Research into Wassail Cake for Twelfth Night celebrations yields descriptions but no actual recipes (yet) so Valmai Goodyear offers this personal interpretation which has, at least, proven very successful in the eating.
I couldn’t find a specific recipe, but the descriptions were of a rich cake containing ginger and honey. This is what I came up with. I make it at Halloween and serve it at Lewes Saturday Folk Club’s Wassail evening the following January. It’s also traditional to bake a dried bean until hard and add it to the mixture; whoever gets the bean in their slice is chosen as the Lord of Misrule and is supposed to decide what games will be played on Twelfth Night, but I haven’t tried doing that myself.
Makes a 9-inch / 23cm cake
Grease tin and double-line with greaseproof paper. Heat oven to 150 deg C (gas mark 2).
Rinse crystallised ginger in plenty of hot water to remove surface sugar, then pat it dry or leave it to drain. Dice ginger and peel; mix and sprinkle thoroughly with flour from the measured amount.
Cream butter, sugar, honey & grated rind. Beat eggs together thoroughly with fork and beat into creamed mixture a little at a time. Sift flour with spices, beat into mixture; add ginger and peel. If you’re using an electric mixer you may need to transfer the mixture to a larger bowl and use a wooden spoon to add the ginger & peel.
Spoon mixture into prepared tin and bake for a good three hours just below the middle of the oven. Test to check that it’s done. A skewer stuck deep in will come out clean without traces of uncooked mixture.
Cool, then turn out of tin. When cool, wrap loosely in fresh greaseproof paper and store in an airtight plastic box rather than a metal tin which may rust. Pierce the cake with a skewer here and there and sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of rum once a fortnight or so (you could leave a label on the outside of the box noting each time this is done). The aim is to soften the cake rather than dissolve it.
About four days before you need the cake, put marmalade and lemon juice together in a cup in the microwave for half a minute. Stand the cake on more greaseproof paper; brush its top and sides with the mixture, leaving any large lumps of orange peel behind in the cup.
Measure the height of the cake and its diameter: dust work surface with ordinary icing sugar and roll out the marzipan to a circle an inch wider than the diameter plus twice the height. Apply the rolled marzipan to the cake – you’ll have to make a few tucks or trim it here and there along the sides. Its main function is to prevent the body fluids of the cake leaking into the icing. Leave it 24-48 hours to dry, then make up the royal icing following the instructions on the packet and leave it at least a day to dry before cutting the cake.
I decorate it with gold ribbons.