Twelfth Night Cake

at least 20 servings

1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ lb butter (3 sticks), warmed to room temperature
6 eggs
1½-2 cups honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
¾ cup buttermilk
1¼ cups sliced or slivered and crushed almonds
1 dry pea
1 dry bean (the bigger the better: a lima works well)

Special equipment

angelfood cake pan or 12 cup bundt pan


Preheat oven to 300° and grease and flour your baking pan. In a medium bowl, sift together the first five ingredients. In a large bowl cream the butter and then slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in 1 cup of the honey, and keep beating to incorporate as much air as possible into the batter. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the batter, alternating with the buttermilk. Fold in 1 cup of the almonds. Pour the batter into your baking pan, and then insert the pea and the bean. Bake for 50 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool. Flip into your serving plate. Glaze with the remaining honey (you may want to nuke it to make it more pourable) mixed with the lemon juice, and sprinkle the remaining almonds on top.


This is an atypical Twelfth-cake as it is devoid of dried fruit and spices. Twelfth-cakes, chock full of raisins, dates, and figs and studded with glacé cherries, fall into that category of "Regional and Festival Yeast Cakes and Fruit Breads" to which David has devoted an entire chapter. Black Bun and Bara Brith are two more familiar examples. We stumbled across a recipe for a more cake-y than bread-y Twelfth Night Cake in Sands, something more suitable for our dessert than for breakfast, and tried it for a change of pace.

He who finds the bean in his serving becomes King for the rest of the night, and she (we hope) who finds the pea is declared Queen, and they hold sway over the rest of the festivities. Robert Herrick (1591-1674), a disciple of Ben Jonson, writes of the practise in his ‘Twelfe Night, or King and Queene’:

Now, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where Beane's the King of the sport here
Besides we must know,
The Pea also
Must revell, as Queene, in the Court here.

Begin then to chuse,
(This night as ye use)
Who shall for the present delight here,
Be a King by the lot,
And who shall not
Be Twelfe-day Queene for the night here.

Which knowne, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurg'd will not drinke
To the base from the brink
A health to the King and Queene here.

Next crowne the bowle full
With gentle lambs-wooll;
Adde sugar, nutmeg and ginger,
With store of ale too;
And thus ye must doe
To make the wassaile a swinger.

Give then to the King
And Queene wassailing;
And though with ale ye be whet here;
Yet part ye from hence,
As free from offence,
As when ye innocent met here.

An alternative tradition was to secret a penny in the cake, and he who found it was designated King and blessed all the rafters and beams at the festival site.


If you have a lot of time on your hands, you might want to try Clibbon's fruity extravaganza, iced with a layer each of apricot jam, marzipan, and “royal icing.”
First served: Twelfth Night 1995
Go back to the Menu
Last modified: © February 1995