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English Twelfth Cake


This twelfth cake (also known as Three Kings' Cake or King's Cake) is very different from the French twelfth cake. Instead of a yeasty-bread type cake, this cake is much denser, and contains rum-soaked fruit, currants and raisins. It is a much shorter recipe, although it does cook slowly at a low temperature. This recipe also calls for a dry bean and a dry pea - whoever finds the pea and the bean in their pieces are the king and queen of the evening's revelries. As the recipe says - the bean determines the king and the pea determines the queen.



Cake ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup white rum
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 1/2 cup candied fruit pieces (I used a fruit-cake mix)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 dried pea
  • 1 dried bean
Pan: 9-inch round cake pan or loaf pan (I used a 9-inch spring-form pan because that is what I had handy).

Instruction for the cake:

1.    Combine the rum withe raisins, currants and candied fruit pieces and allow to soak for 1 hour.

2.    While waiting for the fruit to soak, butter your cake pan.
3.    Drain and reserve both fruit and rum.
4.    Begin preheating the oven to 275 degrees while you get the batter together.
5.    Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. I used my stand-mixer for this step.

6.    Beat in the milk, reserved rum and almond extract.
7.    Dredge fruits lightly with flour and shake off extra flour.

8.    Sift flour and spices into batter and beat into batter.
9.    Add fruits, nuts, lemon zest, the pea and the bean and fold until well incorporated.

10.     Turn batter into buttered cake pan.

9.    Bake in a preheated 275 degree oven for about 2 hours, or until a tester comes out clean.

10.  Turn on to rack and cool completely before icing the cake.

Golden Almond Icing Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup white rum
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 or 2 drops almond extract

Instructions for the icing:

1.    Combine all ingredients and beat vigorously until mixture is a creamy yellow color.
2.    Pour over cooled cake and spread with a knife. The icing will be a bit runny at first, but it will firm up eventually (several hours or overnight).

I put my cake in a foil tray - I folded up the sides to make a bit of a lip so the icing would not run all over the place. I also used some of the overflow icing to ice the sides of the cake.

Here is what it looked like once dry:


And here is a cross-section - you can see the candied fruits, currants and raisins:


Recipe adapted from Visions of Sugarplums by Mimi Sheraton.

Wassailing the Apple Trees


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 that 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.

Recipes:

A Swinging Wassail

  • 1 quart ale
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 5 or 6 pieces cracked ginger or 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 2 cups sherry wine
  • Juice and thinly pared rind of 1 lemon
  • Sugar, to taste
  • 2 slices toasted bread (if desired)
  • 6 or 8 baked crab apples or 2 or 3 baked large apples
* This recipe can be made non-alcoholic by replacing the ale and sherry with apple cider. Another way to do wassail is to have the             punch-mixture be alcohol free and have whisky or champagne available on the side for people to add as they please.

** English Farmer's Wassail - substitute hard cider for ale and 1 cup dark rum for sherry.

Heat ale in saucepan until just about to boil. Stir in spices, sherry, lemon juice, slivered rind and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves then cover and simmer over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Do not boil at any time. Remove from heat and either pour into punch bowl or individual cups and add toast (if desired) and apples. 

Recipe adapted from Visions of Sugarplums by Mimi Sheraton, 1981

Image: Wassailing the Apple Trees With Hot Cider in Devonshire on Twelfth Eve, artist unknown







Buche de Noel aka Fancy French Log Cake




I don't know why, but I have always wanted to make a Buche de Noel, or Christmas Log cake. This cake is a traditional French Christmas cake made of rolled spong-cake and chocolate buttercream. Depending on your artistic abilities to sculpt buttercream and marzipan, the cake can be made to look very realistic, or just cute and log-like. 

Ingredients for sponge cake:

  • 1 cup cake flour 
  • Pinch of baking powder
  •  Pinch of salt
  •  4 eggs - separated into whites and yolks
  •  1 cup sugar
  •  1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  1 tablespoon sugar
  •  Rum, for sprinkling
  •  Powdered sugar, for sprinkling 
Pan: 10" x 15" jelly-roll pan, or a double-sheet cake pan - 13" x 17.75", which is what I used because that was all I could find at Target. It just made for a slightly larger, but flatter, spong-cake.


Instructions for sponge cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Sift the flour twice with the baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl. Set aside. 


