Baking a Twelfth Night Cake

The celebration of Twelfth Night, the traditional last day of Christmas, is a custom that has largely died out now but at one time there was a bigger party on Twelfth Night, 5th January, than on Christmas itself.

Twelfth Night used to be marked by the baking of a special cake. In Britain this was a dense Fruity Cake laced with spices, remembering the kings who came from the east and whose day, Epiphany, is commemorated on 6th January. In France Twelfth Night Cake, or Galette des Rois (cake of the kings), is a pastry tart filled with an almondy paste.

Although the cakes are different, a common tradition links them. It has been the custom to bake into the cake favours in the shape of a pea and a bean. The man who found the bean in his slice became King and reigned for the evening. Likewise the woman who found the pea was Queen. Sometimes the baker would take great care when placing the favours in the cake and designate half the cake to be the male side and half to be eaten by females. If however the favours were just tossed into the mixture then, if the pea or bean were found by the wrong sex, it was that person’s prerogative to choose the person to be King or Queen!

A similar custom exists in France but latterly the bean, la fève, has been replaced by a porcelain figure in the shape of a character from the nativity scene.

Twelfth Night Cake

  • 225g (8oz) plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons brandy
  • 225g (8oz) unsalted butter
  • 225g (8oz caster sugar
  • 225g (8oz) sultanas
  • 225g (8oz) raisins
  • 225g (8oz) currants
  • 75g (3oz) blanched almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 dried pea
  • 1 dried bean

Preheat the oven to 150°C, gas mark 2. Grease and base-line a 10” tin. Tie a double thickness of brown or news paper around the tin to help prevent the cake overcooking on the outside.

Sieve together the flour and spices. Lightly beat together the eggs and brandy. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs and brandy to the cake mixture, stirring well between each addition. Carefully fold in the flour, fruit and nuts. Finally don’t forget to mix in the pea and bean!

Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface. Bake for about 3 hours. A skewer inserted should come out clean if the cake is cooked. If it looks as if it’s getting too brown, cover with a double sheet of greaseproof paper or foil. Allow to cool on a wire rack. Dredge generously with sifted icing sugar. Serve with a Gold Frill around the edge or make a gold crown to sit on top.

Galette Des Rois

  • 110g (4oz) caster sugar
  • 110g (4oz) ground almonds
  • 100g (4oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon rum
  • 1 bean or a porcelain favour (la fève)
  • About 450g (1lb) puff pastry, home-made or shop-bought
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Mix together the sugar and almonds. Add the butter and beat well until creamy and well-mixed. Gradually add the 3 eggs, beating well after each addition. Finally mix in the rum and la fève.

Now divide the puff pastry in half and roll out on a well-floured surface to make two circles each about 10” across. Place one circle of pastry on a well-greased baking sheet.

Spoon the creamed mixture onto the pastry, leaving an edge about 1” wide. Beat the egg yolk and milk together to create a wash and brush it around the edge of the pastry. Place the other circle of pastry on top and press the edges together to seal. Cover and leave in the fridge for about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4.

Brush the galette with the remaining egg wash. Using a small sharp knife cut a scallop pattern around the edge of the pastry and a star pattern from the centre. Bake for about 40 minutes or until well-risen and golden. Brush immediately with a sugar syrup made by dissolving 2 oz caster sugar in ¼ pint water and bringing to the boil.

Serve topped with a golden crown that can be worn by the king for the evening.

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