Introduction: Twelfth Night Cake Baked in a Paper Hoop

About: I live in a forest garden by the sea in an old Celtic longhouse in the Baie de Mont Saint Michel, France, which I share with Andy and our poultry. Before I escaped and became a happy peasant, I had three jobs …

Twelfth Night or What You Will - Shakespeare's famous play, a tale of intrigue, impersonation and incandescent romance in the Western Balkans was first performed on Candlemas, the second of February, 1602, as a fitting closure to the then much longer season of Christmastide. Candlemas as the name suggests, is often referred to as a religious festival of light but it does in fact go much further back to Imbolc the pagan festival of the start of Spring. This day traditionally marked a new beginning for the rural populace, when they took down and burned or composted their Christmastide evergreens and got ready to prepare the land for new growth.

Here in France, we have the tradition of serving a galette des rois on or around new Twelfth Night (5th/6th January). This is mostly a purchased puff pastry pie, usually filled with apple or frangipane. The galette is bought in a paper bag, which also contains two cardboard crowns covered with gold foil or it is purchased in boxed kit form with a pre-rolled pastry round, a powdered mix of frangipane, etc.,. The cake is then served to friends family and/or neighbours, with the slices precut by the host. It is passed around the table and as the cake is eaten the King and Queen of the feast are revealed as they respectively and hopefully espy, rather than bite into, a china fève within their piece of pie.

Mary Queen of Scots was thought to have first introduced the idea of the Twelfth Night cake and the concept of King and Queen of Misrule into the British Isles. As the word fève suggests, the choosing of the 'King', was traditionally made by virtue of a dried bean, a symbol of fertility and Spring and at some time later a pea was included in the cake recipe to designate the 'Queen'. In New Orleans I have seen some beautiful antique Limoges china red beans which were used there for galette des rois. In 1874 a French pastry cook had the idea of replacing the bean with a tiny porcelain figurine, (see above) still to be known as fève and after the first World War, Limoges began to mass produce these for commercial and home-made galette. This tradition, of picking a King and Queen and also of incorporating a fancy dress element, continued right up into the Victorian period, when packs of character cards or inked paper prints were sold to be used with the cake during Twelfth Night parties. Guests would assume the character as dealt them in the cards. These were usually of a satirical nature as the names suggest, in fact much along the lines of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night players; Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

Step 1: Making the Hoop, Working Out Quantities, Temperatures & Cooking Times

As I don't have a tin big enough, this was my first attempt at baking a cake in a 18th century 'Garth' or Cake Hoop of thick brown paper, organic cooking parchment and string to hold it all together. As it was so successful, I shall be using this method again but maybe also try a wooden garth, which we can fashion from fruit crate wood.

I made enough mixture for one round or square, deep cake of 8 " or 23 cm diameter. I actually ended up making a 10" or 25.5 cm diameter hoop, which gave me a shallower cake that cooked more quickly but was still as succulent.

The outer hoop was a double thickness of brown paper cut from the inner of an empty 25 kilo organic sugar bag, I get these from my local organic shop. The hoop was lined with a double layer of organic baking paper and the base also. I did not cut an exact circle for the base but made it a double sheet that could be pulled up the sides of the hoop. I also added an empty loaf tin in the gap to the side of the hoop, as my base tin was rather large. This was occasioned by Andy asking me if the mixture would leak out!! It didn't. As you can see from the photos above all that happened was the outer paper received a little butter from the base paper, as I buttered this beyond the circumference of the cake hoop!

I then left the cake to cool in its paper hoop overnight. This is not a necessary cooling time but it was 2 am!

Table for Hoop Size Diameters

To calculate the hoop size you will need from the weight of the cake:- above is a chart I used from an old cookery book, I also converted it to metric rounded up to the nearest usable fraction.

Oven Temperatures and Times

Pre-heat the oven to 150ºC or 300ºF, I'm cooking in a wood cooker so this does have what Mrs Beeton refers to as 'a good soaking heat'. I was amazed to find we achieved this with the addition of two pallet wood planks, allowing them to burn down to embers before adding the next two!

The cake is basically cooked when a knife blade (I used a wooden barbeque skewer) goes into the centre of the cake and comes out looking clean, for this size cake that is normally around 3¾ to 4¼ hours.

N.B. This cake that I made with my trusty 10" paper hoop and which worked beautifully, took only 3 hours.

Step 2: Ingredients & Method for the Cake

All my ingredients are organic and I make my own peel - you can find a link at the end for this.

I scaled down these ingredients from Mrs Beeton's wondrously huge Bride Cake, a recipe from her 'Book of Household Management' 1865, it is the mix we've always used, with a few variations in fruit, for Christmas cakes, Wedding cake and rich fruit cakes in general.

