Sunday, January 6, 2013

Twelfth Night

First I must apologize for my extended hiatus.  Between the frenzy of the holidays and an epic bout of the Plague - at least it felt like the plague, I have been very neglectful of the blog.

While I want to share some of our Christmas pictures and stories, I wanted to share some information on Twelfth Night first.  I attended a Twelfth Night celebration last night.  It was a wonderful night of good friends and traditional foods.

When I was invited to my first Twelfth Night holiday, I did not know anything of the celebration.  In true Artemissia style, I did my research.  Below is the product of my curiosity.


Twelfth Night / Epiphany / Three Kings Day

“Now Christmas is past,
Twelfth Night is the last.
To the Old Year adieu,
Great joy to the New”
Welsh Twelfth Day Carol

Twelfth Night is most commonly celebrated on January 6th.  It has many names and marks multiple beginnings and endings.   It is the final day of the Christmas season and the official end to the Winter Festival season that began on All Hallow’s Eve.  It also symbolizes the arrival of the Three Wise Men after the birth of Jesus and begins what is known as Carnival Season.

Origins of Twelfth Night
Most agree that the Twelfth Night celebration is rooted in pagan winter festivals and the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia.
Pagan Winter Festivals 

The Winter Solstice
The Winter Solstice is unique among days of the year — the time of the longest night and the shortest day. The dark triumphs over light that one night. For the Solstice is also a turning point. Until the Summer Solstice, the nights grow shorter and the days grow longer, the dark wanes and the Sun waxes in power. From the dark of the night, the light is born.

Many of the customs associated with the Winter Solstice (and therefore with other midwinter festivals such as St Lucy’s Day, Saturnalia, Hanukkah, New Years and Twelfth Night) are Light or Fire Festivals.  They derive from stories of a mighty battle between the dark and the light, which is won, naturally, by the light. Other traditions record this as the time a savior (the Sun-Child) is born to a virgin mother.   Remember that Christ’s birth (birth of the Son/Sun) was not celebrated on December 25th until the 4th century.

One of the more interesting representations of this Battle between Dark and Light can be found in the Holly King and Oak King.

The Holly King represents one half of the year, while the other is personified by his counterpart/adversary the Oak King: the two battle endlessly as the seasons turn. At Midsummer the Oak King is at the height of his strength, while the Holly King is at his weakest. The Holly King begins to regain his power, and at the Autumn Equinox, the tables finally turn in the Holly King's favor; he later vanquishes the Oak King at Yule.  They are seen as the dual aspects of the male Earth deity, one strong in the summer, the other string on the winter.

Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honor of the deity Saturn originally held December 17 and later expanded with festivities through December 23. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and  a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms with masters providing table service for their slaves.

In Roman mythology, Saturn was an agricultural deity, who is often depicted with a sickle like the figures of Death or Old Father Time, that reigned over the world in the Golden Age, when humans enjoyed the spontaneous bounty of the earth without labor in a state of social egalitarianism. The revelries of Saturnalia were supposed to reflect the conditions of the lost mythical age, not all of them desirable. 

The Creation of Twelfth Night
As Christianity spread across Europe, the church subsumed the old pagan festivals and replaced them with celebrations of religious significance.   

The Winter Solstice and Saturnalia festivals were replaced with the Christ’s birth now being celebrated on December 25th and the creation of Catholic Christ Mass.  The Catholics also chose January 6th, or the Epiphany, for the celebration of the visit of the Magi (Three Wise Men) to the Christ Child.  This gave birth to what we now know as the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ and Twelfth Night.   

These are the twelve days, beginning at Christmas and ending on January 6th, or Twelfth Night.  This became the traditional end of the Christmas festive season. 

The Twelve Days of Christmas
There are many traditions based in the Twelve Days of Christmas.  I will only touch on a few.  

The first day of Christmas is December 25th.  This was a day of prayer, church and observing the birth of the Christ Child.

