A Birthday Cake for Jane Austen: Twelfth Night Cake

Ihope 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 an English fruitcake with dried cranberries, orange zest and pecans. That sounds delicious, and not at all scary like American fruitcakes studded with neon red and green cherries. 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. (1 cup or 2 US sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

5 eggs

2 oz (1/4 cup) orange liqueur (I used Cointreau)

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups (240g) all purpose flour

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups dried cranberries

8 oz. 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 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.

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Rosa's Yummy Yums
Rosa's Yummy Yums
9 years ago

What an astonishing cake! A beautiful ode to Jane Austen. This is such a splendid creation.

Cheers,

Rosa

Anonymous
Anonymous
9 years ago

This is gorgeous! Absolutely beautiful- I wouldn't want to eat it after I put in all that work! =)

cookies and cups
cookies and cups
9 years ago

Amazing! I love the cranberries in there, I bet it's as good as it is pretty.

the decorated cookie
the decorated cookie
9 years ago

Can't even type, I'm so floored. Posted immediately on Edible Crafts :). Poor Edgar now has competition for "favorite Sprinkle Bakes cake."

Heather (Heather's Dish)
Heather (Heather's Dish)
9 years ago

and this, heather, this is why i love you and love this blog. you are SO creative! and you just won my heart with this cake seeing as how i absolutely adore jane austen. and you…obvi 🙂

Unknown
Unknown
9 years ago

I can't wait to show this to M. when she wakes up. I often call her the modern J. Austen. Have you seen the latest Sense and Sensibilities? Marvelous breathtaking scenery of the little "cottage" the girls live in by the sea after their "mansion" is lost. Beautiful cake Heather!

IFeelCook
IFeelCook
9 years ago

OMG, this cake is amazing!!! I love it. Absolutely gorgeous 😀

Dharma
Dharma
9 years ago

Una tarta realmente espectacular. Adora a Jane Austen.
Un saludo y Feliz Navidad

Alliwmcer
Alliwmcer
9 years ago

Do you have an icing recipe to go with it? I would love to make this for dessert this year.

Unknown
Unknown
9 years ago

What a GORGEOUS cake!

Jess Wakasugi {Life's Simple Measures}
Jess Wakasugi {Life's Simple Measures}
9 years ago

Wow. Simply stunning. One of the most pretty and unique cakes I've seen since I've been blogging. This is truly amazing, love it!!

Patti Morfeld RN BSN
Patti Morfeld RN BSN
9 years ago

Just divine, or as Jane herself might say, Brilliant!

Cookbook Queen
Cookbook Queen
9 years ago

I don't know what to say about this cake, other than I'm in awe. You are truly an artist, Heather!!

Charin Kent
Charin Kent
9 years ago

Just when i thought your blog couldn't get any cuter you go and make this stunning cake to honor such a wonderful writer, I do believe you are my soul sister Heather! 🙂

Jenn
Jenn
9 years ago

Wow, what a beautiful cake, and so creative. It looks equally delicious as it does gorgeous. Great job!

Lauren Hairston
Lauren Hairston
9 years ago

I love fruitcake, so I'm not scared! 🙂 It's gorgeous, as well and a great way to honor a very talented lady!

Resh
Resh
9 years ago

such a beautiful cake…i love Jane Austen…and this looks perfect….;)

bojosperlacuina
bojosperlacuina
9 years ago

It's a fantastic cake!

Kavi @ Lab to Fab!
Kavi @ Lab to Fab!
9 years ago

Wow! I agree with fifthfloorkitchen… can't imagine cutting into this after all that hard work! Great job 🙂

Anonymous
Anonymous
9 years ago

It's funny you say you "updated" the cake by taking out the green candied cherries, when in reality you basically followed the old traditional 12th Night Cake. I was curious where you got your recipe? I wrote a whole thesis on wedding cakes from 1800-1950, which actually evolved out of the 12th Night Cake, it's nice to see such a beautifully adapted cake. Plus I {adore} Jane Austen (and obviously Mr. Darcy as well!). Love the blog!

