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Epiphany /Carnival King Cake

King Cake for Epiphany

After seeing Jessica's compilation of Epiphany recipes, I was distressed to realize there was no New Orleans style King Cake included on Catholic Cuisine for Epiphany. Having roots from southern Louisiana, King Cake is a necessity not an option for Epiphany.

"King Cake" is the Louisiana term for the sweet bread served on Epiphany. This is the day that opens up Carnival or Mardi Gras. Most people think that Mardi Gras is only around the beginning of Lent, but it actually begins on 12th Night and ENDS on Tuesday at midnight before Ash Wednesday. Here's an interesting explanation of the King Cake origins.

This excerpt from The Original Picayune Creole Cook Book, fifth edition from 1922:
This is a Creole cake whose history is the history of the famous New Orleans Carnivals celebrated in song and stories. The "King's Cake," or Gateau de Roi, is inseparably connected with the origin of our now world-famed Carnival balls. In fact, they owe their origin to the old Creole custom of choosing a king and queen on King's Day, or Twelfth Night. In old Creole New Orleans, after the inauguration of the Spanish domination and the amalgamation of the French settlers and the Spanish into that peculiarly chivalrous and romantic race, the Louisiana Creole, the French prettily adopted many of the customs of their Spanish relatives, and vice versa. Among these was the traditional Spanish celebration of King's Day, Le Jour des Rois, as the Creoles always term the day. King's Day falls on January 6, or the twelfth day after Christmas, and commemorates the visit of the three Wise Men of the East to the lowly Bethlehem manger. This day Is still even in our time still the Spanish Christmas, when gifts are presented in commemoration of the Kings’ gifts. With the Creoles it became Le Petit Noël, or Little Christmas, and adopting the Spanish custom, there were always grand balls on Twelfth Night; a king and a queen were chosen, and there were constant rounds of festivities, night after night, till the dawn of Ash Wednesday. From January 6, or King's Day, and Mardi Gras Day became the accepted Carnival season. Each week a new king and queen were chosen and no royal rulers ever reigned more happily than did these kings and queens of a week.
It seems almost every country has their own version of an Epiphany cake or bread. I couldn't find all the names or types for all the countries, but here are some highlights, keeping in mind that different regions and families do things a bit differently, so it's hard to make sweeping summaries.

Hispanic Countries: Rosca de los Reyes (Cake of the Kings). This is a fruit and nut filled ring or crown topped with icing and decorations, and bean or tiny doll inserted.

Spain: Roscón de Reyes is a roll that is ring shaped and sometimes filled with chocolate or jelly.

Germany and Switzerland: In both countries the Three Kings Cake is called Dreikönigskuchen and usually a gold crown is placed on top of the cake.

France: Galette (or Gateau) des Roi (or Rois) (Cake of the Kings). Usually this is a round and flat cake, honey-spice or sponge inside. It is decorated with pastry, fruits, or sugared frills. Each cake has a bean, small token or miniature doll inside. A nice tradition: there should be one more piece than the number of guests. The extra portion, la part a Dieu--God's share--is for the first poor person who knocks at the door. The day of the Kings means sharing as well as receiving. Nobody who asks for food or alms will leave empty-handed that day.

England: Twelfth Cake is eaten with Lamb's Wool (mulled ale with roasted apple pulp). Inside the cake are a bean and a pea. The man to find the bean was the King of the part, and the woman with the pea is the Queen.

The Festive Bread Book by Kathy Cutler contains 7 different types of bread or cakes for Epiphany, including ones from Spain, Brazil, Holland and a Twelfth Night Bread of Lady Carcas. This book is OOP. Another book I highly recommend, Celebrations of Bread by Betsy Oppenneer, only has one recipe for Epiphany, Rosca de Reyes.

We usually serve this King Cake as part of our Epiphany family celebration. This recipe is from from La Cucina Egeriana. by Eleanor Bernstein, Ferraro, CSJ and Maria Bettina, from Notre Dame Centre for Pastoral Liturgy, a cookbook that is out-of-print. There is another similar recipe in Bad Catholics Guide to Good Living by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak. I know Denise is a chef from New Orleans, so this recipe is definitely authentic. Compared to this one, the main difference is that there is no nut filling in her version.


