|Strewn with Fresh Violets for the Start of Spring|
Nothing, I believe, informs more upon the struggles and ultimate victory of the landed and landless early rural dwellers to survive the lean months of Winter than the Twelfth Night cake. This is a symbolic representation of Summer's bounties turned to Winter's sustenance, which slowly by action of those stalwarts of industrial and urban living, the Victorians, was downgraded to the Christmas Cake. The question you should ask however is what exactly was the Christmas period and when exactly did it end?
|Diocese of Lincoln the Luttrell Psalter bas-de-page of people feasting. 14th century - British Library|
The idea of removing decorations and trappings of Christmas on Twelfth Night and getting back to the daily grind is to my mind something that the Victorians would have loved and encouraged. The shortening of the Winter feast to the Twelve Days of Christmas and the designating of its end as the 5th of January refilled the factories and offices and re-started the wheels of commerce a-turning. As an even greater impetus to clear all festivities away, some bright spark came up with the idea of it being bad luck not to remove every sprig of holly and coloured glass bauble before the end of the Twelfth Night. As I sit here today, with my computer screen reflecting the twinkling fairy lights of my still verdant home-grown pine, I look out on a dismal rainy grey day and reflect how happy I am as the Yule log crackles in the stove, that we celebrate Old Christmas. In a few hours I will be putting a whole heap of dried fruits, to sparkle like gemstones under a glass or two of rum and fill the Kitchen with the scent of sinful celebration cookery.
Candlemas, 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 Imbolic the pagan festival of the start of Spring. This day traditionally marked a new beginning for the rural populace, when they took down and burnt or composted their Christmastide evergreens and got ready to prepare the land for new growth. For a rural population Winter was about staying indoors, keeping yourself and your animals warm, eating the stored, dried and cured foods of the previous year, until such time as it was sensible to venture forth and start the cycle again. The fact that the land can be damaged over this Winter period by both animal (livestock) and human intervention upon it makes this practice ever more sensible. If you are or have ever been a rural dweller or if you have your own urban plot or garden, then you will know the incredible joy and comfort that comes from knowing you have gathered in your crops by the end of Autumn and similarly in getting out the seed packets and garden tools at the beginning of Spring.
Left - A fabulous example of an 18th century Twelfth Night Cake, recreated here using the original contemporary sugar paste moulds. The cake was created by historicfood.com and it is well worth checking out their site for some more of their wonderful creations. By 1860 this cake had transmogrified into the ubiquitous white snow scene Christmas cake.
Feast Of Fools, Carnival and Cake
|Teddy Wearing Andy's Crown|
|A charming fève I found at a yard sale. |
In Conclusion and Before the Recipe
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.
The traditional sugar paste confectioner's boards were made of wood often pearwood or box and with the re-emergence of cake decorating as a business and hobby there are companies now recreating these and other styles of mould in silicone. Left is a rare chestnut wood example of an 18th century Twelfth Night icing mould courtesy of historicfood.com
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 today with my trusty 10" paper hoop and which worked beautifully, took only 3 hours.
I scaled these down from Mrs Beeton's wondrously huge Bride Cake, a recipe from 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) but Pumpkin Pie Spice is a suitable alternative.
Another sense of being in touch with ones food comes from the way in which these large celebration cakes were mixed, always by hand. That is literally, the butter and sugar are creamed with the hands.
I did in fact cheat a little as I was use raw dried organic sugar cane which is granular, so I did my first mix by hand and then used a whisk just to break up the sugar. The whites were 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 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.
A Few Words About the Hoop
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 below 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!
In the next article I will look at how I decorated the cake and made organic almond paste and icing. The direct link is below under 'Related Articles'.
All that needs to said now is Bon Appėtit!
Hope to see you here again for another recipe from an old farmhouse in Normandie,
All the best,
SOME IDEAS FOR KITCHENALIA
Table for Hoop Size Diameters:
This is a chart I used from an old cookery book, I converted it to metric rounded up to the nearest usable fraction.
Hoop Size Weight of cake mix Hoop Size Weight of cake mix
inches lb oz cm kilos
11 6 6 28 2.89
10 5 5 25.5 2.41
9 4 4 23 1.93
8 3 3 20.5 1.45
6 2 2 15.25 0.96
5 1 9 12.75 0.71
10 6 6 25.5 2.89
9 4 4 23 1.93
8 3 3 20.5 1.45
6 2 2 15.25 0.96
The big problem I used to have with making large celebration fruit cakes is that the cost of decorating them with the traditional covering...read more
A Victorian pudding recipe from 1865, which we have every year. This version was especially for my family in Scotland...read more
Traditional Plum Pudding from 1865
The roots of the plum pudding go back into the mists of time to a Celtic end-of-year celebration dish called 'plum porridge'...read more
Old English 'Mincemeat' tart or God-cake GLUTEN-FREE
For this version left, I used a gluten-free flour, the trick with this is not to skimp on the butter otherwise...read more
Pudding by candlelight, a traditional gift of a rich dried fruit, spice, butter, apple and wine/spirit pastry, which was given at Candlemas but is so good eaten any time of the year....read more© Sue Cross 2017