The second day of Christmas, December 26th, was also called the Feast of St. Stephen.  Today we call it Boxing Day.  Whichever name you choose to use, this is a day to be generous to those less fortunate than yourself.  It is a particularly good day to put the fabled "spirit of giving" into practice.  Take time on this day to perform an act of charity.    

The fifth day of Christmas is known as the Feast of St. Thomas Beckett.  He was an Archbishop murdered by King Henry II’s knights for defending the rights of the church.   On his coat of arms were three ‘beckits’.  Beckits are a member of the crow family.  Therefore, this is a day to reflect on the broader meanings of Christmas and to ensure your bird feeder is full.

On a personal note, while the pre-Christmas season can be stressful and demanding, the true season of Christmas, the twelve days between Christmas Eve and Epiphany on January 6, are often a peaceful interlude between the build up to Christmas and the renewed order and resolute intentions of a New Year.

With all of the holiday preparation behind you, during the twelve days of Christmas you finally have a chance to slow down and appreciate the gifts of the season: holiday cards and letters from friends and family, vacation days with family, decorations and conversation shared with friends and special food of the season.

Twelfth Night Customs and Traditions
One of the first things to realize when studying Twelfth Night traditions and customs is that they are intrinsically intertwined with that of Christmas, Yuletide, Carnival and Mardi Gras.  It is difficult to fully understand one without knowledge of the others.

Once Saturnalia and the pagan winter festivals were replaced by Christmas and Epiphany, the celebratory nature changed drastically.  Unlike today, Christmas began no earlier than Christmas Eve and ended on Epiphany.  Due to the church’s influence, this was now a time of family, church, work, reflection and charity. 

Unfortunately for the church, the people were not going to just give up their old festival traditions.  Instead, they shifted them to fall after the Christian Christmas season, starting on Twelfth Night.   Even superficially, it is quite clear that Twelfth Night echoes this religious and cultural ‘compromise’ by highlighting notions of order and chaos: the order of accepted religious and social morals.   As you will see later, the Church absorbed this celebration into a sort of Judeo-Christian tradition call Carnival that ends with Mardi Gras, proceeding Lent.

The Lord of Misrule and the Kings Cake
The most prevalent leftover from Saturnalia is the Lord of Misrule and the Feast of Fools.  This was a time of social satire and role reversals.  A King (the Lord of Misrule), Queen and royal court would be ‘elected’.  This royalty would preside over the Saturnalia Festival and lead the crowd in celebration.  Typically, the new court would be comprised of servants.  During the festival, the masters would wait on the servants.  This is reflected today in the Twelfth Night or Kings Cake traditions.

For Twelfth Night, a cake, and there are many variations, is baked.  Traditionally, there was a bean baked inside the cake.  The cake was sliced and distributed to everyone at the Twelfth Night celebration.   Whoever had the slice of cake with the bean became the King or Queen for the night.  They in turn picked their partner King or Queen.  The royal couple would assign revelers ludicrous tasks or require them to behave in ways that were contrary to their person.  Over time, this couple became known as King Bean and Queen.  The rest of those attending the celebration took up the roles of courtiers.

In the late seventeenth century, a new custom whereby Twelfth Night merrymakers drew slips of paper from a hat on which were written the names of characters found at the bean king’s court. They were expected to impersonate this character for the rest of the evening.  By the end of the eighteenth century this innovation had almost completely replaced the earlier custom of planting a bean inside the Twelfth Night cake. In fact, it became so popular that, by the end of the eighteenth century, shops sold packets of cards with names and drawings of characters printed on them. The absurd names given to these characters served to describe their exaggerated personalities. Examples include Sir Tunbelly Clumsy, Sir Gregory Goose, and Miss Fanny Fanciful.

Today this tradition carries on from Twelfth Night through the Carnival season to Mardi Gras.  The best example of this is the King, Queen and Courtiers that are chosen each year for the carnival krewes in New Orleans.

Christmas Decorations
“Christmas has come to an end,
And the tree must go.
But next year once again
We shall see our dear old friend,
For he has promised us so.”

