“New Year’s! – A new year, a new era, a new receipt, or a food intended for New Year’s.”
Trying to Find Inspiration
My family does not any New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day traditional foods. Typically, it was a day to hang out with family and friends, watch some football, eat some snacks. As a result, I needed to do a little wandering on the internet. My journey brought me to the website for Townsend’s. I love to watch their cooking videos and dream about working in their 1700s kitchen set. One of the videos I watched was for a Twelfth Night Cake. You can watch it here: https://youtu.be/B5FzKB5TW0Y
Twelfth Night Cake
Twelfth Night is the celebration of the Epiphany, the day the wise men were to have arrived after the birth of Jesus. The Smithsonian Institute describes a Twelfth Night party as this: “According to the 1923 Dennison’s Christmas Book, “there should be a King and a Queen, chosen by cutting a cake…” The Twelfth Night Cake has a bean and a pea baked into it. The man who finds the bean in his slice of cake becomes King for the night while the lady who finds a pea in her slice of cake becomes Queen for the night. The new King and Queen sit on a throne and “paper crowns, a scepter and, if possible, full regalia are given them.” The party continues with games such as charades as well as eating, dancing, and singing carols.” Other sources suggest decorating the cake with either a crown or feather plumes. I decided to use the recipe suggested in the Townsend’s video, taken from The English Art of Cookery, According to the Present Practice (1788) by Richard Briggs, however I was going to use 1/3 recipe.
I assembled all my ingredients together and dove into the baking.
I needed to use multiple bowls and multiple mixers. Luckily, I have plenty of both! I set the KitchenAid to whisking the egg whites while I beat the butter and sugar after mixing the dry ingredients together and the fruit and almonds soaked in the brandy. As I began adding the contents of the various bowls together, I really started to wonder if it would all fit in the bowl of the KitchenAid! With the last bowl of ingredients added, I carefully turned on the mixer. A few ingredients fell out, but the majority remained in the bowl! Great Success! I spooned the mixture into my prepared springform pan that was lined with parchment paper and buttered.
Next, it went into the oven for two hours! It actually took that long to bake and be done when I tested it.
After it cooled, I began mixing the icing together. The icing recipe also came from Briggs’ The English Art of Cookery. I used the written recipe cut in half. I also did NOT beat the icing for three hours (!) as was written in the original recipe.
Once the icing was at the thick, creamy consistency I needed, I covered the top and sides of the cake and set it in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour. The icing became a hard crusted glaze as it dried.
Sources had mentioned using fondant to fashion a crown to place on the top or to insert a plume of feathers. I decided to go with the feathers, as well as additional decoration in the form of blue tinted chocolate discs in the place of non-pareils.
I thought it turned out beautifully! It was definitely a very impressive cake, and I hadn’t even used a full recipe! The texture was dense and the flavor was very much like fruitcake. The icing was very fragile, cracking easily, making it a little difficult to eat. My husband and I can’t eat an entire cake, so I gave it to anyone who was willing to try it. Some people loved it, some people did not. My daughter told me that she and her boyfriend “wouldn’t look forward to eating it, but if we were hungry we would.”
The Recipe: This is the modified recipe I used.
1 Lb. Butter
1/2 Lb. Sugar
8 Eggs (yolks & whites separated)
3 C. Flour
1 t Ground Mace
1 t Ground Nutmeg
1/2 c. Brandy
1/4 c. Candied Citron Rind
1/4 c. Candied Orange Rind
1/4 c. Candied Lemon Rind
1 C. Slivered Almonds
1 Lb. Zante Currants
Directions: Mix currants, citron rind, orange rind, lemon rind and slivered almonds, soaking them with the brandy once mixed. In a separate bowl, mix flour, mace and nutmeg. In another bowl, whip egg whites until stiff peaks form; whip egg yolks in a separate bowl. In a separate mixing bowl, cream the butter until it looks like whipped cream; then add the sugar until smooth and fluffy. Gently fold whipped egg whites and eggs yolks together; quickly and gently fold flour mixture into the egg mixture. Finally, gently fold the flour and egg mixture into the dried fruit mixture, being sure to not over stir. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 approximately hours.
This is the modified icing recipe:
6 egg whites
2 C. sugar
Take the egg whites and sugar, mix together and beat it well for 10 minutes until it looks white and thick. Then with a thin paste knife spread it all over the top and sides of your cake, and ornament it with sweet non-pareils, or fruit paste, or sugar images, and put it in a cool oven to harden for one hour, or set it at a distance from the fire and keep turning till it is hard.
The Date/Year and Region: 1788, England.
How I Made It: See above.
Time to Complete: Approximately five hours. This included three hours of baking time alone.
Total cost: I had to order the candied rind, the currents and I didn’t have brandy. Those ingredients alone cost $30. With the other ingredients that I did have, I would estimate the total cost to be approximately $38 – $40, plus the cost of feathers, which were another $10. That is the monetary cost and doesn’t include the time it took to make the cake. I feel this must have been for the rich to splurge with due to the amount of time it took and the amount of very rich ingredients. The average shopkeeper’s wife, farmer’s wife or dressmaker did not have the 7-8 hours it would have taken to bake and decorate this cake as written.
How Successful Was It? I would say moderate success. I feel the cake was sort of like fruit cake: you either like it or you don’t.
How Accurate Is It? I used two mixers and it was baked in an electric oven. For what it’s worth, I also used eight bowls while making this cake. I also did not put a coin or a bean in the cake. I was concerned about putting a modern coin in the mixture and while I have a reproduction silver pudding charm set, I’m pretty sure the last time I used it my grandpa ate the button without knowing it…
Next up – Looking Back
I’ll be cooking for you soon!