Tropical Easter Simnel cake recipe with Guinness (or rum)

Tropical Easter Simnel cake recipe with Guinness (or rum) and why are there eleven balls?

Celebration cakes, Special everyday cakes and treats

This is a fruitcake with marzipan and a history.  It’s sweet and delicious.  The layer of marzipan in the middle melts when baking and contributes to making this fruticake incredibly moist.  Then the toasted marzipan layer and balls on top are firmer, providing a contrast in texture.  Those balls have a religious meaning by the way but more about that and the cake’s history later.  And why is it tropical?  Because the sultanas and orange peel are replaced with dried pineapple, banana, ginger, cranberries and golden berries with added lime and orange zest.  The Guinness is not very tropical and reminiscent of soft days in Ireland but it’s warm and subtle in the background and easily replaced with dark rum.  Finally, I used the most ‘tropical’ nuts I could find:  macadamias.  I wasn’t sure about posting this cake but my friend couldn’t stop eating it even though we were in a restaurant at the time!  Ahem.  I was simultaneously delighted and a bit alarmed.  Anyway, the proof was in the eating and she loved the flavour and moist texture.  So here’s the recipe if you’d like to make your own tropical Easter Simnel fruitcake!  🙂

Tropical Easter Simnel cake recipe with Guinness (or rum)

Tropical Easter Simnel cake with Guinness


As you can see this is one very moist fruitcake!  If you’d like it drier (like usual fruitcake) try adding 50g/1/2 cup ground almonds and replace the banana with sultanas.  Or just go with the whole ‘moist’ thing – the cake holds together, cuts well and is delicious so why not?  It’s a flexible recipe and you could use brazil nuts or almonds instead of macadamia nuts.  You can also add rum or orange juice instead of Guinness but with juice eat the cake within a week.


1 – 3 days before baking

Macerate a total of 300g DRIED FRUIT (invent your own mix if you prefer)

  • 75g/2.6oz (12-13) glacé cherries, rinsed, dried and halved (replace some with sour cherries to make the cake less sweet)
  • 40g/1/3 cup golden berries (physallis) or sultanas/dried mango/sour cherries, etc.
  • 50g/2 tablespoons finely chopped candied stem ginger (in syrup or crystallised)
  • 50g/1/3 cup chopped dried pineapple
  • 50g/1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 35g/1/4 cup chopped dried banana
  • 150ml/g Guinness, dark rum, brandy, whisky or orange juice

Cut the bigger pieces of dried fruit into small raisin-sized pieces (but not the halved glacé cherries) and place in a medium-sized bowl.  Add the alcohol or juice and stir well.  Cover lightly with a tea towel and leave in a cool dry place so the fruit can macerate 24 hours to 3 days in alcohol (or 12-24 hours in orange juice).  Stir once or twice a day to make sure all the fruit are coated.

Baking day

  • Preheat your oven to 150°C/300°F (static, non-convection oven) or 130°C/265°F (fan-assisted).
  • Soften the butter at room temperature and have your eggs at room temperature.
  • Prepare your 18cm/7inch round baking tin by lining bottom and sides with a double layer of baking paper.  Then wrap layers of newspaper around the sides (on the outside) and some on a baking tray under the tin.  This is so the dried fruit don’t burn when baking (see my traditional christmas cake with ginger recipe for more photos and details).

Lining a christmas cake tin2


  • 100g/3 and a half ounces macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
  • 175g/1 and a half sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 175g/1 cup less 1 tablespoon dark (or light) muscovado sugar
  • 4 medium-large free-range eggs, beaten (230-240g) and at room temperature
  • Dry ingredients
  • 225g/1 and a half cups plus 1 good tablespoon cake flour or plain/all-purpose flour
  • 1 and a half teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground mixed spice
  • a good pinch of fine sea salt
  • Freshly-grated zest of 1 orange
  • Freshly-grated zest of 1 lime
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons Guinness, rum, brandy, whisky or orange juice (enough to achieve a soft ‘dropping’ consistency)
  • After it’s baked:  2 tablespoons Guinness or rum, etc. to soak the cake (optional)


  1. Add the chopped macadamia nuts to your dried fruit.  Stir in 1 or 2 tablespoons of the flour to coat the fruit and nuts (so the pieces don’t fall to the bottom of the cake when baking).
  2. Roll out half your marzipan on a surface lightly sprinkled with icing sugar.  It should be quite thin, about 1 to 2mm.  Cut out a round the size of your cake.  Keep the leftover marzipan to make the balls.
  3. In a medium-sized bowl whisk the remaining flour with the other dry ingredients.
  4. In a large bowl whisk the softened butter till creamy then whisk in the sugar until light and fluffy.  Add a little of the beaten egg if necessary to soften the mixture.
  5. Whisk in the beaten egg little by little.  If the mixture starts separating add a little of the flour mixture.
  6. Whisk in the grated zest of orange and lime.
  7. Using a rubber spatula fold the flour mixture in gently till just combined.
  8. Fold in the Guinness or juice and check if the mixture is at a thick ‘dropping’ consistency (if you lift some up with your spatula, the mixture will slowly drop with a plop).  Fold in a little more Guinness if necessary.
  9. Pour HALF the batter into your prepared cake tin (I’m stressing this because I forgot and had to dig some out!).  Tropical Easter Simnel cake 1
  10. Carefully place your marzipan round on top of the batter then cover it with the remaining batter and spread out evenly.
  11. Bake in the middle of the oven for 2 to 3 hours.  You need to be flexible because it depends on your batter, oven and tin.  Don’t open the oven door for the first 1 hour and a half (or 2 hours).  If it’s getting very brown insert a skewer in the middle and if it comes out clean and dry then the cake is ready.  You want your cake quite well baked so make sure it’s a nice darker brown.

