Twelfth Night, has been celebrated as the end of the Christmas season since the Middle Ages. Twelfth Night also marks the Feast of the Epiphany, when the three wise men, or Magi, arrived in Bethlehem to behold the Christ child. The three Kings, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar brought Jesus Frankincense to represent divinity, Gold to represent kingship, and Myrrh to represent humanity.
In Tudor England, the Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve, which is now celebrated as Halloween. A King or Lord of Misrule would be appointed to run the Christmas festivities, and the Twelfth Night was the end of his period of rule. The common theme was that the normal order of things was reversed. This Lord of Misrule tradition can be traced back to pre-Christian European festivals such as the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia. note
A Twelfth Cake was the center of the party. A slice was given to every person at the party regardless of social status. Traditionally, the cake contained a dried or gold bean and pea. The person who received the slice with the bean was crowned the King and the person who found the pea was the Queen for the rest of the evening and were treated as such often being waited on by the real royalty of the time.
In New Orleans, Twelfth Night is the official start of the Carnival season which ends with Mardi Gras. .
Traditional Recipe for Twelfth Cake
• 8 cups of all-purpose flour, sifted
• 6 eggs
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 1 pound butter or shortening
• 2 cups whole milk, scalded then cooled to lukewarm
• 1/2 ounce yeast (2 1/4-ounce packages, or about 4 1/2 tsp)
• 2 teaspoons salt
• A few cloves
• A dash of cinnamon
• A little ginger
• Sweetmeats to your liking (candied lemon peel, orange peel, and citron)
• Candies or frosting to decorate!
Have ready a greased parchment paper or baking pan. In a bowl, combine 2 cups flour with the salt; set aside. Next, sift 6 cups of flour into a large mixing bowl. Dissolve a half-ounce of yeast in a little warm water. Make a hole in the center of the flour. Pour in the yeast. Knead and mix the flour with one hand, while adding the 2 cups of milk with the other. In yet another mixing bowl, beat eggs with butter, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, sweetmeats and sugar until light. Add to dough, kneading lightly with your hands, and adding more eggs if the dough is a little stiff. Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, then add the reserved flour and salt. Knead the dough by turning it over on itself three times and set to rise again, covered with a cloth for about an hour. Take it up and work again lightly, and then form into a ring.
This is a large amount of dough, so it may be divided and baked in two or more cakes. Pat gently and flatten a little. Set the ring in the middle. Cover the pan with a clean cloth, and set the cake to rise for an hour longer. When well risen, glaze the loaves lightly with a beaten egg. Place in 325° oven; let bake for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or less if making smaller loaves. Decorate with colored icings and decorator candies, as desired.
Don’t forget to add a bean, a pea or as in New Orleans King Cake, a little plastic baby inside.