From the time of William Conqueror up until the start of the seventeenth century, the feast of the Epiphany was celebrated much more lavishly than Christmas Day. Having taken down the Christmas cards and decorations for another year, Twelfth Night presented one last opportunity for a knees-up, the highlight being the cutting of the twelfth-cake.
The traditional Twelfth Night cake was supposed to have a dried pea or bean hidden somewhere inside it. Whoever found the bean was proclaimed king or queen for the rest of the evening’s fun and frivolity. It then became their responsibility to announce the toasts and lead everyone else in the drinking that ensued. However, some kings and queens also earned themselves the responsibility of covering the bill the next day. In time, the bean became a silver sixpence which was cooked inside the Christmas pudding rather than the cake.
175 g/6 oz flour
175 g/6 oz butter
175 g/6 oz sugar
3 tbs brandy
340 g/12 oz currants
40 g/1½ oz flaked almonds
25 g/1 oz orange and lemon peel, finely chopped
1 tbs honey
1 tsp of vinegar
Soften the butter and add to the sugar and cream in a mixing bowl. Cream the mixture until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well; also add a tablespoon of flour to stop them curdling. Pour in the brandy, followed by the flour and then the spices. Fold them all in, keeping the mixture light and airy. Lastly stir in the currants, almonds, peel and honey. Then mixture needs to be poured into a prepared cake tin which is when you can also add a pea or bean, if you wish (but do not use a kidney bean as if it is undercooked it can prove toxic!). Bake for two hours until the cake has browned on top.
You can this recipe, and others like it, in What is Myrrh Anyway? which is still available from all good bookshops.