The intriguing Twelfth cake

 The Twelfth cake is to me one of the most intriguing of cakes in the British cuisine. The cake is traditionally baked for the feast of epiphany or as the name already reveals - the twelfth night of christmas. But baking a cake for epiphany isn't a custom in Britain alone, in other European countries and in my home country Belgium we have the '3 kings cake' (driekoningen taart) or the 'Galette du Rois' which is a frangipane tart with puff pastry concealing a much coveted bean which will make you king for the day. The 3 kings cake is sold with a paper crown so all is in order for the coronation of the lucky finder of the bean. At some time however it was the fashion of concealing tiny porcelain babies and nativity figures in the cake, a custom my mother in law tells me is still practiced by the bakery in my neighbourhood. I remember as a child, I've never had the pleasure of finding the bean which would make me king, this annoyed me very much as a little girl.
In Britain the tradition was to hide a bean and a pea in a plum cake, the bean would crown the king and the pea would crown the queen. The Twelfth cake would contain spices like cloves, mace, nutmeg and cinnamon along with dried fruits like raisins and candied orange or lemon peel. 

Antique 3 king cake figurines, imagine biting into one of those!
 The earliest printed recipe for a Twelfth cake dates from 1803 and can be found in John Mollard's the Art of Cookery. However, references to the custom of the Twelfth cake and the celebrations surrounding it can be found as far back in history as the 16th century and it is very possible that the tradition has been around for much longer. In a early Tudor manuscript which is kept at the Bodleian Library we find a passage about wassail cakes, which are believed to be heathen Twelfth cakes. Wassail comes from the Old English 'Waes hale' which most likely means 'be whole' or be healthy, like a kind of frase you say while making a toast. We can also find recipes for Wassail which is a type of mulled cider traditionally drunk while Wassailing, meaning a tradition of awakening the cider apple trees while singing and drinking.