05 January 2012

Feast: Twelfth Night Cake

I know what you're thinking.


You managed to avoid your great Auntie Ermintrude's (rest her soul) infamous Christmas fruitcake-cum-doorstop for yet another year (or the first year...ever).

You swerved cellophaned fruitcake in the office free-for-all of the gift basket teardown, and took the last bit of stale candy-coated nutty popcorn, leaving the fruitcake for the guy who was at an offsite meeting during the basket goodie dispersal.

You even donated the thank-you fruitcake you received to the local food bank, justifying it by saying "even the hungry want a traditional Christmas."

Yes, you've had some near misses with the much maligned cake and thought you were doing fairly well.

And here I am offering you...fruitcake.

But it's not just any fruitcake. It's my take on a traditional Twelfth Night Cake.

Twelfth Night?

The Twelfth Day of Christmas. The end of the Christmas season. The day in which you really don't want to see any more Christmas leftovers hanging out in your fridge and start thinking of things like grapefruit, miso soup and watercress.

The name itself elicits English class flashbacks about a romantic comedy that starts with a shipwreck on the Adriatic, and goes on about a girl hiding out as a guy, a love triangle, cross-gartered yellow stockings and the rest. It's a fun work...but then I like the English Renaissance dramatists. I'm special, that way...but you know that...

Traditionally a cake that holds a hidden prize is served The prize--a bean or a pea--crowns the finder as king or queen. They get to wreak magisterial havoc until...people stop putting up with it (midnight, from what I hear). (NB: As someone prone to wearing her tiara "for no reason," I find the idea of having to find a bean to be able to wear a crown rather sweet...but I realise for the world's tiara-less sometimes sparkly needs to be precipitated by a bean.)

Sometimes the cake is a fruitcake; sometimes it's a galette des rois--a puff pastry cake filled with frangipane; sometimes it's a fruited yeast bread. This year, I decided to go with fruitcake.

I looked at various recipes for Twelfth Night cakes and several seemed...very reminiscent of heavy fruitcakes that seem to dominate fears, worries and japes of December. Many seemed to be modified spiced pound cakes. Some reminded me of yuletide hot cross buns...but without the hot crosses and with more fruit. They were round, ring-shaped or baked in special moulds. But really...far too many lived in the realm of "dreaded" fruitcakes.

After more than a month of feasting, I wanted a lighter cake that keeps the original celebratory spirit...without being...dreadful.

Instead of glaceed cherries with loads of sultanas and currants, I opted for a mixture of dried blueberries, cherries and cranberries. If I had remembered I had dried pears and apricots, they would have been used as well. I couldn't leave out the citrus, but didn't want candied citron, so I zested a clementine and brushed the top with Cointreau. Additional flavour came from some leftover eggnog (and an extra few gratings of nutmeg).

The resulting tender cake is lovely and moist, fruity and lightly citrussed. The interior has a warm hue and the crust is burnished. I'm having it for breakfast, but it would accompany a cup of tea quite nicely.

Will this cake prompt the same jeers that greet its December cousin? I hope not. But maybe the promise of the opportunity of wearing a crown* will convince some to try it.

* And no, you won't be getting to wear my tiara.

Twelfth Night Cake
Yield One 21cm x 11cm (8.5"x4.5") Loaf

100g (approx 250ml/1c) mixed dried fruit of your choosing, rehydrated in boiling water, drained
1 egg
185ml (0.75c) egg nog
225g (435ml/1.75c) cake flour
1tsp (5ml) baking powder
0.5tsp (2.5ml) bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
grated nutmeg (approx 1/8th tsp)
75g (85ml/0.33c) soft butter
150g (125ml/0.5c) brown sugar
1tsp finely grated orange zest
1 dried bean or baking bean (optional)
1dspn (10ml/2tsp) cointreau or brandy

Preheat oven to 170C/325F. Paper a 21cm x 11cm (8.5" x4.5") loaf tin

Beat together egg and eggnog and set aside.

Sift together flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.

Cream butter until light. Add sugar and zest and continue beating until fluffy. Add in the dry and liquid ingredients in the usual fashion (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry), scraping down the bowl between dry additions. Fold in the rehydrated fruit and the bean (if you're doing that). Pour into prepared loaf pan.

Bake at 170C/325F for 30 minutes. Turn the heat up to 180C/350F for 20 minutes. The cake should be warmly golden in colour and an inserted skewer comes out with a few crumbs clinging to the wood. Remove from oven and brush with the cointreau or brandy.

Ice, if you wish with
  • a heavy mixture of icing sugar mixed with water, milk or orange juice
  • a blanket of fondant, complete with fussy Shakespearean, Epiphany or Royalty-themed decorations
  • a different blanket, this time of marzipan
Or you can do what I do and leave it plain...perhaps slathering your slices with double Devon cream or brandy butter.

If you don't have eggnog,
  • 110g (125ml/0.5c) butter (instead of 75g butter)
  • 2 eggs (instead of 1 egg)
  • 125ml (0.5c) milk or orange juice
  • 1-2Tbsp extra sugar (to taste)

I'm a quill for hire!


Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

I happen to enjoy fruitcake, at least homed ones, must be my British background. But I drew the line when my mom got me one for my wedding cake.

michele said...

I also like homemade fruit cake. Not being familiar with it I ate a homemade one which was delicious.