After it’s baked

  1. Let your cake cool in the tin on a wire rack for 20 to 30 minutes then make holes through the cake, all over with a skewer.  Slowly pour 2 tablespoons of Guinness over your cake so it soaks in everywhere (you can omit this step if you want your cake to be less moist and taste less strongly of alcohol).
  2. Let the cake cool in the tin until completely cold then take out of the tin and peel off the baking paper.
  3. Roll out the other half of the marzipan and cut a round to make the top layer.
  4. Brush the top of the cake with a thin layer of warmed apricot jam and carefully put the marzipan layer on topMake a criss-cross design with the back of a butter knife.  Crimp the edges with the back the knife and your fingers.  Tropical Easter Simnel cake 2
  5. Use the remaining marzipan to make 11 ballsStick them around the top of your cake with a little apricot jam, so they don’t roll around!  🙂
  6. Place the cake in the oven as near to the grill as you can.  Grill the top so the marzipan balls and layer go brown.  Don’t worry if the layer doesn’t get very brown.

Tada!  Your cake’s ready!  🙂

Tropical Easter Simnel cake recipe with Guinness (or rum)

Tropical Easter Simnel cake recipe with Guinness (or rum)

Eating and storing your cake

You can eat this cake immediately but it’s even better after a few days or even a week or two.  There’s a real flavour burst in all that moistness.  Nom nom.

Wrap in baking paper then in aluminium foil or a metal tin and store at room temperature somewhere dry and cool.  It should keep for up to a month or so.

A very short history

Simnel cake originated in the UK and has been around since medieval times!  Servant girls would bake this cake as a gift for their mother, to take when visiting them on Mothering Sunday.  It’s said the families would then wait anxiously to see if the cake was well-baked and still moist when they ate it three weeks later for Easter.  It eventually became better known as an Easter cake and late in the Victorian era the 11 marzipan balls were added, representing the 11 disciples minus Judas.  Some cakes have 12 balls to include Jesus.

According to Wikipedia the word simnel is probably derived from the Latin word simila, which means fine wheaten flour.   Towns in Britain each had their own different versions of this cake but the Shrewsbury one is now the best-known.  Mine is the ‘tropical’ über-moist version!

Tropical Easter Simnel cake with Guinness

Tropical Easter Simnel cake with Guinness

Thanks for popping by (again) sweet reader.  Hope you’ll have a slice of cake and a lovely week leading up to Easter!  Happy baking and eating! 🙂 x




Posted by

Baking on Sundays with my French mum was a lovely part of my childhood. Later I experimented with baking books or internet recipes and did the pâtisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Still trying out new recipes and inventing cakes with influences from all around the world, including some healthier ones. Yes, love cakes!!! Hope you'll love them too and have fun baking. :)

17 thoughts on “Tropical Easter Simnel cake recipe with Guinness (or rum) and why are there eleven balls?”

    • Thank you Julie! Happy you like it and found the history interesting. It was great reading up on it and I know what you mean. I still find it hard to believe it was being eaten in the middle ages! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Aw thank you Alba! That’s lovely to know. I do that with a lot of the baking books I own – just look at the pictures and drool… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. Minette says:

    So very funny! I saw your receipe the other day and was tempted to make this cake for Easter…
    And then we were invited over to my aunts house yesterday and, tadaa, she’d made one. The funny thing is: we’re all German :-). But she is married to an English man and ived there for quite some time. Be that as it may: the cake is extremely delicious and I have to do your variation soonest!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a great cake coincidence Minette! Love it and happy you enjoyed your first Simnel cake. 🙂 Who knows – maybe you’ll see another one soon! Hope you enjoy this variation. Thank you for your lovely story. 🙂


  4. Lara says:

    This is delicious, a great alternative to the traditional simnel cake. I replaced the Rum/Guiness with Limoncello, both for soaking the fruit and putting in the cake mixture, and used Lemon Curd instead of Apricot glaze when putting the marzipan topping on, and it tasted lovely! Thank you for this recipe, I’m about to make it again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so happy you liked your cake and made it again! Makes my day to hear that. And it sounds delicious with limoncello and lemon curd! Very tempted to try your version now. Thank you so much for the feedback and hope you’re having a lovely Easter eating cake! 🙂


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