Twelfth Night cake

Rich crumbly fruit cake, sumptuous icing and a classic design. We’ll help you make a marvellous Twelfth Night cake with this recipe from the kitchen at National Trust Stowe – well, it wouldn't be Christmas without it. A tradition held by our Georgian ancestors, Twelfth Night cake celebrated the last day of the festive season on 5 January when there were great feasts, of which cake was an essential part.

Cakes and bakes
A traditional Twelfth Night cake - a round fruit cake covered in white royal icing. Swans decorate the top of the cake in a spiral pattern with swirling piped icing to create a regency style
  • Preparation time 45-50 minutes (prep. time)
  • Cooking time 2 hours 45 minutes (cooking time)
  • Serves 10


  • Butter - softened to room temperature 200g
  • Dark muscovado sugar 200g 
  • Plain flour200g 
  • Eggs - 4x beaten
  • Ground almonds50g
  • Sherry, sweet or dry 100ml
  • Candied peel, roughly chopped 85g
  • Glacé cherries - roughly chopped 85g
  • Raisins 250g
  • Currants 250g
  • Lemon zest from 1 lemon finely grated 
  • Mixed spice1½ tsp
  • Ground cinnamon 1 tsp 
  • Ground nutmeg ½ tsp
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Icing of your choice: pre-made royal or buttercream 
  • ½ tsp baking powder


  1. Heat oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 

  2. Line the base and sides of a 20 cm round, 7.5 cm deep cake tin. 

  3. Beat the butter and sugar with an electric hand mixer for 1-2 mins until very creamy and pale in colour, scraping down the sides of the bowl half way through. 

  4. Stir in a spoonful of the flour, then stir in the beaten egg and the rest of the flour alternately, a quarter at a time, beating well each time with a wooden spoon. Stir in the almonds.

  5. Mix in the sherry (the mix will look curdled), then add the peel, cherries, raisins, cherries, lemon zest, spices and vanilla. Beat together to mix, then stir in the baking powder.

  6. Spoon mixture into the tin and smooth the top, making a slight dip in the centre. 

  7. Bake for 30 mins, then lower temperature to 150C/fan 130C/gas 2 and bake a further 2-2¼ hours, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. 

  8. Leave to cool in the tin, then take out of the tin and peel off the lining paper. 

  9. When completely cold, wrap well in cling film and foil to store until ready to decorate. The cake will keep for several months. 

To decorate

Timeless swans decorate our cake
A traditional Twelfth Night cake - a round fruit cake covered in white royal icing. Swans decorate the top of the cake in a spiral pattern with swirling piped icing to create a regency style
Timeless swans decorate our cake


For a classy finish we've chosen royal icing in white. It’s all about what makes Christmas for you, so if you’d like some yummy buttercream, simply decorated with a sprig of holly for the family to dig into, you can use the tried and tested cake recipe as your base to make your own creation. 

  1. As lovely as it is to make it from scratch, you can now buy ready-made royal icing from most supermarkets. 

  2. Keep some aside for modelling decorations and use the majority to roll it out to 1cm thick.

  3. Spread a very thin layer of ….? over the cake to help your icing stick.

  4. Layer over the icing and trim as desired. 

  5. Use some icing to pipe garlands around the edge of the cake and create a cross wheel pattern on the top of cake. 

  6. Use the extra you have to model some swans, place around the edge of the cake all facing the same direction.

Sadly in the 1870’s, Queen Victoria outlawed the celebration of the Twelfth Night as a day of revelling, fearing everything would get out of hand. Though its memory has faded, people still associate Christmas with a fruit cake and you can keep the tradition alive by making your own.

Eat and be merry. Share a picture of your masterpiece twelfth night cake or the crumbs with us on Facebook and Twitter.