decadent marzipan ball in the middle of each square.
As a fruit cake, Simnel sponge is much lighter than its Christmas Cake counterpart. It also generally doesn’t incorporate alcohol into the mix either. But don’t let that stop you… I certainly won’t be judging a decision to bring booze-soaked fruit to the party 😘.
When is a Simnel Traybake better than a big round Simnel Cake?
So, why might you want to make a Simnel Traybake rather than a traditional round cake? It may be a decision that comes down to whether you want a big show-stopper to cut for an audience… Or little show-stoppers that still offer the wow factor but as individual treats.
But… If you need a cake that’s ready to share for a bake sale or party… or to offer to family as individually wrapped Easter treats, the Simnel Traybake is a genius choice. Not only does it take the faff out of trying to cut equal slices while drooling punters wait, but each and every slice is pretty as a picture. And that means that everyone who gets a piece will feel treated like royalty.
Can I make gluten free Simnel Traybake ahead of time?
Although similar, Simnel Cake is not the same as Christmas Cake. And that means that it is not something you make months in advance, knowing that it will still be perfect when eventually unwrapped. It has less fruit and more sponge and no booze to preserve its succulence. And as such, it is best made within a couple of days of the big event for best freshness.
Having said that, I am really picky about wanting food that lasts and doesn’t go to waste because it goes stale. So, I have used a few tricks to make sure my Simnel Traybake is good beyond many of the gluten free recipes that you’ll find out there. And that means that it should stay moist for at least 5 to 7 days, providing it is well-wrapped or carefully stored in a (not over-sized) airtight container.
Freezing Simnel Traybake
Of course, if you want to prepare your Simnel Traybake further ahead, freezing the sponge (before decorating) is fine. Simply bake and freeze whole, but undecorated. Be sure to wrap the sponge tightly in a double layer of clingfilm and then either foil or a freezer-safe bag. Make sure the bag is sealed with the air sucked out to maintain the best freshness.
Providing it is well-wrapped and sealed, the cake should be good for a couple of months in the freezer. You just need to take it out and defrost before trimming and decorating when ready to use.
Do I have to soak the fruit for Simnel Cake?
Absolutely yes! One of the best tricks for keeping a fruity bake moist, is making sure the dried fruit has been well-hydrated before adding to the mix. Not only does this ensure plump, juicy fruit, but it means that the fruit won’t suck all the moisture out of the sponge batter when it bakes. Win win!
Why does this recipe use ground almonds in the sponge batter?
If you’ve made Simnel Cake before, you may be wondering why the Gluten Free Alchemist recipe uses ground almonds when other recipes don’t… Or more ground almonds than many recipes which do. And just as with soaking the fruit, the reason is simple… Apart from adding depth of flavour and richness, the almonds also ensure the cake stays moist.
In my experience, adding almonds to cake sponge improves both the structure and texture. But almonds also bring a subtle moisture that seems to add longevity of freshness and (for some cakes) even enhances the texture over a couple of days.
What Marzipan is best for Simnel Traybake?
The choice of marzipan for Simnel Traybake is entirely yours. Commercial ready-rolled and blocks of marzipan can be sourced in most good supermarkets. Either yellow or white marzipan is fine.
The marzipan I used for this particular gluten free traybake however, is homemade. And actually, it is so easy and so delicious, that I can say hand on heart, I’ve NEVER actually bought marzipan from a shop! With just 4 ingredients, this Marzipan Recipe can be made in less than 10 minutes. And even better… You can store it in the fridge for several weeks, providing it is well wrapped.
How to make sure everyone gets marzipan inside their cake slice
Although you might opt to go down the traditional route of squirreling a flat layer of marzipan through the centre of the sponge, I opted to jazz things up a bit by giving everyone their very own hidden surprise marzipan ball.
Traditionally, the top of a Simnel Cake is decorated with 11 marzipan balls to represent the Apostles (minus Judas). But this doesn’t really work for a tray bake. So, I thought why not hide an ‘Apostle’ inside each slice? Fun and delicious! I’ve done the same thing with my EPIC Marzipan Hot Cross Buns.