2 packages dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar (divided, 1/3 cup plus remaining amount, 2 Tbsp.)
1 stick butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 teaspoons salt
4 eggs
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons finely grated orange rind
5 cups flour plus 1 cup for kneading surface

Melt 1 stick butter, milk, 1/3 cup sugar and salt in a saucepan. Cool to lukewarm. Combine 2 tablespoons sugar, yeast and water in a large mixing bowl. Let stand until it foams (5-10 minutes). Beat eggs into yeast mixture, then add milk mixture and lemon and orange rinds. Stir in flour, 1/2 cup at a time, reserving 1 cup for the kneading surface. Knead dough until smooth (about 5-10 minutes). Place in large mixing bowl that has been greased. Turn dough once to grease top; cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 stick butter, melted

Either 1 egg beaten or Confectioner's Sugar Icing (see below)
Then 1/3 cup each colored sugar of purple, yellow and green
2 plastic babies (3/4 inch) or 2 red beans

For filling, mix pecans, brown sugar, granulated sugar and cinnamon. Set aside. For topping, tint sugar by mixing in food coloring until desired shade is reached. For purple, use equal amounts of blue and red. (Use just a drop or two at a time).

When dough has doubled, punch down and divide in half. On a floured surface, roll half into a rectangle 30 x 15 inches (this takes a long time for me, and the dough gets to be very thin). Brush with half of the melted butter and cut into 3 lengthwise strips. Sprinkle half of sugar mixture and pecans on strips, leaving a 1-inch lengthwise strip free for sealing. Fold each strip lengthwise toward the center, sealing the seam. You will now have three 30-inch strips with sugar and nut mixture enclosed in each. Braid the 3 strips and make a circle by joining the ends. Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Place each cake on a 10"x15" baking sheet, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Brush each egg and (optional) sprinkle top with colored sugars, in sequence.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 20 minutes or until cake tests done. Remove from baking sheet immediately so that sugar will not harden. While still warm, place 1 plastic baby or bean in each from underneath the cake.

At this point I add Confectioner's Sugar Icing and then sprinkle colored sugar in different sections of the cakes.

To freeze, wrap cooled cake tightly in plastic wrap. Before serving, remove plastic and thaw. The cake is best if heated slightly before serving.
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Re: Epiphany /Carnival King Cake

The History and Traditions of Epiphany from Around the World


Epiphany has its roots in Greek and means “Manifestation,” “striking appearance” or “Vision of God” aka Three Kings’ Day, is a Christian holiday that celebrates the revelation of the Son of God as human in Jesus Christ. The traditional date for the feast is January 6.

Epiphany is celebrated by both Eastern and Western Churches with a few differences. For Western Christians the feast primarily commemorates the coming of the Magi (the 3 Kings) with only a minor reference to the baptism of Jesus and the miracle at the Wedding at Cana. Eastern churches celebrate the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan. In both traditions the essence of the feast is the same: the manifestation of Christ to the world.

Every country and culture has a unique way of celebrating the Epiphany. In some cultures, the greenery and nativity scenes put up at Christmas are taken down at Epiphany. In other cultures these remain up until Candlemas on February 2. In countries historically shaped by Western Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Protestantism) these customs often involve gift giving, “king pastries” and a celebratory close to the Christmas season. In traditionally Orthodox countries, the celebrations are usually focused on water activities, baptismal rites and house blessings.

In Greece, Cyprus and the Greek diaspora throughout the world, the feast is called the Theophany or Phota (Colloquial Greek for “Lights”) and customs revolve around the Great Blessing of the Waters. A long procession is formed and follows whatever road leads to a body of water. Leading the procession are the sacred icons, followed by the priests and oftentimes musicians. At the end of the ceremony a cross is thrown into the water and the men of the community jump in the water to retrieve it. Whoever finds the cross in the icy waters has luck for the rest of the year.  This “water sanctification” ceremony represents the Baptism of Christ and carries the notion of purification.