3. In a separate large bowl, beat the egg yolks with 1 cup of sugar and vanilla extract until very thick and pale yellow - as you keep beating you will see them change color from the rich almost orangey-yellow of egg-yolk to a softer pastel yellow.
 

4. In a separate bowl (or in the bowl of a stand-mixer, or with a hand-mixer) beat egg whites. As the whites begin to stiffen add 1 tablespoon sugar and continue to beat until the whites hold stiff peaks. 


5. Sift the flour-mixture into the yolk-mixture a little at a time, folding after each addition until all dry ingredients are incorporated. 


6. Add the whites and fold gently, but thoroughly, using a rubber spatula. This step was the most awkward for me, as the whites were hard to incorporate - but just be patient and keep folding the batter over the whites and it will eventually incorporate into a fluffy, somewhat lumpy, batter. 


7. Pour the batter into your cake pan that is lined with buttered parchment paper. Spread the batter evenly over the pan. 


8. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until cake is golden brown. Keep an eye on it - this cake is thin! 


9. After you remove it from the oven, sprinkle the cake with rum.

10. Remove the cake from the pan by pulling it out on top of the parchment paper, and place the cake on the counter. Sprinkle the top of the cake with powdered sugar, and then place another piece of parchment paper on top of the cake (so the cake is now in the middle of a parchment-paper sandwich). Then take a cooling rack, or cookie sheet and place that on top of the top piece of parchment paper. Now is the tricky part - flipping the cake. We have a pizza peel on hand, and that worked wonderfully to flip the cake over with, but a thin cookie sheet, or just an extra pair of hands would help to flip the whole cake over so you can peel the buttered-parchment paper off.

11. While the cake is still warm, roll the cake, starting with one of the long edges, with the paper still on. 


Ingredients for mocha buttercream:

  • 1/2 cup water 
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  •  5 egg yolks
  •  1.5 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  •  2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled 
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee powder 

Instructions for buttercream:

1. If you have not done so already, melt your chocolate. I use the double-boiler method: place a medium sized bowl over the top of a small sauce pan that has an inch or so of water in it. Bring the water to a boil. Once the bowl gets hot enough, you can place your chopped up chocolate pieces in the bowl and stir constantly until it is melted. Then remove the bowl from the pan and set aside. You can also melt chocolate in the microwave, but I am always afraid of burning it that way.

2. To ensure that the butter incorporated into the frosting well, I melted it in the microwave for about 30 seconds. It did not totally liquify, but it was very very soft.

3. Combine water and sugar in a small pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Boil for several minutes until the mixture reaches 238 degrees, or the mixture forms a soft ball when a drip is dropped into ice water.

4.  While the water and sugar is boiling, beat the egg yolks until pale yellow. I started out doing this by hand, but got tired of all the beating so I switched to using my stand-mixer. A hand-mixer would work well too.

5.  Once the yolks have reached the pale-yellow color, pour the hot syrup into the yolks, beating constantly (again, the stand mixer comes in handy here). Continue beating until mixture has cooled down significantly.

6.  Beat the butter into the mixture, a little at a time, then add the melted chocolate and the coffee powder.


7.  Depending on how warm the buttercream is, you might want to let it firm up a bit in the fridge before you start spreading it.

8.  Once the buttercream is adequately chilled (to a frosting-like consistency) unroll the cake and spread the inside with half of the buttercream. Re-roll the cake as tightly as you can without breaking the cake (and if the cake does break a little, don't worry because it will be covered with frosting). To keep the cake "sealed" shut, I added a little extra buttercream along the top to make sure it did not unroll. If you have the time, cover the cake and let it chill for a couple of hours in the fridge. I only chilled mine for about an hour and it was fine.




9.  Depending on the look you want, you can trim the edges off the cake and use them for decoration (or test-tasting) or you can leave the jagged edges on. Spread the roll with the remaining buttercream - I piled the remaining buttercream along the top of the cake and spread it down from there. Then score any kind of bark-like decorations into the cream you want. I let Jon do the decorating - he used the blunt end of a paint-brush to drag through the cream to make bark-grooves and a knot in the bark.






10.  Depending on how fancy you want to get you can add marzipan leaves, almonds, cherries etc., and some people will cover the ends of the "log" in chopped nuts or colored sugar.


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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