Thursday, January 06, 2011

Twelfth Night Cake

January 6th marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas and is the Feast day of the Epiphany which commemorates the arrival of the three wise men bearing gifts to the infant Jesus.

Way back in 2007 I wrote about my families Italian celebration of this feast day but this year I thought I'd delve into the English tradition.

The twelfth night is actually January 5th, the celebration of which rivalled Christmas and traditionally a spiced fruit cake would be made. Unfortunately, it was Queen Victoria that finally ended this celebration and the twelfth night cake morphed to become what we know today as Christmas cake.

The twelfth night cake would be topped with a crown and inside the cake, some type of favour would have been baked into it - typically dried peas or beans, whoever ended up with the slice of cake with the favour was crowned king or queen for the rest of the day. Similar customs are found in France and their Galette des Rois, Spain and the Roscón de Reyes, Mexico and the Rosca de Reyes and New Orleans and the King Cake.

Twelfth Night Cake© by Haalo

Looking for an appropriate recipe proved a little difficult - I did find an excellent 1845 recipe at the Old Foodie but finally settled on the Twelfth Night cake from Cakebaker. Instead of making a large cake, I decided to use these pork pie tins and make smaller cakes.

pork pie tins© by Haalo

I think it's more fitting given the whole historical element - it's the perfect size for gift giving and without sounding too sacrilegious, I think the baby Jesus would agree.

Twelfth Night Cake© by Haalo

Twelfth Night Cake
[Makes 2 small cakes - 10cm wide x 8cm high]

115 grams softened butter
115 grams raw sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
115 grams dried cherries
115 grams currants
115 grams sultanas
3 tablespoons rum
40 grams whole blanched almonds
115 grams self-raising flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground coriander

Sift the flour and spices together into a bowl and set to one side.

Place the dried cherries, currants and sultans in a bowl and pour over the rum - stir and allow to macerate for about 15 minutes.

Beat the softened butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add the eggs, a little at a time, only adding more once it has been absorbed.

Tip in the macerated fruits and any liquid along with the nuts and stir briefly. Tip in the spiced flour and fold through until just mixed.

Pour the batter into two buttered moulds - it should ¾ fill each tin - smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.

Encase the cake tins in double lined brown paper and place on a baking tray. Bake in a 160°C oven for about 2 hours or until it has cooked through - if the top looks like it's browning too quickly, cover it with foil.

Let the cakes cool slightly before removing from the tins - leave on a wire rack to cool completely.

Twelfth Night Cake© by Haalo

To finish the cakes, dust with icing sugar and top with a crown.

Twelfth Night Cake© by Haalo

It's a pity you can't smell it, lovely aromas of spice and sweet fruit. It's also surprising light for a fruit cake, there's no stodginess here and seriously, I think it's good enough to be served all year round.


  1. Love your blog!

    Off topic from this post, but thought you may be able to point me possibly as to where I may be able to buy antimo caputo 00 pizzeria flour in Melbourne?

    I'm told that one MUST use this for best pizza crust results.

    many thanks! kyla

  2. I wonder why Q. Victoria stopped the celebration? To me, it seems such a lovely continuation of the whole celebration!

    Oh, well, I guess she could do what she wanted with HER people; glad you're still celebrating and teaching the rest of us how. Such perfectly size little cakes - they look lovely.

  3. What does one do with the almonds?

  4. lovely recipe---bookmarked !!

  5. Wow this is informative! I didn't know the significance of the 12th day of Christmas until now. Thanks for sharing ;)

  6. Mmmm great looking cake. I cook a Christmas cake for the first time this year. It turned out really well. I think I might make it a tradition. I find the addition of ground coriander and interesting spice. I will need to try it in a cake one day.

  7. Thanks Kyla - I might have seen it at a store but I'll have to go back and check if it is the same one

    Thanks Tanita - well twelfth night never really recovered from its banning during the Reformation and what happened is that, over time, it lost its religious significance and became a time to go on the booze and act up. Queen Victoria wasn't impressed with the loutish behaviour and that is why she banned the celebrations.

    Hi Francesca the nuts are added with the fruit.

    Thanks Priya!

    Thanks Min!

    Thanks Mark - the ground coriander is a subtle flavour it just adds to the overall spice of the cake

  8. I'm pretty sure I got that icon in Budapest, it is lovely to have.


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