Ack! I’ve been working on this blog entry since early January, and
I’d hoped to get it posted long before tonight. Alas, life kept getting
in the way, and now, January has come to an end and February
is here. dagnabit. Ahh, well…timely or not, here it is. Finally. Oh!
And thanks to fellow hearth cook Tiffany Fisk-Watts for getting
me started. HUZZAH!
Awhile back, I conducted an in-depth receipt (recipe) search
for Twelfth Cake aka Twelfth-Night Cake. I looked in all my
facsimiles of 18th century cookbooks, as well as in the few
I have from the 17th, 16th, and earlier centuries. Books I’d
downloaded and a few others that are available online were
And so, what was the result of this investigation? What did
I find? Well, the answer, as you may recall from when I wrote
about my search some two years ago: Absolutely nothing.
Yep, I found zilch, nada, zip. There’s not a single receipt
for Twelfth Night Cake of in any of those cookbooks.
Now, if you received one of James Townsend & Son’s 2013
calendars (as I did), you may be thinking, “Hey, now wait
just a minute! According to Townsend, there’s a receipt for
‘Twelfth-Night Cake’ in The London Art of Cookery (1800*),
by John Farley. Good golly, it’s right there, on the opening
page, as the receipt for January!” Yeah, well, sorry, but it’s
incorrect. There are NO receipts for twelfth-night cakes
in any 18th century cookbook, let alone in Farley’s.
So, if that’s the case (and indeed it is), what’s with that
first recipe on Townsend’s calendar? Where did it come
from? Heavens! Did he make it up?! Thankfully, no. The
answer, though, is easily found. It’s in fine print over
in the lower right-hand corner of the very same page.
Read it, and you’ll discover Townsend believes that
a Twelfth-Night cake is the same as a Bride’s Cake.
Apparently, at least according to Townsend, they’re
interchangeable! And thus, THAT is exactly what is
given here. Yep, January’s recipe is NOT, specifically,
for a Twelfth-Night cake; it’s for a Bride’s Cake.
Now, this claim that the two cakes, Twelfth-Night and
Bride’s, are one and the same is one that I’ve never,
ever heard before. And so, I have to wonder, where’d
Townsend get this idea?! What is its source? Why does
he believe it’s correct? Whatever the answers may be
to those questions, the bottom line is, it isn’t true.
These cakes are NOT the same!
How do I know? Because there are receipts specifically
for twelfth cakes in at least two early 19th century
cookbooks which ALSO contain instructions for making,
specifically, a Bride’s Cake. And yes, the two cakes ARE
different, even if only slightly. The first of the above books
is John Mollard’s The Art of Cookery (1801), and The Cook’s
Oracle (1817), by William Kitchiner, M.D., is the second.
There’s a pesky, um, problem, if you will, with Farley’s
Bride Cake receipt. It’s not his. It’s Elizabeth Raffald’s.
Yep, he stole, er, borrowed, it from her. In fact, Farley
is well known for plagiarizing other
author’s works. Heck, a few years
ago, a member of the historic food-
ways staff at Colonial Williamsburg
told me that they refer to his book
as “The London Art of Plagiarism.”
Pretty accurate, I’d say! So I rarely,
if ever, use it. In any event, seems
to me, if you’re going to engage in
a substitution scheme of some sort, that you’d choose
the original and not a copy! Not only that, but there
ARE actual historic receipts for twelfth cakes. Why not
use one of those? The one Townsend offers is from an
1800 publication anyway, so it’s not like he’s sticking
necessarily to one single time period. Why not move
ahead just one year (1801), or even a few more (1817),
and present a TRUE twelfth cake receipt?
Another problem I have with January’s receipt, besides
it being one cake masquerading as another and it not
being attributed to its original source, is the fact that
it’s an adaptation. And you all know how I absolutely,
positively, detest adaptations! And what you see here
is NOT the actual receipt taken from an historic cookbook.