A firm tradition in England is that Christmas trees and wreaths must be down at the end of Twelfth Night — or they are doomed to stay up all year.  It symbolizes the end of the Christmas season.  In Ireland, they burn the sprigs of Christmas holly in the fireplace which have been used as decorations during the past twelve days.   Another remnant of the ancient winter  fire festivals.

Scaring Away Evil Spirits / Bringing Good Luck
Old folk customs in France and the German-speaking countries encouraged noisemaking processions on Twelfth Night, designed to drive out the spirits that prowled the dark evenings of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Old German folk beliefs also suggested that Berchta, a frightening figure associated with the Twelve Days, appeared to people most often on Twelfth Night. In fact, the day took on her name in some German-speaking areas, becoming Perchtennacht, or “Berchta Night.”

There are also records of people scaring away evil spirits with a great shout and the firing of guns in England and Ireland.

On the flip-side, in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemboug,  people open their doors and windows to let good luck in for the coming year.

But not all customs and traditions are religious based some Twelfth Night customs have been created indirectly by the acts of politicians. The British calendar reform of 1752 moved the calendar forward eleven days in order to synchronize the country with the continental European calendar. With the stroke of a pen, the day that would have been Christmas Eve became Epiphany Eve.  This maneuver appears to have transferred several English Christmas customs, such as the wassailing of the fruit trees.

Wassailing Apple Trees

“More or less of fruit they bring
As you do give them wassailing. “

Wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon waes hal, meaning, 'be whole'. If somebody bids you 'wassail' you may reply 'drinkhail', meaning 'your health'. The invitation to festivity in this response is obvious.  The wassail bowl was a hot drink including apples, sugar, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and ale. In Wales, the bowl with evergreen boughs is carried from house to house and the inhabitants invited to drink wassail to the season: Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green. A wassail is also offered to apple trees.

In southern and western England, revelers gathered in orchards where they sang to the trees, drank to their health, poured hot cider over their roots, left cider-soaked toast in their branches for the birds.

Befana, the Italian Christmas Witch
In the Italian folklore, Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve in a similar way to Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus.
She visits all the children of Italy to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. Being a good housekeeper, many say she will sweep the floor before she leaves. The child's family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food, often regional or local, for the Befana.
She is usually portrayed as an old lady riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children's houses through the chimney. She is often smiling and carries a bag or hamper filled with candy, gifts, or both.

Gift Bearing Three Kings
Typically, Catholic countries celebrate the Three Wise Men's visit to see the newborn Christ by leaving gifts for the children.  On Epiphany Eve, the children stack bundles of hay in boxes under their beds for each Wisemen's camel.  They wake up the next morning to then find their boxes exchanged for gifts.

Some other unique observations of Twelfth Night seem to be more regional based.

Women’s Christmas
Another interesting custom that seems unique to Ireland is ‘Women’s Christmas’.  The Irish call Epiphany Little Christmas or "Women's Christmas" (Irish: Nollaig na mBan). On the feast of the Three Kings the women of Ireland in times gone by had a bit of rest and celebration for themselves, after the cooking and work of the Christmas holidays. It has long been a custom for women to gather this day for a special high tea, but on the occasion of Epiphany accompanied by wine.  Today Irish women may spend the day shopping, take a meal at a restaurant or spend the evening at gathering in a pub. Women may also receive gifts from children, grandchildren or other family members on this day.

The Great Fruit Cake Toss
In the United States, in Colorado around Manitou Springs, Twelfth Night is marked by the Great Fruitcake Toss. Fruitcakes are thrown, participants dress as kings, fools, etc., and competitions are held for the farthest throw, the most creative projectile device, etc. As with customs in other countries, the fruitcake toss is a sort of festive symbolic leave-taking of the Christmas holidays until next year, but with humorous twist, since fruitcake (although the traditional Christmas bread of America, England and other English speaking nations) is considered in the United States with a certain degree of derision, and is the source of many jokes

Scottish Divinations
There are a number of ancient divination customs associated with Scottish Christmas tradition. One involves checking the cold ashes the morning after the Christmas fire. A foot shape facing the door was said to be foretelling a death in the family, while a foot facing into the room meant a new arrival.

