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Catholic Recipe: Twelfth Cake

    INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 5/8 cup currants
  • 3/4 cup sultanas
  • 1 1/3 cups mixed peel, shredded
  • 1 cup butter
  • 5/8 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. molasses
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Details

  • Yield: 1 loaf cake
  • Prep Time: N/A
  • Difficulty: • • •
  • Cost: $$$$
  • For Ages: 15+
  • Origin: England

Twelfth Night, also known as Twelfth Day Eve, Epiphany and Old Christmas Eve, falls on January fifth, the twelfth day after Christmas. The once famous customs of Twelfth Night have not been celebrated extensively in England since the midnineteenth century, although some folk practices connected with the season have continued to modern times.

The Twelfth Night revels of the past dwindled perceptibly in popularity after the calendar change, in 1752, from Old to New Style. In the Green Room of London's Drury Lane Theatre, however, Twelfth Cake still is eaten and a toast drunk in honor of Richard Baddeley the comedian, who died in 1794. The ancient ceremony, interrupted by war, was revived in 1947, and will continue — God willing — for centuries to come.

Richard Baddeley was a pastry cook who later became an actor. Upon his death he left the sum of one hundred pounds, invested at three per cent interest, to provide a cake, known as the "Baddeley Cake", which was to be eaten annually, in his memory, by "His Majesty's Company of Commedians".

Originally the Twelfth Night Cake, baked with a bean and a pea inside, was accompanied by generous supplies of "Lamb's Wool" (an ale, seasoned with sugar, nutmeg and the pulp of roasted apples.for the wassail bowl), as well as various kinds of sweetmeats.

It was customary for friends and relatives to gather round the festive board on Twelfth Night to dine sumptuously and then perform the ceremony of cutting the Twelfth Cake. Whoever found the bean in his portion of cake was proclaimed King of the revel, while the person getting the pea was Queen. Immediately a mock court was established, and each of the guests was assigned to some different office and title of importance.

Herrick describes the gay seventeenth-century custom of choosing the King and Queen in the following stanzas:

       Now, now the mirth comes
       With the cake full of plums,
Where Beane's the King of the sport here;
       Besides we must know,
       The Pea also
Must revell, as Queene, in the Court here.
       Begin then to chuse
       This night as ye use
Who shall for the present delight here,
       Be a King by the lot,
       And who shall not
Be Twelfe-day Queene for the night here.
       Which knowne, let us make
       Joy-sops with the cake,
And let not a man be seen here,
       Who unurg'd will not drinke
       To the base from the brink
A health to the King and Queene here.
       Next crowne the bowle full
       With gentle lamb's woll;
       Add sugar, nutmeg and ginger,
       With store of ale too;
       And this ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

(Robert Herrick, "Hesperides, Twelfe Night, or King and Queene", 1648).

In Herrick's day the Twelfth Cake was similar to ordinary plum cake. It became more elaborate as time went on until, by the nineteenth century, it resembled a modern fruit cake, crowned with "painted sugar".

Directions for making an excellent modern Twelfth Cake follow. Why not hide a bean and a pea in it, and let the cake set the theme for an old-fashioned Twelfth Night party?

DIRECTIONS

Cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Warm the molasses and milk and add them to the butter, sugar and eggs, beating briskly. Sift a little of the flour over fruits, to prevent them from falling to bottom of pan. Sift together flour and spices and mix into batter, stirring lightly. Fold in fruits last of all.

Line bread tin with waxed paper. Pour in mixture and bake in slow oven (250° F.) for approximately 2-2 1/4 hours.

Recipe Source: From An English Oven by Dorothy Gladys Spicer, The Women's Press, New York, 1948
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