In addition, it’s not even faithful to the original, as both
the ingredients and the instructions have been altered.
It’s been adapted and re-written! And although I’ve not
inspected each and every one (it’d be too maddening!),
I suspect all the recipes in Townsend’s 2013 calendar
are merely adaptations of historic ones. Most likely,
there’s not one authentic, not-been-messed-with
recipe in the lot (sadly). That’s why I think it needs
to be re-titled. Instead of “Recipes & Sundry Items,”
it should be “Adapted Historic Recipes & Sundry Items.”
Truth in advertising, don’t you know!
Hmmm. On second thought, I guess he DID make it up!
Which is just the sort of thing that I don’t understand.
There are plenty of actual, original historic receipts out
there. They’re not difficult to find. So use them! Then
tell us how to make THAT receipt, as it’s written! It CAN
be done. Heck, I do it all the time in my hearth cooking.
But to muck about with an historic receipt, and then pass
it off as being historic, even down to “it’s from so-n-so’s”
18th or 19th century book. Add in the nature of your
business (seller of supposed historic reproductions),
and, well, it just seems deceitful to me.
In order to compare Townsend’s recipe to the original,
here is Elizabeth Raffald’s Bride Cake, as given in her
book, The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769):
To make a Bride Cake
Take four pounds of fine flour well dried,
four pounds of fresh butter, two pounds
of loaf sugar, pound and sift fine a quarter
of an ounce of mace, the same of nutmegs.
To every pound of flour put eight eggs.
Wash four pounds of currants, pick them
well and dry them before the fire. Blanch
a pound of sweet almonds (and cut them
lengthway very thin), a pound of citron,
one pound of candied orange, the same
of candied lemon, half a pint of brandy.
First work the butter with your hand to
a cream, then beat in your sugar a quarter
of an hour. Beat the whites of your eggs
to a very strong froth, mix them with your
sugar and butter, beat your yolks half an
hour at least and mix them with your cake.
Then put in your flour, mace and nutmeg,
keep beating it well till your oven is ready,
put in your brandy, and beat your currants
and almonds lightly in. Tie three sheets
of paper round the bottom of your hoop
to keep it from running out, rub it well
your sweetmeats in three lays with cake
betwixt every lay. After it is risen and
coloured, cover it with paper before
your oven is stopped up. It will take
three hours baking.
Did you notice the following line?
and lay your sweetmeats in three
lays with cake betwixt every lay.
So, that means it’s not just another every-day cake,
with all those various ingredients
thrown in higgledy-piggledy. No, it’s
more deliberate. There’s to be three
separate layers of citron and candied
orange and lemon peels that alternate
in between three of cake batter. Almost
sounds as if it’s perhaps a type of 18th
century layer cake.
Lastly, let’s take a look at the two known, bona-fide receipts
for Twelfth Cakes that’re from the early 1800s. First up, is
John Mollard’s, from his The Art of Cookery (1801). Then
we’ll move on to William Kitchiner’s, as presented in his
work, The Cook’s Oracle (1817). I trust you’ll ferret out
the similarities and the differences between these two
cakes (for instance, the use of yeast in Mollard’s) below:
Take seven pounds of flour, make a cavity
in the center, set a sponge with a gill and
a half of yeast and a little warm milk; then
put round it one pound of fresh butter broke
into small lumps, one pound and a quarter
of sifted sugar, four pounds and a half
of currants washed and picked, half an
ounce of sifted cinnamon, a quarter of
an ounce of pounded cloves, mace, and
nutmeg mixed, sliced candied orange or
lemon peel and citron. When the sponge
is risen, mix all the ingredients together
with a little warm milk; let the hoops be
well papered and buttered, then fill them
with the mixture and bake them, and
when nearly cold ice them over with sugar
prepared for that purpose as per receipt;
or they may be plain.
Again, as you may recall from from my blog post two years
ago, noted food historian Ivan Day wrote in Cooking in Europe,
1650-1850, that Mollard’s receipt “seems to be the earliest
printed recipe for an English twelfth cake.”