Heather Baird
Heather Baird
9 years ago

Hi!! @Alliwmcr – I think the cake is sweet enough without icing (the simple syrup certainly contributes sweetness) – I'd suggest a dusting of powdered sugar right before serving. Or even a milk/powdered sugar glaze would be nice and look pretty. @thetoastedsprinkle – Haha, perhaps I should have worded that differently. Old is made new again, maybe? Anyway, this was adapted (almost beyond recognition) from an old NY times recipe. I added salt and vanilla, left out and interchanged ingredients… I still feel it is a fair representation of the cake. And it is really delicious. Thank you so much!… Read more »

Rinn Spencer
Rinn Spencer
9 years ago

It's like a King Cake! (but far less gaudy. mmm)

Jess
Jess
9 years ago

That is absolutley amazing. And I agree how on earth did you bring yourself to cut into it!! What a masterpiece.

Unknown
Unknown
9 years ago

Wow, this is one elaborate and beautiful cake. I bet Jane Austin would be exctatic to have this as a birthday cake. You are an amazing baker/artist.

Rebecca
Rebecca
9 years ago

That….is the most beautiful thing I have seen.

Monica Fairview
Monica Fairview
9 years ago

This is superb! what a lovely tribute to Jane!

Jessica @ How Sweet
Jessica @ How Sweet
9 years ago

you are so, so, so unbelievably talented. i love you.

Ellen
Ellen
9 years ago

Um. Freaking beautiful. You've captured the essence of Jane Austen in a cake…a cake. Lovely, just lovely.

Meg @ write meg!
Meg @ write meg!
9 years ago

This is absolutely incredible — WOW. I mean, wow. I'm a huge Janeite and was psyched to see your post. Happy birthday, dear Jane — and yay for your lovely work!

Jenn
Jenn
9 years ago

Ok, so I already commented once, but I have to comment again just because this cake is so amazing that it deserves another one. 🙂 I can't stop staring at it, it's so gorgeous. I love the bean idea, too. Happy Birthday, Jane!

Lili
Lili
9 years ago

Oh how beautiful! And such a charming tradition with the bean. Your images have me swooning. And suddenly I want to pour a glass of blush wine and eat something sweet with it. Just incredible! xoxo ~Lili

Paula
Paula
9 years ago

Jaw dropping beautiful!

Jessica
Jessica
9 years ago

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. I myself adore Jane Austen and this cake is simply perfection.

Monette
Monette
9 years ago

YOU GOT TO BE KIDDING! THIS IS SOOOOO AMAZING!

linda
linda
9 years ago

This cake is a MASTERPIECE!!
thank you for your digression.

Anonymous
Anonymous
9 years ago

wow, I have no words. How beautiful! It's SO elegant.

Susan
Susan
9 years ago

Oh, yes! Please DO bring a cake ala bean and a crown to our party! Love, love, love this!

Sarti
Sarti
9 years ago

Lovely design. Clever, stylish and rather unusual. A true piece of edible art 🙂

Amanda
Amanda
9 years ago

Absolutely stunning and so creative. I am in awe!

vanillasugarblog
vanillasugarblog
9 years ago

heather, jane would be speechless if you made this for you. me too.
happy weekend doll!

Anonymous
Anonymous
9 years ago

Gorgeous! I love it! 12th Night is one of my favorite things–I love the idea of making Christmas last, and a few years ago my friends and I started throwing a 12th Night masquerade party every year. We dress up, exchange presents, and have a King Cake (whoever gets the bean is crowned as the host for next year!). And Jane Austen shares her birthday with my two-year old goddaughter, so this cake is made of all the things I love!

Heidi
Heidi
9 years ago

Just lovely, simply lovely. 🙂

Anonymous
Anonymous
9 years ago

Such a unique cake. You make me weak in the knees with your creations.

Anonymous
Anonymous
9 years ago

i love this soooo much!!! what a great cake!! best ever

Elpiniki
Elpiniki
9 years ago

This cake looks so amazing!
Love your blog! Nice finding you! Visit me at: my-greek-cooking.blogspot.com

Lauren at Keep It Sweet
Lauren at Keep It Sweet
9 years ago

What a stunning cake and a beautiful post! You are so talented!

Ariella
Ariella
9 years ago

This is truly beautiful. What an inspired cake!

Anonymous
Anonymous
9 years ago

This cake is a stunner. I want to make it….I do not have a 12 inch cake tin. Is there a suggestion as to what I can use instead? Thanks so much for continuing this site. I visit it daily..

Laurel Ann (Austenprose)
Laurel Ann (Austenprose)
9 years ago

Absolutely stunning. A masterpiece. Thanks for sharing.

Brenna Hawley
Brenna Hawley
9 years ago

Pride and Prejudice is both my favorite book and movie. Obviously, I need to go buy me a set of those stamps!