Another was the ceremonial burning of Old Winter, the Cailleach. A piece of wood was carved roughly to represent the face of an old woman, then named as the Spirit of Winter, the Cailleach. This was placed onto a good fire to burn away, and all the family gathered had to watch to the end. The burning symbolised the ending of all the bad luck and enmities etc of the old year, with a fresh start.

The Candlemas Bull was in reality a cloud. It was believed that a bull would cross the sky in the form of a cloud, early on the morning on Candlemas, February 2nd. From its appearance people would divine. An East travelling cloud foretold a good year, south meant a poor grain year, but if it faced to the west the year would be poor. This custom was a remnant of the ancient Mithraiac religion, when the Bull-god would come at the start of Spring to warn of the year the farmers could expect.

Weather Prediction
There is a German rhyme saying, or "Bauernregel", that goes "Ist's bis Dreikönigs kein Winter, kommt keiner dahinter" meaning "If there hasn't been any Winter (weather) until Epiphany, none is coming afterward."  Another of these “Bauernregel", (German farmer's rules) for Epiphany states: "Dreikönigsabend hell und klar, verspricht ein gutes Weinjahr" or "If the eve of Epiphany is bright and clear, it fortells a good wine year."

In Latvia, If Epiphany Day was bright and mild and the sun “warmed the horses’ backs” it was said that the coming year would bring only peace. If the night before Epiphany saw clear starry skies, it meant Latvia could expect a fine harvest in the coming summer.

Twelfth Night Food
As mentioned before, the single most important centerpiece of any Twelfth Night celebration was the Twelfth Night/King’s Cake.  Each region / country had their own take on the cake.
In Italy, the beans were hidden in focaccia rather than a cake: three white beans and one black one. Whoever found the black bean was made king and could choose his queen and rule the banquet.

In France, the special cake served on this night is the galette des rois. It is thin and round and is cut into pieces in the pantry, always one more piece than there are guests, and carried into the room covered with a white napkin. The youngest member of the party gets to distribute the pieces. A small china doll (formerly a bean) is baked into the cake and the person receiving this piece becomes the Queen or King and gets to choose a consort. The extra piece is called le part a Dieu, and is set aside for the first person to come through the door.

In Portugal, the bolo-Rei cake is ring-shaped and, besides the dried lima bean which designates the King (who must make the cake the following year), contains amulets and fortune-telling trinkets.

In England, the Twelfth Night cake is usually a rich and dense fruitcake which contains both a bean and pea. The man who finds the bean is the King, the woman who finds the Pea is the Queen. But if a woman finds the bean, she can choose the King, while the man who finds the pea can choose the Queen.

In the Netherlands, as in France, Koningentaart (Kings' tart), puff pastry with almond filling, is prepared with a bean or coin hidden inside. Whoever finds the bean in his or her piece is king or queen for the day. A more typically Dutch version is Koningenbrood, or Kings' bread.

Germans eat a Three Kings cake which may be a golden pastry ring filled with orange and spice representing gold, frankincense and myrrh. More often in West Germany and Switzerland, these cakes take the form of Buchteln but for Epiphany, studded with citron, and baked as seven large buns in a round rather than square pan, forming a crown. Or they may be made of typical rich Christmas bread dough with cardamom and pearl sugar in the same seven bun crown shape.  As in other countries, the person who receives the piece or bun containing the trinket or whole almond becomes the king or queen for a day.

In Scotland, they have a Black Bun.  It was originally Twelfth Night Cake. It is a very rich fruit cake, almost solid with fruit, almonds, spices and the ingredients are bound together with plenty of Whisky. The stiff mixture is put into a cake tin lined with a rich short pastry and baked.  This takes the place of the even more ancient Sun Cakes. A legacy from Scotland's close associations with Scandinavia. Sun cakes were baked with a hole in the centre and symmetrical lines around, representing the rays of the Sun. This pattern is now found on the modern Scottish Shortbread, and has been misidentified as convenient slices marked onto the shortbread.

