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A traditional Gluten Free Simnel Cake – the perfect bake for Easter or Mother’s Day! This rich fruit cake has a secret layer of marzipan and a burnished marzipan topping too.

A gluten free Simnel cake really is a thing of beauty, packed with spices, mixed fruits, candied peel, glacé cherries and a hint of almonds.

Simnel cake is traditionally made during Lent – apparently it was made half way through the 40 days as a respite from fasting.

This usually falls around Mother’s Day, so the cake has become synonymous with both Easter and Mothering Sunday.

Marzipan plays a big part in this gluten free Easter cake. Not only is there a hidden layer, it’s also decorated with marzipan which is then scorched.

Much like Hot Cross Buns, another traditional Easter baking project, it is rich and fruity and beautifully spiced with cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, coriander and allspice.

gluten free simnel cake recipe
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What is Simnel Cake?

A Simnel Cake is a traditional fruit cake which dates back to Medieval Times, thought to originally have been made using a leavened bread.

Now it is more of a light fruit cake which is eaten during Lent. It is decorated with 11 balls of marzipan, said to represent the 11 apostles.

You may be thinking a Simnel Cake seems similar to a Christmas Cake – and it does have some similarities.

Both cakes are packed with fruit, though a Christmas cake features a heavy soaking of alcohol. This is a lighter version for March or April!

With a simnel cake recipe, the fruits are heated with orange juice and mixed spice before being added to a cake made from ground almonds and gluten free flour.

It creates a lighter fruitcake than its Christmas counterpart – and it also has a layer of marzipan cooked into the centre of the cake.

They are not traditionally coeliac-safe but with a few tweaks I’ve made this recipe gluten free so anyone can make it!

Simnel Cakes used to be hugely popular but the demand for chocolate-laden Easter treats seem to be diminishing this Easter tradition.

That being said, now I’ve made my own gluten free version I am hooked. I’d take a slice of this over a chocolate egg any day!

gluten free simnel cake recipe

Simnel Cake Ingredients

To make my gluten free Simnel cake recipe, you’ll need the following ingredients…

  • Mixed Dried Fruit – I tend to use the pre-mixed bags which are a mixture of sultanas, raisins, currants and candied peel. You can mix your own if you prefer more of one fruit – or want to omit anything.
  • Glacé Cherries – I buy the pre-halved cherries. If you really don’t like these you can always switch them for the equivalent weight of extra dried fruit.
  • Orange – For this recipe you’ll use both the zest and juice of the orange.
  • Mixed Spice – This is a mixture of spices, in the UK you can buy it premixed. It contains a mixture of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, coriander nutmeg and sometimes mace.
  • Light Brown Sugar – This helps to add to the lovely colour of the cake as well as giving it a richer flavour.
  • Unsalted Butter – To make this recipe dairy free, use an equivalent such as Stork baking block.
  • Eggs – You’ll need four large (UK) eggs for this recipe – it helps to bind the large quantity of fruit!
  • Gluten Free Plain Flour – Any plain flour mix such as Freee, Juvela, M&S or Asda will work in this cake. You want a plain or all purpose flour mixture.
  • Xanthan Gum – An essential ingredient in gluten free baking! A tiny bit goes a long way and this will help prevent the cake from becoming too crumbly.
  • Baking Powder – This will give the cake a small amount of rise. We don’t need it to rise as much as some cakes. Ensure you use a gluten free baking powder.
  • Ground Almonds – These add a lovely texture to the cake, keeping it nice and moist. They also add to the lovely marzipan flavour.
  • Marzipan – You can use white marzipan or yellow marzipan, depending on which you prefer. Both work equally well and are essential for both the cake filling and decoration.
gluten free simnel cake recipe

Gluten free simnel cake FAQs

The full recipe card is below but in case you have any burning questions, let me help…

Is simnel cake gluten free?

Simnel cake is traditionally made with wheat flour so generally it is not gluten free.

However, my recipe is 100% gluten free and safe for people with coeliac disease with barely any modifications.

The gluten-eaters will never know the difference!

Is simnel cake dairy free / vegan?

This gluten free simnel cake recipe does contain butter but this can easily be switched for a dairy free equivalent.

However I haven’t tested the recipe with an egg replacer so I can’t give any guaranteed results on how to make it vegan.

gluten free simnel cake - easy easter recipe

Why does a simnel cake have 11 balls?

You may think the marzipan balls on top of this cake are just to look pretty but they do have a meaning.

They are designed to represent Jesus’ disciples – minus Judas. However occasionally you may see 12 balls, with the extra representing Christ.

When making my simnel cake recipe I tend to weigh the balls out so they are all even. I’d hate for them to be all lopsided and uneven!

How long will this simnel cake keep for?

Generally fruit cakes keep very well – I’ve had this stored in an airtight container for weeks!

You can also freeze slices of this simnel cake. I recommend doing this between sheets of baking paper so they don’t all stick together.

That way you can defrost a slice whenever you fancy some cake even when Easter has been and gone.

Do I need a blow torch for this recipe?

