I hope you'll pardon my digression from the merry-making of Christmas goodies in order to celebrate a beloved literary figure. Happy Birthday Jane Austen! Jane captured my heart long ago with her sharp satire and humor. And with the handsome Mr. Darcy, of course.
True, this is Jane's birthday cake, but I made it especially for I Heart Classics, my publisher's Tumblr site that celebrates all things pertaining to classic literature. If you are a Janeite, or any-sort-of-classic-literature-ite, then you'll enjoy browsing IHC.
To celebrate this birthday properly, I chose a Regency era cake called Twelfth Night Cake. The cake's meaning has changed over the years, but essentially Twelfth Night was a celebration that marked the end of the Christmas season in Jane's time. This cake was always present at the occasion. It is somewhat fruitcake-like (don't be scared) and I've completely updated it by removing those weirdly green candied cherries, and adding dried cranberries, orange zest and pecans. See? That sounds delicious, and not at all scary. It also gets a dose of Cointreau simple syrup. No dry fruitcake on my watch!
Perhaps the neatest thing about this cake - the bean. A dried bean gets baked into the cake. If you find the bean in your slice of cake then you are the Queen (or King) of the celebration. Doesn't that sound like fun? I may have to bring this (and a paper crown) to our Christmas Eve party this year.
I knew exactly how I would decorate this cake when I found a set of Jane Austen themed rubber stamps from Etsy seller Oxford Impressions. The decorations are stamped wafer paper (the "ink" is black food coloring) adhered to pastillage. Everything is completely edible, right down to the pink and silver dragee quote marquees.
Twelfth Night Cake
One 12-inch cake, serves 8-10 [click for printable version]
Make the cake:
1/2 lb. (2 cups) granulated sugar
2 oz (1/4 cup) orange liqueur (I used Cointreau)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 lb. (2 cups) all purpose flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1/2 lb (about 2 cups) dried cranberries
8 oz (about 2 cups) roughly chopped pecans
Zest of 1 large orange
1 dried bean
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until pale.
2. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and add orange liqueur and vanilla. Mix well then pour into the butter mixture. Beat until combined, scraping down the bowl as needed.
3. Add the flour, salt and spices. Mix thoroughly.
4. Add the cranberries, pecans and orange zest. Stir to combine.
5. Grease and line a 12-inch cake pan with parchment paper - bottom and sides. Pour cake batter in and use a fork to press the dried bean down into the batter. Cover top of cake with aluminum foil. Bake for 2 1/2 - 3 hours. Remove cake from oven and let cool in the pan while you make the simple syrup.
Note: You may also insert the dried bean AFTER the cake is baked. This will ensure that the bean doesn't cook during the 3 hours in the oven. The dried cranberries re-hydrate quite a bit, so this worries me about the fate of your bean, especially if it is small.
Orange simple syrup:
8 oz (1 cup) water
1/4 lb. (1 cup) sugar
2 tbsp. orange liqueur (such as Cointreau)
1 cinnamon stick
1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved and liquid is very hot. Remove from heat and add cinnamon stick. Let steep 5-10 minutes.
2. When liquid has cooled somewhat, remove the cinnamon stick and add the orange liqueur.
3. Pour syrup over cake a little at a time, allowing it to soak in before the next addition. Do this until all the syrup is used. Turn cake out on a serving plate when it is completely cool.