Twelfth Night Cake

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Twelfth Night cake a cake made for Twelfth Night, the last of the twelve days of Christmas. Now a celebration of Epiphany, the occasion when the three Kings visited the infant Jesus, this festival has inherited some of the pagan customs associated with Roman Saturnalia, when slaves were allowed many privileges including eating with and gambling against their masters. Dice were thrown to choose a ‘king’, and everyone had to obey his command. The two ancient traditions involving kings were interwoven to give the modern Twelfth Night custom of choosing a ‘king’ by dividing a cake containing a token—a dried bean or a china doll. The finder gains privileges or pays forfeits, depending on the custom of the country. Sometimes a dried pea, for a queen, is also included. (For the French Twelfth Night cake, and corresponding comments, see galette des rois under galette.)