Twelfth Night Cake

Twelfth Night (6 January) was the last night of the Christmas Feast and was celebrated often with a masque or a play before the work of the New Year started in earnest the next day. Traditionally, there was always a special cake, which contained a bean. Whoever got it was called King of the Bean and had good luck in the coming year. The actor Robert Baddeley, who started out as a cook, left a legacy to Drury Lane Theatre for a cake to be eaten and a Port Wine Negus drunk, every Twelfth Night in the Green Room there.

This is a traditional nineteenth-century recipe: earlier recipes often use yeast. An eighteenth-century version gives 6 lb. flour and 1 lb. butter, with 4½ lb. currants, a great deal of spice, yeast and no eggs, which would give a kind of currant bread.


  • ½ lb. (240 g.) butter
  • ½ lb. (240 g.) caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons brandy
  • ½ lb. (240 g.) flour
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • a pinch of cinnamon
  • ½ lb. (240 g.) currants
  • ½ lb. (240 g.) raisins
  • ¼ lb. (120 g.) sultanas
  • 2 oz. (60 g.) blanched chopped almonds


Use a 12-inch (30-cm.) cake tin.

Cream the butter and sugar and stir in the well beaten eggs and the brandy. Stir in the flour and spices gradually, then add the fruit and nuts. Beat well. Line the cake tin with buttered paper, put in the mixture and bake at 300° F., gas mark 2, for 3 hours. Cover the top lightly with foil if it becomes too dark. When quite cold, ice with royal icing.

Traditionally the cake was decorated with cherries, angelica and other crystallized fruits.