Speaking of cakes…
January 6 is Twelfth Night, also known as the Epiphany or
Three Kings Day. It marks the arrival of the three wise men
(or Magi) who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. It also signals
the end of the twelve days of Christmas, which traditionally
began on December 25 and ended on January 6. Hence the
ever popular Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”
(yes, it should be sung after, not before).
In past centuries, it was a major day of celebratory feasting.
Special foods were prepared, particularly breads and/or cakes.
Here’s a receipt from John Mollard’s The Art of Cookery (1801):
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.
In his book Cooking in Europe, 1650-1850, illustrious food historian
Ivan Day writes, “Although the tradition of making these cakes dates
back to the medieval period” the above “seems to be the earliest
printed recipe for an English twelfth cake.” Now, I’ve not found any
others, either (yet), in my various British cookbooks. I did, however,
find one in The Cook’s Own Book (1832), by “a Boston Housekeeper”
(Mrs. N. K. M. Lee). It’s a bit more elaborate, containing eggs, fruit,
nuts, and more.
Here’s an appropriate illustration for today:
What’s interesting about the above painting (to me, at least) is that there
is no cake on the table. At least, none that can be seen…unless the dish
of white on the right is the cake/bread. A couple of people, however, do
have waffles. I like the broken egg shells on the floor (and the Dutch
were supposedly so neat and tidy!). Note the folks (presumably carolers)
at the door (left).