Twelfth night bean cake

Celebrate the 12th day of Christmas with this sensational sweet spicy fruit bread from Lotte Duncan
By Lotte Duncan
Twelfth night bean cake
  • Rating:
  • Serves: 6-8
  • Cook Time: 55 minutes
  • Prep Time: including rising the dough
  • Effort: medium



  • 10 g fresh yeast, or 1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 400ml tepid milk
  • 550 g strong bread flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 25 g butter
  • 100 g currants
  • 100 g dried figs, coarsely chopped
  • 50 g dried pears, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1cm knob ginger, finely chopped
  • zest 1 orange and 1 lemons, finely grated
  • 1 dried bean, (NOT kidney bean)
  • 1 dried pea
  • purple ribbon, to decorate

For the glaze:

  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp milk

Tips and Suggestions

This traditional Bean Cake was a cake made for Twelfth Night, the last of the twelve days of Christmas. Now a celebration of Epiphany, the occasion when the three kings visited the infant Jesus, this festival has inherited some of the pagan customs associated with Roman Saturnalia. This was when slaves were allowed many privileges, including eating with and gambling against their masters. Dice were thrown to choose a 'king' and everyone had to obey his command. The two traditions involving kings were interwoven to give the modern Twelfth night custom of choosing a 'king' by dividing a cake containing a token - a dried bean or china doll. The finder gains privileges or pays forfeits, depending on the custom of the country. In the late 17th C, the series of tokens included in the cake - a fruitcake leavened with yeast - expanded. The token idea still exists with the Christmas pudding, in fact in the past the Christmas pudding was kept for Twelfth Night, reheated and charms added. It was flamed and served with rum sauce.


1. Set the oven to 230°C/gas 8. Blend the fresh yeast with the sugar and most of the milk. If you are using dried yeast, dissolve it with the sugar and half the milk and leave to go frothy.

2. Mix the flour and salt, rub in the butter and stir in the fruit and spices, ginger and zest.

3. Add the yeast liquid and enough of the remaining milk to give a fairly soft dough. Knead well.

4. Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead until it feels firm and elastic. Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.

5. Return the dough to a floured work surface and knead lightly, and then bury the bean and pea into the dough.

6. Roll into a sausage and then cut into two. Join the ends at one end and then twist and join the other ends to form a ring. Place on a large greased baking sheet, cover in some oiled cling film and leave to rise for a further 20 minutes.

7. Mix the sugar and milk together to form a glaze and brush over the bread.

8. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 190°C/gas 5. Bake for a further 30-40 minutes.

9. When cool, wrap some purple ribbon around the bread and then tie in a bow to serve.

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