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Shakespeare & Beyond

A recipe for Twelfth Night cake

Shakespeare Twelfth Night
Shakespeare Twelfth Night
Shakespeare Twelfth Night

Park’s Shakspearean Twelfth-Night Characters. Handcolored print, ca. 1830. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Twelfth Night is a Christian holiday typically celebrated on January 5 or 6, concluding the 12 days of Christmas and celebrating the visit of the Magi (the three kings). Twelfth Night is also, of course, the name of a Shakespeare play, although whether he wrote it to be performed during holiday festivities is up for debate. As Shakespeare scholar Michael Dobson puts it:

It is quite possible that Shakespeare himself called this play only by what subsequently became its subtitle, What You Will, perhaps thereby signalling its status as a contrasting companion piece to his previous comedy As You Like It. But it isn’t inappropriate that this play should be associated with a day which in Shakespeare’s time came as the climax of the festive season, the occasion for music, elaborate fancy-dress masked balls, and parties during which whoever found the bean baked into a special cake would be declared ‘Lord of Misrule’ for the night.

In the image above from the Folger collection, William Shakespeare is celebrating Twelfth Night (also known as Epiphany) with characters from his plays. Can you spot Hamlet and Falstaff?

See the big cake over to the left? A traditional Twelfth Night cake has three dried beans or trinkets hidden inside. Those who find the beans or trinkets in their pieces of cake are crowned the “Twelfth Night Kings” for the remainder of the party. The kings distribute gifts to all the children and select the songs and games.

⇒ Elizabethan Holidays: Christmas, New Year’s Day… and Plough Monday?

Here are instructions for how to make a Twelfth Night cake.


Yummy! Dutchman husband loves the idea. atk

Annette k — January 5, 2017

Have you a photograph of those delicious sounding cake. I feel like a finished picture would help! Thanks

Miriam Boland — December 28, 2018

[…] recipe for Twelfth Night cake from the Folger Shakespeare […]

Twelfth Night: Additional Resources – Shakespeare 2020 project — April 20, 2020

[…] Would you like to learn more? Explore a slideshow of some of the Twelfth Night items in our collection, including oil paintings, watercolors, a 19th-century costume, a 16th-century manuscript about an earlier “Twelfth Night” masque, Shakespeare’s First Folio, and photographs from the late 1800s to today — or, if you like to plan way ahead of time, take note of our recipe for a Twelfth Night cake. […]

Order It: "If music be the food of love" from Twelfth Night - Shakespeare & Beyond — August 31, 2021