I was gifted a small kitchen blow torch for Christmas a few years ago and it’s perfect for scorching the marzipan.

However you don’t need a blow torch to make a simnel cake!

You can simply burn the marzipan under the grill. The recipe card below has a method for both ways!

gluten free simnel cake recipe

How do you double line a baking tin?

I highly recommend that you do a double lining of baking paper when making a simnel cake to avoid burning the marzipan.

To do this, use the cake tin base to cut a circle of baking paper. Then cut strips of baking paper approx 2 inches higher than the height of the tin.

Grease the inside your tin using either butter or some spray-oil. I normally prefer to use butter but the spray is a lot easier and less messy.

Take the long piece of baking paper and fold over approximately 1-inch from the base. Use scissors to then diagonally snip at around 1-inch intervals.

Line the inside of the tin with this piece, so the snipped edge folds along the base of the tin.

Rub the paper onto the greased tin to make it stick and use a little extra oil/butter to stick any overlaps down.

Repeat with the second layer of baking paper. Once you have done this, place the round piece of baking paper onto the base of the tin.

Stick down onto the butter/oil, using a little extra if needed.

how to make a gluten free simnel cake

My gluten free simnel cake recipe

This recipe makes an 8-inch (20cm) diameter round cake, perfect for serving a crowd of hungry guests.

It will also keep really well in an airtight container so you don’t have to scoff it all at once.

I tend to slice this into 11 pieces to ensure everyone gets their own ball of marzipan but you could stretch it to more if needed.

If you make this recipe and love it, please do let me know by tagging me on my Instagram or using #theglutenfreeblogger. I love seeing your bakes!

gluten free simnel cake recipe
Yield: 11

Gluten Free Simnel Cake

Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 1 hour

This gluten free Simnel Cake is a traditional Easter cake, usually made during Lent and around Mother's Day. It is a rich fruit cake with a marzipan centre and a marzipan topping - complete with 11 caramelised marzipan balls, said to represent the 11 apostles.


  • 250g mixed dried fruit and peel (a mixture of sultanas, raisins, currants and candied peel)
  • 100g halved glacé cherries
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 200g light brown sugar
  • 200g butter (softened)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 175g gf plain flour
  • 1/4 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 1 tbsp apricot jam (warmed)
  • 500g marzipan


  1. Add the mixed fruit, orange zest and juice and the mixed spice to a saucepan along with 2 tbsp water. Place on a low heat and cook with the lid on, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. (Alternatively you can microwave in a bowl for 2 minutes.)
  2. Take a third of the marzipan and roll it out to cut a disc the size of your 8-inch/20cm cake tin (use the base as a template). Wrap the leftover marizipan and any offcuts and place to one side for decorating later.
  3. Grease your cake tin with butter and then double-line it with baking paper, approximately an inch higher than the cake tin. This will help stop the cake and marzipan burning. Preheat the oven to 150C / Fan 130C / Gas mark 2.
  4. Add the butter and brown sugar to a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric whisk until creamed.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix the gluten free flour, baking powder and xanthan gum to combine. Add this to the butter/sugar mixture along with the ground almonds and eggs. Beat again with the electric whisk until just combined - don't over-mix.
  6. Pour in the fruits and all the juices from the pan, plus the cherries, and fold this into the cake mix using a spatula.
  7. Spoon half the mixture into the lined cake tin and smooth out in an even layer. Lay the circle of marizpan on top and spoon the rest of the cake batter on top, smoothing the surface.
  8. Bake in the oven for 2 hours, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool completely in the tin before decorating.
  9. When the cake has cooled, remove the in and paper and brush the top with apricot jam. Reserve 165g of the marzipan and roll the rest out, cutting a disc the size of the cake (using the cake pan base as a template again!). Lay on top of the cake and gently flatten - you can use your fingers to crimp the edges if you like.
  10. Divide the remaining 165g of marzipan into 11 equal-sized balls - if you want to weigh them, they'll be 15g each. Shape them into balls and top your cake with them.
  11. To finish, either use a blow torch to caramelise the marizpan or place the cake under a hot grill. Keep an eye on it - it takes 1-2 minutes but once it starts to turn brown it will quickly burn if you look away for even a second!

NEED MORE gluten free Easter bakes?

Here are some more gluten free Easter recipes you can try out once you’ve made this gluten free simnel cake:

If you do make this recipe please let me know! I’d love to see your photos using #theglutenfreeblogger, share them in my Facebook group or tag me on Instagram. 

If you have any recipe suggestions, please let me know in the comments below what you’d like to see next!

LIKE THIS gluten free simnel cake RECIPE?

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About Sarah Howells

Hi, I'm Sarah! Diagnosed with coeliac disease 20 years ago, I'm on a mission to create the best gluten free recipes since sliced bread. No fruit salads or dry brownies here.

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  1. It’s in the oven and I have every faith it will work as your recipes are great! But I’ve just found the cherries I bought, very much not added to the mix! Completely forgot them. Please can you mention when to add them in the method, as a reminder for other forgetful people like me. Otherwise, it was beautifully easy to follow