Twelfth Night

Now, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where Bean’s the King of the sport here;
Beside we must know
The Pea also
Must revel, as Queen, in the Court here.

Begin then to choose,
(This night as ye use)
Who shall for the present delight here.
Be a King by the lot
And who shall not
Be Twelfth-day Queen for the night here.

Which known, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurg’d will not drink
To the base from the brink
A health to the King and the Queen here.
Next crown the bowl full
With gentle lambs-wool;
Add sugar, nutmeg and ginger,
With store of ale too;
And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Give then to the King
And Queen wassailing;
And though with ale ye be wet here;
Yet part ye from hence,
As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.
- Robert Herrick

The Wassail Song

Wassail and wassail all over the town
Our cup it is white and the ale it is brown
The cup it is made of the good ashen tree
And so is the malt of the best barley

For it's your wassail
And it's our wassail,
Ay it's joy come to you and a jolly wassail

Wassail to all you sailors upon the River Thames
The apple and the Oak and all close and absent friends
The Globe upon the Bankside, the Borough kith and kin,
And the best to us poor Mummers that bring the Wassail in!

Twelfth Night Recipes

Jane Kuiper’s King Cake
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup warm water
4 eggs
2/3 cup skim evaporated milk or regular evaporated milk.  Also works with regular milk
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons grated orange rind
2 teaspoons salt
2 packages dry yeast
6 cups flour

In a saucepan, melt 1 stick butter, milk, 1/3 cup sugar, and salt. 
Mix well and cool to lukewarm. 
In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 tablespoons sugar, yeast, and water. 
Let stand until foaming, about 5 to 10 minutes. 
Beat eggs into yeast; then milk mixture and rinds. 
Stir in flour, ½ cup at a time, reserving 1 cup to flour kneading surface. 
Knead dough until smooth, about 5 to 10 minutes. 

Place in large mixing bowl greased with 1 tablespoon butter, turning dough once to grease top; cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.

1/2 cup dark brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 stick butter, melted

1 egg, beaten
1 cup sugar, colored (1/3 cup each of yellow, green and purple)
1 plastic baby or large bean

For filling:  mix sugars and cinnamon.  Set aside.
For topping, tint sugar by mixing in food coloring until desired color is reached. 

When dough has doubled, punch down and divide in half. 
On a floured surface, roll half into a rectangle 30 in. by 15 in. 
Brush with melted butter and cut into three equal pieces lengthwise. 
Sprinkle half of sugar mixture on strips, leaving a 1 inch edge lengthwise clear for sealing. 
Fold each strip lengthwise toward the center, sealing the seam. 
You will now have three 30 inch strips with sugar mixture enclosed in each. 
Braid the three strips and make a circle by joining the ends.
 Repeat with other half of the dough. 
Place each cake on a 10 inch by 15 inch greased baking sheet. 
Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. 
Brush each with egg and sprinkle with colored sugars, alternating colors. 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake 20 minutes. 
Remove from pan immediately so sugar will not harden. 
While still warm, place plastic baby or bean in cake from underneath.

Twelfth Night Cake

2 sticks butter

½ cup Crisco
3 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 cups of flour
½ t. baking powder
1 cup milk
1 t. each of vanilla, coconut, rum, butternut, almond and lemon flavoring

Grease and flour a large tube pan.

Cream butter and Crisco together.

Add sugar and stir well.

Add eggs one at a time and stir.

Combine flour and baking powder and add alternately with milk.

Add flavorings.

Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool for 20 minutes before turning out of pan.

Ice with frosting and decorations. Don’t forget the pea and bean.