455g or 1 lb of plain flour

255g or 9oz butter

590g or 1 lb 5oz dried fruit, I'm using prunes, figs, dates, apricots, cranberries, orange and lemon candied peels and raisins.

100g or 3½ oz of nuts (The fruit and nuts may be steeped in the alcohol overnight). I find it makes them much more digestible anyway.

200g or 7 oz raw cane sugar

4 eggs - separated into yolks and whites

60ml or approx 2 fl oz of alcohol - I'm using rum and red wine.

1 teaspoon of mixed spice ('mixed spice' is a traditional British pie, pudding, biscuit and cake blend, made from, ground coriander, cassia, ginger, nutmeg, caraway and cloves)

Traditional Method of Mixing With the Hand

Firstly, the butter and sugar are creamed (incorporated) together and actually the best method of doing this is literally by hand. This way not only does the warmth of the hand make the sugar and butter much easier to cream but it also means you can feel when the mixture is smooth and mixed to an optimum.

The whites of the eggs are then whisked into 'a strong froth' (I took this to be to meringue level) and I slowly incorporated them into the butter and sugar.

The beaten yolks and then the flour and mixed spice come next. Mrs Beeton, who lived at a time when many country people, particularly women, were drawn into towns and cities to become servants, suggested that the cook should now mix the cake for '½ hour or longer'. Being my own mistress, I skipped that bit!

The dried fruit and alcohol is now added to the mix.

I then spooned the cake mix into my paper hoop paying attention to press it lightly but evenly into the whole area.

The cake was then placed in the oven and I checked it after two hours. At three hours and five minutes, I tested it with my wooden skewer and it was done.

Step 3: Ingredients & Method for the Paste and Icing/Frosting

The big problem I used to have with making large celebration fruit cakes is that the cost of decorating them with the traditional covering of almond paste and icing was prohibitive. This is because someone's labour has been involved and my local organic shop has a mission statement promising fair wages and profits to the producer. This is how it should be, I have no problem with that and so I chose to make my own as my time and labour are for free!

The other potential difficulty I can see with these recipes is raw egg. For me this is no problem as we raise our own poultry in an organic forest garden environment and on a 100% organic diet, which includes fruit vegetables and in season, a great deal of invertebrate protein. I would suggest that if you don't raise your own poultry, then you do what we do with buying raw milk, find a local organic farm and visit it and meet the farmers. This way you will see at first hand, exactly how the birds are raised and thus how you feel about eating raw eggs. This is how we all used to live, in close contact with our food and its production.

Almond Paste

1 egg white, beaten to a 'strong froth' (I take this to mean meringue level).

100g or 4 oz of blonde unrefined cane sugar - ground to a powder. (As mentioned above you can buy organic icing sugar but it is so easy and cheaper to make your own).

100g or 4 oz of powdered almonds

A teaspoon of rum or whatever you used in your main cake

I started by adding my egg white to the powdered almonds. I did this a spoon at a time.

Then I added the sugar. Our cane sugar is kept with vanilla pods so already has an added depth of flavour. Having added the rum, I started to gather the mixture up into a 'dough'.

This I then kneaded into a ball and rolled out on my board using a little powdered sugar to stop it from sticking.

I then slid it onto my cake and following Mrs Beeton's advice placed it for a few minutes in my oven with the door open to allow the almond icing to dry and harden.

Royal Icing

170g or 6oz of blonde unrefined cane sugar - ground to a powder.

1 egg white, beaten to a 'strong froth'.

A little raspberry liqueur for colour and taste (ground organic sugar is light brown not the dazzling white of non-organic, plus the traditional Twelfth Night Cakes were pink!) If you want a deep pink, dried hibiscus flowers, steeped in warm water make a wonderful colour.

Lemon juice

For decoration

As this is Imbolc, I added a few fresh violet leaves and flowers, the only plant that is actually blooming in our garden at the moment!

I used a liquidiser to make the sugar into a powder, be aware of lifting the lid too quickly before the dust settles! I also needed to run my fingers through it just to test that it was fine enough.

I had also added a couple of squeezes, approximately 1 teaspoon, of fresh lemon juice to the sugar before I added it to the egg white. I then added the raspberry liqueur, this was an experiment and I am happy to say it was so delicious and redolent of sunny days that I was pleased to be my own cook and thus able to scrape out the icing bowl all to myself!

Once I had spread the icing on the cake I again placed it in the oven, with the door open to harden. Mrs Beeton has a great tip in that if you ice the cake whilst still warm, once it is cooled then the icing will be set. This is an excellent solution if you are pressed for time!

Hope you've enjoyed this ancient recipe and that you will have a go at cooking in a paper hoop too!

Here's the link for making Candied Peel

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