Thursday, December 3, 2015

Countdown to Christmas ....23 - Twelfth Night Cake

Twelfth Night Cake - with crown 
I have already cut my Christmas Cake - just to test it, of course. I was surprised to learn that in times past, the "Christmas" cake was not eaten until Easter, and then later on on the twelfth night of Christmas.... why?
The traditional Christmas cake is the evolution of two popular dishes, plum porridge and the Twelfth Night Cake. First cited in 1573, plum porridge was traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve after a daylong fast. It wasn’t long before dried fruit and honey were added to the porridge mixture. Its was also the origins of the Christmas pudding. During the 16th Century the oatmeal in the porridge was replaced by butter, flour from wheat and eggs. This mix would still have been boiled and it was not until richer families had ovens in the home, that the mix was baked. Dried fruit was added and finished off with marzipan. Traditionally it would have been eaten at Easter. 

The Christmas Cake evolved when dried fruit of the season and spices (the spices were symbolic, the spices bought by the Magi) were added at then eaten at Christmas. The cake was originally eaten not at Christmas but on the Twelfth Night, the Epiphany  ( eve of 5th January) 
 One of the things that would have changed was the leavening agent. In the early 19th century, yeast derived from the beer-brewing process would have been added to make the cake rise. The earliest known written source specifically named as a twelfth-cake recipe is an 1803 version by English cook John Mollard in his The Art of Cookery. It uses ¾ of a cup of yeast to leaven seven pounds of flour. Later in the 19th-century, beaten eggs were used as the leavening agent, and still later, as standardized ingredients became commonly available, baking powder was substituted. 
Elabroately decorated Twelfth Night Cake - with two symbolic crowns for the king and queen of the night. 
What is common among twelfth-cake recipes is that they are always very large fruitcakes containing currants and citrus peel that require long baking at a low temperature to cook right through. They are designed to be decorated elaborately with royal glaze, almond paste and/or fondant, with lots of piped and sculpted sugar embellishments. In fact, they resemble our traditional wedding cakes, to which they are a close relation.
Program of Twelfth Night festivities 
On the Twelfth Night, not only was the cake consumed, but party games were played, with guests taking various parts as characters. The  Twelfth Night Cake , both in England and in France, was always topped with a crown, and inside the cake was baked a bean . Whoever received the bean  was entitles to wear the crown and be king or queen for the night's festivities. Sometimes, there were two crowns - for a king and a queen!  
Twelfth Night Celebration  - King of the night wearing the crown. 
You might have already drawn the connection between sixpences in the plum pudding and the bean in the Twelfth Night Cake. I guess the only surprise in our Christmas cake is the lovely aroma of rum when it is cut! 

PS Later in this series of Advent blog posts, I will show you how some bakers include surprises in their Christmas cakes, but tomorrow I will investigate why fruit cake has been banned at times throughout history. 

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