Twelfth Night - Eggnog Pound Cake

½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1½ cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
6 large eggs
1½ cups eggnog
Powdered sugar, for dusting
½ cup chocolate chips, for making stars
½ cup white chocolate chips, for making stars
3 chocolate coins, for tokens to hide in the cake
3 small gifts, for those who find the tokens

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan or spray well with non-stick cooking spray.  Set aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugars and butter with an electric mixer.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition to fully incorporate.
Add the flour mixture one-third at a time, alternating with the buttermilk.  Beat until smooth.
Transfer the batter to the prepared Bundt pan being careful not to overfill.
(Place any remaining batter in a smaller prepared pan, such as a loaf pan.)
Bake at 325 degrees until it tests done, approximately 1 hour.
Remove cake from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
Remove cake from pan and allow to rest on the wire rack until completely cool. When cool, turn cake upside down.
Make three hidden slits in the bottom of the cake with a sharp knife.  
Carefully push a chocolate coin or candy into the slit until hidden in the cake
Turn the cake onto a serving platter.  Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar.  Decorate with chocolate stars, if desired.

To make chocolate stars:
Melt 1/2 cup of chocolate chips or white chocolate chips in a small container. When melted and smooth scrape the chocolate into a small Ziploc bag and trim 1/4 inch from a lower corner of the bag.

Pipe the soft chocolate in rough star shapes onto a baking sheet or cutting board covered with waxed paper or parchment paper.  After covering the surface with stars, place the stars in the refrigerator for five minutes or so, or until set and firm. Peel the stars from the paper and arrange on and around the cake.

King Cake

4¾ cups flour
1 cup sugar (divided usage)
1½ teaspoons salt
2 packages rapid-rise yeast
¾ cup milk
½ cup water
½ cup (1 stick) REAL butter
2 large eggs
¼ cup (½ stick) melted butter (used on second day)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (used on second day)
1 recipe powdered sugar glaze (see below)
Colored sugars (see below)

1) In a large bowl, combine 1½ cups of the flour, ¼ cup sugar, and yeast.  In a small saucepan heat the milk, water, butter and salt until very warm and butter is almost completely melted; DO NOT omit the salt, because the yeast needs it to grow.  Add the milk mixture to the dry mixture and beat on medium speed of an electric mixer for two minutes, then add the eggs and another ½ cup of flour and beat on high for two minutes (I always sing to the yeast to encourage it to grow, but I’m silly that way).  Stir in the remaining flour, then cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (8-24 hours).

2) Punch dough down and remove it to a lightly floured work surface, then combine the cinnamon with the remaining sugar and mix well.  Divide the dough into three equal pieces and roll each into a 28” long by 4” wide strip (I find it easier to roll it into a 14” x 8” strip, then cut it lengthwise and join the pieces end to end).  Brush the rectangle with a third of the melted butter, sprinkle evenly with a third of the cinnamon-sugar mixture and roll it up tightly to form a long rope; don’t forget to put your baby or bean at a random spot on one of the rectangles before rolling it up.  You’ll probably need to pinch and manipulate the ropes a little to get the edges to seal.  Braid the three ropes together, then bring the ends together and pinch to join them so the cake is an oval.  Carefully transfer to a greased baking sheet (I find it’s easier to do the braiding on the sheet) and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for one hour.

3) Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes (finished cake will sound hollow when tapped).  Carefully free cake from sheet and slide it cautiously to a wire rack to cool; meanwhile prepare colored sugars and powdered sugar glaze.  When cake has cooled slightly spread the glaze over it and then sprinkle the colored sugars on as in the picture; there is no way to do this without making a huge mess so you may as well just enjoy it.

Colored sugars:  For each color place ¼ cup of sugar into a Tupperware-type sealable container, add food coloring, seal container and shake vigorously (make sure you use a container with a trustworthy lid!)  For green sugar use 4 drops of green food coloring, for gold use 4 drops of yellow, and for purple use 4 drops of blue and 8 of red.  Unused sugars will keep indefinitely if sealed tightly in a cool, dark place.

