It's Twelfth Night, Which Means It's Time for Cake and Wassail!
Hearty spiced cider with baked apples at the Thirsty Crow
You’ve heard about the 12 Days of Christmas, but how many of you were actually keeping track? Today, Jan. 5, is officially Twelfth Night, the 12th day after Christmas (according to the Catholic Church and Church of England, which counts Dec. 25 as day one), and the day that your lucky someone should soon be receiving those 12 drummers drumming you ordered for them on Amazon.
Twelfth Night marks the end of the Christmas season and the coming of Epiphany, wherein, according to the Bible, the Three Wise Men visited the newly born Jesus Christ and bestowed their gifts.
Twelfth Night also has other significance – have you ever wondered when it’s proper to take down your Christmas tree? Today is the day. The play Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare, was written as light entertainment for these midwinter festivities, and, as with all holidays, copious consumption of food and drink play a central role in the celebration.
King’s Cake, or rosca de reyes in Spain and Latin America, is the sweet treat of choice, celebrating the coming of the Magi on what is there called Three Kings Day. The proper accompaniment to English celebrations of Twelfth Night, however, is a hearty cup of wassail — a hot, mulled cider consumed throughout the yuletide season but most prominently on Twelfth Night. It is also the most natural beverage to drink when going "a-wassailing." (In Latin America, the rosca de reyes is accompanied by a chocolate-y masa drink called champurrado.)
Rosca de reyes will be flying off the shelves today in bakeries that serve the Spanish-speaking Christian community. A large, breadlike cake, oval-shaped or circular, the rosca resembles a big Christmas wreath and is dotted with the dried and candied fruits typically found in a fruitcake.
Trays of rosca de reyes
A small baby Jesus figurine is traditionally baked into the cake: If you find it (and manage not to choke on it), congratulations! You’re the king/queen of the feast. Less serendipitously, a dry bean also is hidden in the cake. Did you find it? Sorry! You have to pay for next year’s party. Among the many cafes and bakeries offering a rosca de reyes this year is Compañía de Café in the San Fernando Valley.
Originally, wassailing was a traditional ceremony in the apple-growing counties in the south of England to sing and toast to the health of the orchards. The word “wassail” comes from the Anglo-Saxon phrase “waes hail,” which loosely translates to “be healthy.” While early versions of wassail resembled mead, the modern cup is more like a hot, spiced cider, to which alcohol can be added.
For that extra medieval touch, a few eggs can be whipped into the batch. Many bars and drinking establishments around L.A. offer some kind of wassail-inspired holiday drink; Monica Olive at the Thirsty Crow makes a delicious spiced cider, which incorporates rum and butterscotch, and Caity Wallace, owner of the Wilde Thistle in Palms, also makes one based on her family’s holiday recipe. She graciously shares it with us below:
5-6 Granny Smith apples
4-5 cans Excalibur hard cider
4-5 cans Boont amber ale
1 cup of sherry or dry red wine
Cut apples into slices and coat with melted butter and brown sugar. Bake at 350 until tender. Place all, including liquid, into bottom of preheated crock pot. Add hard cider, ale and sherry to the pot. Make a bouquet in a cheesecloth of the cinnamon, allspice and ginger and add to pot. Toss in a few whole cloves. Simmer on low for two hours. Ladle into mugs with a slice of lemon and cinnamon stick to stir.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Los Angeles dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.