The Twelve Days of Christmas
Yes, I know that Christmas Day is more than a week behind us. Still I am enjoying the Christmas season now that it has arrived and is nearing an end. While the pre-Christmas season can be stressful and demanding, the true season of Christmas, the twelve days between Christmas Eve and Epiphany on January 6, are often a peaceful interlude between the build up to Christmas and the renewed order and resolute intentions of a New Year.
With all of the holiday preparation behind me, during the twelve days of Christmas I finally have a chance to slow down and appreciate the gifts of the season: holiday cards and letters from friends and family, vacation days with my husband and children, decorations and conversation shared with friends, special foods of the season and, most of all, the wonderful gift of the baby Jesus, our Messiah, born some two thousand years ago.
Now, as the twelve days of Christmas come to a close, there is one more special treat to prepare. Since my children were small we have made a special effort to celebrate Epiphany, which commemorates the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem to worship and offer gifts to the Christ child as recorded in Matthew 2:1-12.
A Cake to Celebrate Epiphany
Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season and is celebrated in many parts of the world. While the particular customs vary, what they all seem to have in common is a special cake. Traditional cakes include a Mexican Christmas bread known as Rosca de Reyes, a French almond filled Galette des Roi, a New Orleans style King Cake and a fruit studded English Twelfth Night Cake.
Really any cake you like will do. For several years now I have made a traditionally decorated King Cake, a braided yeast bread, drizzled with icing and sprinkled with decorative sugar. It is a wonderful cake but takes a space of time for the dough to rise and the cake to be shaped and decorated.
When less time is available I have been known to make a Cinnamon Coffee Cake baked with one large whole walnut or pecan half. It is easy to prepare and my family seldom leaves even a crumb behind.
A store bought cake with a nut or chocolate candy inserted from the bottom will also work just fine. What matters is that you have a cake with a special candy token or nut in it. Whoever finds the token in their slice of cake is rewarded with a small gift. It could be anything: a candle, a star or crown shaped ornament or a bag of gold foil covered chocolate coins.
Trying Something New
This year I decided to try something new. I adapted a traditional pound cake recipe using some seasonal leftovers in my refrigerator. To employ the tradition of a ring shaped cake, I baked the cake in my pretty Nordic Ware Bavarian Bundt Cake pan. I wanted to get the full impression from the details of the pan so I filled it near the top, leaving some space for the cake to rise but not as much as I should have. The cake rose beautifully, in fact it overflowed the pan. It smoked but I didn’t want to interrupt the baking process so I turned on the fan and opened the window.
When the cake was done I removed it to a rack to cool. Then I tried to carefully remove the overflow from the bottom of the oven to stop the smoking. That’s when I learned that pound cake batter not only smokes when it burns but will in fact burst into flames if prodded indelicately. Luckily no great harm ensued. Lesson learned: wait until everything cools down before attempting to clean up.
When the cake was completely cool I turned it over and made small incisions to insert not just one this time but three chocolate coins, one to represent each of the three gifts brought by the Magi to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. After turning it back over and settling it on a platter I dusted it with powdered sugar, to highlight the details from the pan, and decorated it with simple stars made of white and dark chocolate. It could also be decorated with icing and studded with gumdrops like this pretty Epiphany Cake I found at Bless Us O Lord... just this morning.
Twelfth Night - Eggnog Pound Cake
adapted from a recipe for Caramel Pound Cake posted by Kim at A Yankee in a Southern Kitchen
3½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1½ cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
6 large eggs
1½ cups eggnog
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan or spray well with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugars and butter with an electric mixer.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition to fully incorporate.
Add the flour mixture one-third at a time, alternating with the eggnog. Beat until smooth.
Transfer the batter to the prepared Bundt pan being careful not to overfill. (Place any remaining batter in a smaller prepared pan, such as a loaf pan.) Bake at 325 degrees until it tests done, approximately 1 hour.
Remove cake from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and allow to rest on the wire rack until completely cool.
When cool, turn cake upside down. Make three hidden slits in the bottom of the cake with a sharp knife. Carefully push a chocolate coin or candy into the slit until hidden in the cake.
Turn the cake onto a serving platter. Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar. Decorate with chocolate stars, if desired.
To make chocolate stars:
Melt 1/2 cup of chocolate chips or white chocolate chips in a small container. When melted and smooth scrape the chocolate into a small Ziploc bag and trim 1/4 inch from a lower corner of the bag.
Pipe the soft chocolate in rough star shapes onto a baking sheet or cutting board covered with waxed paper or parchment paper.
After covering the surface with stars, place the stars in the refrigerator for five minutes or so, or until set and firm. Peel the stars from the paper and arrange on and around the cake.