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Twelfth Cake

Twelfth Cake

Although the tradition of making these cakes dates back to the medieval period, John Mollard's 1803 recipe seems to be the earliest printed recipe for an English Twelfth Cake. These decorated cakes were an important element in the celebrations for the feast of the Epiphany. They were at the height of their popularity when Mollard wrote his cookery book. It was the
custom for each guest at a Twelfth Day entertainment at this time to take on the role of a particular character for the whole evening. This was achieved by choosing a card at random from a pack. These were illustrated with images of various comic characters. As well as the King and Queen, who led the revels, there were many others – Counseller Double Fee, Mrs Prittle Prattle, the Dutchess of Puddle Dock, Toby Tipple and Sir Tun Belly Wash were all popular. The evening’s entertainment ended with the finale of cutting the elegantly iced cake, which was usually very large and decorated with two crowns for the king and queen and sugar paste or wax images of the other characters.

Twelfth Cake

An eighteenth century Twelfth Cake being delivered.

Twelfth Cake in papered hoop

Mollard's Twelfth Cake is a yeast leavened "plum cake". It has been baked here in a wooden hoop or garth protected with paper.

Twelfth Day Character

A nineteenth century Twelfth Cake character. These cards were produced in sets. You had to act out the part of the character depicted on your card for the duration of the Twelfth Day entertainment.

William Jarrin

Twelfth Cake

This impressive Twelfth Cake, which was baked and decorated on our Taste of Christmas Past course is ornamented with gum paste devices printed from original eighteenth century moulds.The icing is coloured with cochineal in the manner of the day. The two crowns, standard decorations used on cakes of this kind, were constructed from ten individual shapes pressed from the mould below, a rare survivor from the late eighteenth century. The other ornaments were all printed from two carved wooden moulds or confectioner's boards.Designs for these cakes varied considerably, but that above made with the tools of the Georgian confectioners trade gives a pretty fair impression of these remarkable precursors of the Victorian Christmas Cake, which seems to have usurped the role of the Twelfth Cake in the 1860s.

Twelfth Cake Crown Mould

Eighteenth century crown sugar mould

Confectioner's board

Confectioner's board

The front and back of a typical confectioner's board carved with various "devices". The dove with the olive branch, the swag and drop and the small crown were all used to ornament the Twelfth Cake depicted above. This mould is unusual in that it is carved from chestnut. Most were carved from box or pearwood.
Twelfth Cakes

Take seven pounds of flour, make a cavity in the centre, set a sponge with a gill and a half ofyeast and a little warm milk; then put round it one pound of fresh butter broke into small
lumps, one pound and a quarter of sifted sugar, four pounds and a half of currants washed and picked, half an ounce of sifted cinnamon, a quarter of an ounce of pounded cloves,
mace, and nutmeg mixed, sliced candied orange or lemon peel and citron. When the sponge is risen, mix all the ingredients together with a little warm milk; let the hoops be well papered and buttered, then fill them with the mixture and bake them, and when nearly cold ice them over with sugar prepared for that purpose as per receipt; or they may be plain.

From John Mollard, The Art of Cookery. (London 1803).

Mould carved by Jarrin

A nineteenth century fruitwood mould carved by the celebrated confectioner William Jarrin, whose portrait is shown opposite. Jarrin was famous for his elaborately decorated Twelfth Cakes, which graced the window of his shop during the Christmas season. Motifs of this kind were pressed out of gum paste and stuck back-to-back to form standing figures. They were probably designed as Twelfth Cake ornaments. The unsteady looking gentleman on the left is meant to be a drunkard, rather like Toby Tipple opposite above. These moulds are very difficult to use. They were dusted with starch before the sugar paste was pressed in to them.A flat bladed knife was drawn across the mould to remove excess sugar paste and the motifs were knocked out by tapping the mould at an angle on the surface of the table. It takes a lot of practice to perfect the technique. The gum paste was made with one ounce of gum tragacanth to a pound of powdered sugar and mixed with a little water to form a stiff pastillage paste.


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