6 January: Epiphany or Twelfth Night

Do you know T.S Eliot’s poem ‘The Journey of the Magi’? Like all good poems it creates a world of its own - the cold nights of travel, the inhospitable inns on the way, the doubt about the value of the whole exercise. It’s the perfect antidote to the cosy ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are’ view of Twelfth Night.

The French make two sorts of Galette du roi for Epiphany. One is a puff pastry confection stuffed with frangipane. In the south however they make a crown of brioche dough and decorate it with symbols of the Three Kings. There is a little symbol of kingship hidden in the galette – a feve or bean. The person whose portion contains the feve is crowned King or Queen for the day. I think that means they have to buy the drinks! Another, more British tradition for Twelfth Night is to make Lamb’s Wool. This is a hot spiced ale drink where the ale is mixed with apple puree to create a warming frothy drink. This is what Robert Herrick says about it in his poem ‘Twelfth Night’.

Next crown the bowl full
With gentle lamb's wool
Add sugar, nutmeg and ginger,
With store of ale too;
And thus ye must do
To make a wassail a swinger.

Google the poem and you’ll see he also mentions the tradition of the bean in the cake.

So - to the first practical challenge of this blog lark. I’m certainly going show up my strengths and weaknesses as a cook, and here’s the confession - my pastry is sometimes wonderful, but more often it’s not. I simply do not have my mother’s light hands. I’m going to have a go at the brioche. Here’s the recipe.

Une Couronne de Brioche

280ml milk
2 medium eggs
150g melted unsalted butter
600g unbleached strong white flour
80g caster sugar
1 ½ tsp salt
2 ½ tsp easy blend yeast
A dried bean or similar– I used an unblanched almond – I think it ought to be very visible – think of your teeth!

Then to decorate, I used glace cherries, thin water ice (icing sugar and hot water), crystallised ginger and some bits of glace fruit I had left over – oh and some edible glitter.

I made the dough in my bread machine, but you could easily do it by hand or in a food mixer. After the first rising – about an hour, I knocked it back and then formed it into a snake about 60cm long. I stuck the ends together with water and put it on a baking sheet. I then let it rise again for 45 minutes. Then I baked it for 30 minutes at 190c. I let it cool a bit and then got down to the fun part. – decorating.

Here’s the final crown in all its glory.

The Penzance Ladies Book Club meets tonight – the couronne will fortify our literary efforts.


Donna said...

A sight to behold! I'm glad photos are calorie-free. Love, Donna

Anonymous said...

It looks fantastic! I've always called it King Cake, because of living in Louisiana where they make it at Epiphany, too. Particularly in New Orleans. It's more or less the same as yours - brioche - but usually decorated in Mardi Gas colours (gold, purple and green). And there's no bean inside, but instead a tiny baby Jesus, sometimes porcelain or silver or gold but nowadays plastic. I meant to make King Cake this year, but will have to wait until next now. :(

- Helen

Liz said...

It's fascinating and completly to be expected that when peole move all over the world they take their food traditions with them. I expect some of these traditions hang on in distant communities even when they've died out in the original homeland.

Liz said...

If you look at my friend Kate's blog 'The Catalan Way'(its address is on the links at the top) you will see an authentic version of this cake as made in Catalonia.