Powdered sugar glaze:  Combine two cups of sifted powdered (confectioner’s) sugar and two or three tablespoons of milk; stir until smooth and use immediately.
Don’t forget to start the cake the night before you plan to serve it to company; the rolling and braiding may sound complicated but actually takes only about half an hour.  This cake is best enjoyed in good company with a tall glass of cold milk or a large cup of strong, hot café au lait.

Galette des Rois

1/4 cup almond paste
1/4 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1 (17.25 ounce) package frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 dry kidney bean or pea or nut or trinket made of china (a "feve")
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar for dusting

Place the almond paste into a food processor or blender with about half of the sugar, and process until well blended. Add the butter and remaining sugar using and process until smooth, then blend in 1 egg, vanilla extract, almond extract, flour and salt. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Butter a baking sheet or line with parchment paper, and set aside.

Roll out one sheet of the puff pastry into an 11 inch square. Keep the pastry cool, do not knead or stretch. Use a large pie plate, cake pan or frying pan to trace an 11 inch circle onto the dough using the tip of a small knife. Place the circle of pastry onto the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the second sheet of pastry. Refrigerate both sheets.

Mound the almond filling onto the center of the pastry that is on the baking sheet. Leave about 1 1/2 inch margin at the edges. Press the bean or feve down into the filling. Place the second sheet of pastry on top, and press down the edges to seal. Beat the remaining egg with a fork, and lightly brush onto the top of the gallette. Use a knife to make a criss cross pattern in the egg wash, and then prick several small slits in the top to vent steam while baking.

Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven. Do not open the oven until the time is up, as the pastry will not fully puff. Remove from the oven, and dust with confectioners' sugar. Return to the oven, and cook for an additional 12 to 15 minutes, or until the top is a deep golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Lay a golden paper crown gently on top of the cake. This will be used to crown the person who finds the bean or feve. Serve warm or cold. Make sure to tell everyone that something is hidden inside the cake lest they eat it if it's inedible!

The French method of serving this cake is for the youngest person in the room to hide under the table and shout out who gets which piece. The person who gets the piece with the hidden object chooses his Queen (or her King). One piece is always set aside "for God" (it's known as "le part du Bon Dieu"). This cake is said to serve 16.

Lamb's Wool

6 baking apples, cored
2 tablespoons to 1/2 cup brown sugar, depending on sweetness of cider/ale
2 quarts cider, hard cider, ale, or a mixture of cider and ale
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Roast the apples in a baking pan at 450 degrees F. for around an hour, until they are very soft and bursting open. In a large saucepan, dissolve the sugar a few tablespoons at a time in the liquid of choice, tasting for sweetness. Add the spices. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Pour the liquid over the apples (left whole or smashed up) in a large punch bowl. Serve with nuts.

Wassail Bowl (Makes 25 servings )

12 small red apples
6 whole cloves
6 allspice berries
half teaspoon ground cardamom
2 cinnamon sticks
1 inch peeled fresh ginger
2 litres of ale
1 bottle (750ml) dry sherry
Honey or sugar to taste – optional

Bake apples whole (180C, 350F, Gas 5) for 20 minutes until tender but still holding their shape. In a large saucepan, combine spices and 1 litre of the ale. Bring to a bubbling heat and them simmer slowly for 10 minutes Strain if you wish. Stir in remaining ale and sherry, sweeten to taste and bring to the simmer. Serve in a punch bowl with the apples floating on top - you can add optional slices of lemon and orange.


  1. Hi

    You've quoted these lines as part of a traditional wassail song.

    "Wassail to all you sailors upon the River Thames
    The apple and the Oak and all close and absent friends
    The Globe upon the Bankside, the Borough kith and kin,
    And the best to us poor Mummers that bring the Wassail in!"

    They are not traditional, but were written in the 1990s by the Lions part theatre company for their Twelfth Night Celebrations
    We use these words for our festival each year, but they are not appropriate for anywhere apart from just outside Shakespeare's Globe.

  2. Thank you so much for your correction. It seems that no matter what I do I always overlook something. I tried to reach the website you listed but for some reason it will not come up right now. I will try again later.
    Again, Thanks!