Next, Kitchiner’s receipt from his The Cook’s Oracle (1817):
Twelfth Cake. (No. 55.)
2 lb of sifted flour, 2 lb of sifted loaf
sugar, 2 lb of butter, 18 eggs, 4 lb
of currants, 1/2 pound almonds,
blanched and chopped, 1/2 pound
of citron or lemon, 1 lb of candied
orange and lemon peel cut into thin
slices, a large nutmeg grated, 1/2 oz
ground allspice; ground cinnamon,
mace, ginger, and corianders, 1/4 oz
of each and a gill of brandy.
Put the butter into a stewpan in a warm
place and work it into a smooth cream
with the hand. Mix it with the sugar
and spice in a pan (or on your paste
board), for some time; then break
in the eggs by degrees, and beat it
at least 20 minutes; stir in the brandy,
and then the flour, and work it a little.
Add the fruit, sweetmeats and almonds
and mix all lightly together. Have ready
a hoop cased with paper on a baking
plate. Put in the mixture, smooth it on
the top with your hand. Put the plate
on another one with sawdust between,
to prevent the bottom from colouring
too much, and bake it in a slow oven
four hours or more. When nearly cold,
ice it with twelfth cake icing.
Obs. A good twelfth cake, not baked
too much, and kept in a cool dry place,
will retain its moisture and eat well if
twelve months old.
Oh, and look what follows the above receipt:
Bride or Wedding Cake. (No. 56)
The only difference usually made
in these Cakes is, the addition of
one pound of Raisins, stoned and
mixed with the other fruit.
Perhaps this is where Townsend got his idea that a Bride
Cake is the same as a Twelfth Cake? According to Kitchiner,
they ARE similar, in all but one ingredient. And yet, still they
are NOT exactly the same. They are two distinct receipts!
But I digress…. Now, the receipt in Kitchiner for making
icing for these cakes is found under the heading:
Icing for Twelfth or Bride Cake. (No. 84.)
Let’s take a closer look. It specifies icing for Twelfth OR
Bride Cake. In other words, it refers to two SEPARATE
cakes, Twelfth AND Bride. It does NOT say, or even imply,
that the two are one and the same. That would be “Icing
for Twelfth, or Bride, Cake.” Or, “Icing for Twelfth, also known
as Bride, Cake.” You get the idea, yes?! It’s merely an Icing
for Twelfth Cake OR for Bride Cake! It’s for the one AND/OR
the other. In short, it’s icing for both.
This fact is also reiterated in the content of the icing
receipt itself. To wit, the highlighted words below:
Icing for Twelfth or Bride Cake. (No. 84.)
Take 1 lb of double refined sugar,
pounded and sifted through a sieve;
put into a pan quite free from grease,
break in the whites of six eggs, and
as much powder blue as will lie on
a sixpence; beat it well with a spattle
for ten minutes, then squeeze in the
juice of a lemon, and beat till it becomes
thick and transparent. Set the cake you
intend to ice, in an oven or warm place
for five minutes, then spread over the
top and sides with the mixture as smooth
as possible. If for a wedding cake only,
plain ice it; if for a twelfth cake,
ornament it with gum paste, or
fancy articles of any description.
One final observation: below is the title page of Kitchiner’s
Oracle. About a third of the way down, the author mentions
that his work provides a “system of cookery for Catholic
Families.” So, were twelfth/twelfth-night cakes mainly
eaten by followers of that religion? Maybe that’s why
receipts are so hard to find?! Adds more fodder to that
burning question: Christmas. Did they or didn’t they?!
Ahh, well, that’s a whole other topic for another day.
*John Farley’s book, The London Art of Cookery, was initially published
in 1783. There were numerous subsequent editions, and the one I have
is the 11th of 1807. I don’t know whether or not there was an 1800
edition, as noted on Townsend’s calendar (there very well may be).