Our Blog : Twelfth Night Cake

Hosting a Twelfth Night Party


New Year's Eve is typically a big party night. Last year we had a couple close friends over and just ate a bunch of good food, went in our hot-tub and drank some champagne. It was really nice to not have to deal with crowds and to be able to enjoy the evening together. And to gorge ourselves. I am not condoning gorging yourselves, but we have been planning tonight's dinner for a while. It's worth it.

But New Year's Eve does not have to be the last big hurrah of the holiday season. January 6, which is just around the corner, is the Twelfth Day of Christmas (also known as Epiphany). So Sunday January 5 is Twelfth Night.

In medieval times, Twelfth Night was celebrated with grand balls and village parties, complete with Twelfth Night cakes with a bean or trinket hidden inside to choose the "king" to preside over the night's revelries.

In Elizabethan times, a temporary Lord of Misrule presided over the season's revelries while the nobility acted as servants - a world deliberately turned upside down for a night. You could try crowning a Lord of Misrule at your Twelfth Night Party, or you could just have a nice afternoon or evening where you open your house up to friends and family to come together one last time for the holidays.

If you do want to try hosting a Twelfth Night party, I have included here a couple of traditional recipes you might want to serve your guests.

In old English and French Twelfth Night celebrations, a cake would be baked to celebrate Epiphany. In both English and French traditions, an bean and a pea would be baked in to the cake, and whoever got the piece with the pea and the bean, would be the king and queen of the night. To read more about twelfth-cake (also called King's Cake) see Wikipedia.

The French Twelfth Night Cake (Gateau des Rois - King's Cake) is more like a rich bread, due to the high number of eggs, and the relatively low amount of sugar. It goes great with a cup of coffee for breakfast, too! The recipe, which you can find here is not complicated, but it does take just about all day to make the cake - with hours of downtime.

The English version of Twelfth Cake is very different from the French version. This cake is more cake-like and contains some lovely rum-soaked fruit. You can find the English Twelfth Cake recipe here.

Another traditional thing to serve at a Twelfth Night party is Wassail.

Wassailing was an old country tradition that took place on Twelfth Night or "Old Christmas Eve," especially in areas where cider apples were grown. Right before dark the wassail (spiced ale or hard cider topped with roasted apples) would be prepared and ladled into the special wassail bowl (similar to a punch bowl with handles). The village would gather at the orchard after dark with the wassail on hand and proceed to bang pots, shoot off guns, and make a racket to frighten away any evil spirits that could still be lurking about on this last night of Christmas. This commotion would also help to begin to "wake up" the trees from their winter hibernation. The trees were blessed with thanks and urged with rhyming chants to produce an even better crop in the new year. The oldest, most venerable tree's health would be "toasted" with a piece of wassail-soaked bread or cake placed in its branches. 

If wassail was left over after regaling the trees, then the ceremonies would conclude with the villagers quenching their own thirst before returning home. In some areas, the young people would go from house to house in the village, singing wassail songs and receiving small gifts or treats in return.

Wassail is an old Middle English contraction of waes hael, meaning "be health" or "be whole," that was derived from the old Norse ves heill "to be healthy." The reply to waes hael was drinc hael, or "drink and be healthy." The modern expression "hale and hearty" shares the same roots.

You can find a lovely recipe for wassail here.

 




My first Twelfth Night Cake - French Edition


Twelfth Night Cake
I have known about "Twelfth Night Cakes" for a while, but I had never baked one before this French Twelfth Night Cake (Gateau des Rois - King's Cake). This cake is really more of a rich bread, due to the high number of eggs, and the relatively low amount of sugar. It goes great with a cup of coffee for breakfast, too!

In old English and French Twelfth Night celebrations, a cake would be baked to celebrate Epiphany. In both English and French traditions, an bean and a pea would be baked in to the cake, and whoever got the piece with the pea and the bean, would be the king and queen of the night. To read more about twelfth-cake (also called King's Cake) see Wikipedia.

This cake takes allllllll day to make - but it is not difficult. There are hours and hours of down-time to do other things. From start to finish I think this cake took me about nine hours to make - so start first thing in the morning!

 

Ingredients for the cake:

Twelfth Night Cake
  • 1 envelope dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon lukewarm water
  • 3 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 1/2 orange
  • 1 tablespoon orange-flower water (a non-alcoholic mixer - available at Bev Mo, or other liquor stores)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Pan: well-buttered 8-inch square cake pan



Instructions for the cake:

1.    Dissolve packet of yeast into lukewarm water in a small bowl.


2.    While waiting for the yeast to bubble, beat eggs and additional yolk, add salt, sugar, lemon and orange zest and orange-flower water.

3.    Combine egg-mixture with yeast, flour and butter and mix all ingredients with a wooden spoon until thoroughly blended and no butter pieces show.

4.    Chill batter for 4-5 hours in the fridge.
5.    Turn dough into a buttered 8-inch square cake pan, cover loosely and set to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk - about 3/12 to 4 hours (my kitchen is cold, so I put it in a warm oven four about 4 hours - it never quite doubled in bulk, but it still cooked quite well).

6.    After rising, bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes (until golden brown and a tester or toothpick comes out clean).

7.    Cool in pan, then cool on a rack.
8.    Spread with glaze (see below).

Ingredients for the glaze/topping:

  • Candied cherries and fruit peels (I used a fruit-cake mix of candied fruits)
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or almond) extract
  • 1 teaspoon rum (or brandy) (optional)
  • 1/2 to 1 1/4 tablespoons hot water, as needed

Instructions for the glaze:

1.    Combine sugar, cornstarch, extract and liquor (if desired).

2.    Gradually add hot water, one tablespoon at a time, until a smooth, thick paste is achieved.

3.    Spread glaze on cooled cake, spread with knife, sprinkle with candied sugar pieces.

4.    Let glaze dry, or, if you are impatient like me, just dig in and enjoy!


Both recipes adapted from Visions of Sugarplums by Mimi Sheraton, 1981.


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