When pushing the balls into the bottom layer of batter, simply make sure you visually size the cake into squares (remembering to take account of trimming the edges). Then place the marzipan balls in evenly-spaced lines across the cake, at the points which will be central to the cut squares.
Alternatively, mix small pieces of marzipan into the batter so that they are dispersed throughout the baked cake… And maybe top each square with a ball instead.
For (more or less) identical perfectly decorated tops
When it comes to topping the Simnel Traybake with a marzipan layer, you have two options. Either roll out one large rectangle to cover the whole top before slicing the cake… Or trim and cut the cake into squares first… THEN top with individual marzipan squares or even an alternative shape of choice.
I prefer the second option, because I think it makes for prettier and more unique decoration. Plus there are no ‘squidged’ sides where the knife has pulled the marzipan down at the edges… Maybe my knives aren’t sharp or fine enough, but it always happens!
To get a perfect square of marzipan on the top, I simply used a brilliant set of square cookie cutters that I have. You wouldn’t believe how handy they are to have in the drawer!
How to toast the marzipan for perfectly charred edges of Simnel Slice
When it comes to toasting the marzipan on your Simnel slices, less is more! The aim is for gentle and strategic browning rather than deeply charred uniformity.
The best way to toast marzipan edges in a controlled way is without doubt, using a culinary blow torch, like the one linked. It’s so much fun and it’s the easiest way to direct the heat (and therefore the toasting) exactly where you want it.
If you don’t have a blow torch, then the alternative is to pop the marzipan-decorated bake or slices under the grill. Make sure it’s set low and keep a close eye, turning frequently for a more even colour.
What equipment do I need to make a Simnel Traybake?
Making a Simnel Traybake isn’t difficult, but it does require a couple of bits of kit to get from A to B. The key pieces of equipment required are:
- A good, deep tin to bake the cake in. For nice tall squares, I used a deep 9 inch Masterclass loose-bottomed square tin. This gives 16 yummy Simnel slices. However, for more (but smaller) slices, it’s fine to use a slightly larger rectangle tin. The slices will have less height, but will serve more people.
- Good quality baking parchment
- Some mixing bowls (I prefer bowls with a non-slip base and lids (which are also handy for sealing the bowl when soaking fruit)).
- Reliable kitchen scales. I love my Heston Blumenthal Dual Platform Scales because they are so versatile. They are perfect for everyday weighing and brilliant when you need to weigh super-small amounts accurately, like for my amazing Bread Machine Wholemeal Bread.
- Some measuring spoons
- A sturdy electric whisk with a bit of oomph
- And a firm mixing spoon
For decorating, I used
- a culinary blow torch (see notes above).
- Some square cookie cutters
- And some simple flower cookie cutters
Ready to make gluten free Simnel Traybake cake?
So… Are you ready to make my gluten free Simnel Traybake cake recipe? If you have any questions, just shout. And if you’ve got any suggestions about what we should be making and sharing at Gluten Free Alchemist next, do let me know. Leave a comment below or on my social media pages – Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.
And don’t forget to tag me with your photos of how your lovely bakes turn out. It always makes my day.
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Other delicious Easter Recipes you might like
Gluten Free Simnel Traybake Cake
- 9 inch (23 cm)square non-stick deep-sided baking tin
- large sharp knife
- kitchen foil
- cookie cutter(s) – optional
- 500 g marzipan gluten free (see NOTES for link to homemade)
Soaked Fruit – AHEAD OF TIME
- 300 g mixed dried fruit I used 150g sultanas; 75g currants; 75g raisins
- 125 g glacé cherries halved/quartered
- 50 g chopped mixed peel I use Italian Mixed Peel
- zest 1 orange and 1 lemon optional (finely grated)
- 120 ml orange and lemon juice I use about 80 ml orange + 40 ml lemon juice
- 180 g plain gluten free flour blend I use GFA rice free Blend B (see NOTES)
- 100 g ground almonds almond meal
- 1 tsp xanthan gum (or 2 tsp psyllium husk)
- 1 tsp baking powder gluten free
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground mixed spice
- pinch fine sea salt
- 220 g unsalted butter or dairy free alternative
- 225 g soft light brown sugar
- 4 large eggs UK large (Canadian ‘Extra Large’; Australian ‘Jumbo’; and US ‘Extra or Very Large’)
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- 1½ tsp orange extract (optional)
To decorate (+ marzipan)
- 2 tbsp apricot jam
- gluten free ball sprinkles of choice optional
- If making your own marzipan, make ahead of time and store as a block, wrapped tightly in baking paper and clingfilm, stored in the fridge.
