Monday, January 5, 2015

Eve of the Epiphany and Edda Night

Today is the Twelfth Night, otherwise known as the eve of Epiphany. It's the official end of the holiday season, which begins with All Hallows' Eve. A belief has arisen in modern times, in some English-speaking countries, that it is unlucky to leave Christmas decorations hanging after Twelfth Night,or risk bad luck for the coming year.  But for many the Epiphany on January 6 is a Christian festival held in honor of the coming of the three kings to visit the infant Jesus.

Though the origin of the celebration dates back to the Roman Saturnalia, most of the traditional observances of the holiday that have survived date back to medieval England.
English settlers in the Colonies brought the Twelfth Night tradition with them. It wasn't until the mid-1800s that Christmas became the primary holiday of the season in America, and at that point, Twelfth Night celebrations all but disappeared in this country. Many still celebrate it in the United Kingdom, with wassailing, Twelfth Night cakes, and the arrival of the Holly Man.

But I wonder if you know that January 5th is also the eve of Edda Night. I have consulted my Gnome handbook: A Gnome's Christmas for the following information.
Edda Night January 6 is a community celebration where gnomes from different villages gather together to share  poems and songs that they have written for the occasion. These personal and humorous  works often poke fun at the foibles of  villagers or express bafflement at the ridiculous ways of mankind. The festival often goes to sunrise. The ceremony ends with everyone holding hands and whispering this New Year blessing that I would like to share with you. I liked the sentiments.

May this year be full of proud deeds
and silly games,beautiful songs
and hearty feasts,clever jokes,
loving friends,
and enough surprises
to keep us on our toes.
A Twelfth Night Cake or King's Cake
Twelfth night is on the 5th of January and has been for centuries the traditional last day of the Christmas season. It was a time for having a great feast, and historically the cake was an essential part of the festivities. The type of cake varied in different countries, and also at different social levels.

The cake began in some countries as a simple fruitcake with a bean in it. The cake  was served to guests during the twelve days of Christmas. Whoever got the bean was supposed to be a kind of guardian angel for that family for the year, so it was an important task, and usually, it was arranged that a senior member of the family would get the bean!

In other countries it started out as a French bread type dough with sugar on top and a bean placed inside. The cake than evolved to a sweet, sugary and iced Danish type dough that is braided with cinnamon inside and a plastic doll underneath. Today King Cakes are made of a cinnamon filled dough in the shape of a hollow circle. They have a glazed topping and are sprinkled with colored sugar. Hundreds of thousands of King Cakes are eaten in New Orleans during the Carnival season. The cake often has a small plastic baby (said to represent Baby Jesus) inside (or sometimes placed underneath), and the person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket has various privileges and obligations.

Check the Internet for a Twelfth Night Cake recipe. I enjoyed this informative piece on Martha Washington and her Great Cake. I wonder how long it took her to make one cake??


Martha Washington’s Great Cake is one of the few surviv­ing recipes directly associated with her, so well liked that she had Martha Parke Custis, one of her granddaughters, copy it for members of the family. That original recipe is now part of the Mount Vernon collections. It is a cake that more than likely would have been served during the Christmas season as part of a grand Christmas dinner or Twelfth-Night party. It might also have been served at tea.

As with so many period recipes, Mrs. Washington’s Great Cake is vague as to some of the ingredients called for as well as the method of preparation. Because of this, related period recipes were used, along with Mrs. Washington’s, to develop a modern cake that resembles one that the Washingtons knew. Great cake recipes from the Custis family manuscript, Hannah Glasse’s Rich Cake, and Elizabeth Raffald’s Bride Cake proved to be informative resources. The result is a rich fruit cake laced with brandy and Madeira, similar to the cakes with which we are familiar today. While it takes some time to prepare, the cake keeps well, wrapped in foil and stored in a covered cake tin.

Cakes of the 18th century were very different from those we know today. Without baking soda or baking powder, cooks relied on leavening agents, such as liquid yeast or eggs. This often resulted in cakes that were heavier and more dense than the light, soft cakes we enjoy today. If left plain, this cake is delicious but can become dry fairly quickly. For this reason, it is even better iced, as the sugary coating helps keep it moist. We have no way of knowing if Mrs. Washington iced her great cake, but we have provided a recipe for a sugar icing below based on Elizabeth Raffald’s version, a classic royal icing still used today.

Makes one 10-inch tube cake.

  • 1½ cups currants
  • ⅓ cup chopped candied orange peel
  • ⅓ cup chopped candied lemon peel
  • ⅓ cup chopped candied citron
  • ¾ cup Madeira, divided
  • ¼ cup French brandy
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • ½ teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoons ground mace
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • Combine the currants, orange and lemon peels, and citron in a large bowl. Add ½ cup of the Madeira and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for at least 3 hours, or as long as overnight. Stir together the remainder of the Madeira with the brandy, cover, and set aside.
  •  When ready to bake the cake, preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.
  •  Drain the fruits in a large strainer set over a bowl, stirring occasionally to extract as much of the Madeira as possible. Add the strained Madeira to the reserved Madeira and brandy.
  •  Combine ¼ cup of the flour with the fruit and mix well. Add the almonds and set aside. Sift the remaining flour with the nutmeg and mace.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until light. Add the sugar, ½ cup at a time, beating for several minutes after each addition. Whisk the egg yolks until light and smooth, add to the butter and sugar. Continue to beat for several minutes until light and fluffy.
  • Alternately add the spiced flour, ½ cup at a time, and the Madeira and brandy, beating until smooth.
  • In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. By hand, gently fold into the batter, combining lightly until well blended. By hand, fold in the fruit in thirds, mixing until well combined.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake for about 1½ hours, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the cake on a wire rack to cool in the pan for 20 minutes. If serving the cake plain, turn it out to cool completely. If finishing it with icing, turn the warm cake out onto a baking sheet and proceed with the icing.
  • To ice the cake, spread the Sugar Icing generously onto the surface, piling it high and swirling it around the top and sides. Set in the turned-off warm oven and let sit for at least 3 hours, or until the cake is cool and the icing has hardened. The icing will crumble when the cake is sliced.
Sugar Icing
  • 3 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rose water or orange-flower water
  •  In the bowl of an electric mixer, start beating the egg whites on low speed, gradually adding 2 tablespoons of the sugar. After about 3 minutes, or when they just begin to form soft peaks, increase the speed to high and continue to add the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until all of the sugar is incorporated and the egg whites reach soft peaks.
  • Add the rose water and continue beating to stiff peaks. Use immediately to ice the cake.
Recipe from Dining with the Washingtons: Historic Recipes, Entertaining, and Hospitality from Mount Vernon edited by Stephen A. McLeod. Copyright © 2011 by the Mt. Vernon Ladies’ Association. Used by permission.

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