- Weigh the fruit into a large bowl and add the zest (if using) and fruit juice.
- Stir well.
- Soak for at least 4 hours (and preferably overnight) to hydrate, stirring occasionally.
Prepare the cake tin
- Double line a 9 inch (23 cm) square cake tin (with deep sides) with good quality non-stick baking parchment. (I cut a wide strip long enough to go round the whole cake tin and fold it in half lengthways to make a double layer).
- Also base-line the tin with 2 pieces of parchment (pre-cut).
- Pre-heat the oven to 160 C/315 F/Gas 2½-3.
- Weigh and mix together the flour, almonds, xanthan gum, baking powder, spices and salt. Set aside. (TIP: weigh into a large airtight container and shake vigorously).
- Using an electric whisk, beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
- In a separate bowl, beat the eggs together with a fork and then add little by little to the butter mixture, beating thoroughly between each addition.
- Add the oil and whisk again.
- Lastly, add the orange extract (if using) and beat through.
- Add the dry flour ingredients to the bowl and fold through quickly and lightly with a large spoon or spatula.
- Add the soaked fruit and zest and any remaining juice from the bowl to the mix and fold through again until evenly blended.
- Transfer half the cake batter to the prepared cake tin and smooth the top.
- Take about half of the marzipan and roll into 16 even-sized balls.
- Visually size the cake into squares (taking account of the (optional) need to trim the edges first) and carefully place the balls in 4 even rows of 4, in the centre of each intended cake square.
- Once happy with the placement of the marzipan, gently push each ball a little way into the surface so that it is about half submerged.
- Transfer the rest of the cake batter to the baking tin on top of the marzipan and spread evenly.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 1 hour 20 to 1½ hours until the top is firm to the touch and a skewer comes out clean. Part-way through cooking cover the cake with a piece of foil to prevent the top burning. Keep a close eye so as not to over-bake as this will dry the sides of the cake.
- Once baked, remove from the oven and leave in the tin for 10 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Decorating the Cake with Marzipan
- Once cool, trim off the crisp edges of the cake.
- Next, measure either with a tape measure or by sight and very carefully cut the cake into an even 4 rows. Turn the cake by a right angle and then cut again to make 16 squares.
- Warm the apricot jam in a small bowl in the microwave for a few seconds (or over a bowl of steaming water) to loosen.
- Using a pastry brush, brush the top of each fruit cake square with the warmed apricot jam.
- Roll out the remaining marzipan (on top of a piece of non-stick baking paper) and cut 16 squares (leaving some marzipan over to make into flowers). To cut equal squares, use either a square cookie cutter (the size of the cake slices) or cut a large square of marzipan (using the cake tin base as a guide) and evenly cut that into 16 smaller squares.
- Carefully stick a marzipan square on top of each cake slice.
- Next cut 16 flower shapes (with a cookie cutter) and dampen the back of each before sticking on top of the marzipan squares.
- Push a ball sprinkle into the centre of each marzipan flower.
- To finish, use a culinary blow-torch to lightly toast the edges of the marzipan. Do this carefully so that it browns rather than burns. (If you don’t have a blowtorch, place the cake under a gentle grill for a few seconds, but keep a close eye and turn as needed).
© 2019-2023 Kate Dowse All Rights Reserved – Do not copy or re-publish this recipe or any part of this recipe on any other blog, on social media or in a publication without the express permission of Gluten Free Alchemist
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