In Spain and some Latin American countries they call it El Día de los Reyes (The Day of the Kings), the day when three Kings – Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar – representing Arabia, the Orient, and Africa, arrived on horse, camel and elephant, bringing respectively gold, incense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. Before going to bed on the eve of January 6, Spanish children polish their shoes and leave them ready for the Kings’ presents to be put in them. The next morning they will find presents in their shoes, or if they were naughty during the year, coal (usually a lump of hard sugar candy dyed black, called Carbón Dulce). Most towns in Spain arrange colorful parades representing the arrival of the three kings.

German speakers call it Dreikönigstag (Three Kings’ Day). January 6 is a public holiday in Austria, three federal states of Germany, and three cantons of Switzerland. Germans eat a Three Kings cake, a golden pastry ring filled with orange and spice representing gold, incense and myrrh. In Switzerland the cakes look like a crown composed of seven large buns in a round pan. They are usually made of a rich Challah bread dough with cardamom and topped with pearl sugar. They can be purchased in bakeries or supermarkets with a gold paper crown included.

In England, the celebration of the Night before Epiphany is known as Twelfth Night, the First Night of Christmas being December 25–26 and the Twelfth Night January 5–6. The traditional dish for Epiphany in English is Twelfth Cake, a rich, dense fruitcake. As in continental Europe, whoever finds the baked-in bean gets to be king for a day. Spicy or hot food items, such as ginger snaps and spiced ale, are considered proper Twelfth Night fare, recalling the costly spices brought by the three Wise Men.

In Egypt the feast of the Epiphany is celebrated by the Coptic Orthodox Church. It falls on 11 Tobe of the Coptic calendar and represents the moment – during the baptism of Jesus – when the skies opened and God revealed himself to all as father of Jesus and mankind. As such it was a moment of epiphany or revelation in modern terms. Since the Epiphany is one of the seven great feasts of the Coptic Orthodox Church, it is a day of strict fasting religious celebration. The day is related to the blessing of waters used in church celebrations, and a special day for baptisms. It is also a day on which many houses are blessed with water.

In the 1500s the Swedish-Finnish Lutheran Church called Epiphany “Day of the Holy Three Kings”, while before this, the older term Epiphania was used. Between 1973 and 1991 Epiphany was observed in Finland on a Saturday each year no earlier than January 6, and no later than January 12. After that time, the traditional date of January 6 was fixed and has since been observed as a national public holiday. Finnish gingerbread cookies in the shape of a star are served on this day.

In France, since the Middle Ages, Epiphany has been celebrated with the Galette des Rois, the King’s cake. It is a round, flat and golden cake made with puff pastry and frangipane, an almond-flavored filling. In southern France a crown-shaped brioche filled with fruit is served. Both types of cake contain a porcelain or plastic figurine called fève. The person who gets the piece of cake with the charm becomes “king” or “queen” for the day and wears a gold paper crown. This person also has the obligation to offer a beverage to everyone around the table (usually a sparkling wine or champagne) or volunteer to host the next king cake celebration at their home. This tradition often extends the festivities through all of January!

Celebrations in Guadeloupe, Martinique and the rest of the French speaking Caribbean have a different feel from elsewhere in the world. Epiphany here does not mean the last day of Christmas, but rather the first day of Carnival, a period of joyous celebration which lasts until the evening before Ash Wednesday.

The Irish call it the Feast of the Epiphany or Little Christmas or Women’s Christmas. On that day, women traditionally rested and celebrated for themselves after all the cooking and hard work of the Christmas holidays. Today, women typically dine at a restaurant or gather in a pub in the evening. They may also receive gifts from children, grandchildren or other family members on this day. Other Epiphany customs, which symbolize the end of the Christmas season, are popular in Ireland. They include the burning the sprigs of Christmas holly in the fireplace which have been used as decorations during the past twelve days.

In Italy the Epiphany is associated with the figure of the Befana, a broomstick-riding old woman who, in the night between January 5 and 6, brings gifts to the children, or a lump of “coal” (really black candy) for those who were misbehaved during the year. Legend has it that, having missed her opportunity to bring a gift to baby Jesus together with the Three Wise Men, she now brings gifts to other children on that night.

In the Maronite Church, in accordance with the ancient tradition, Epiphany represents the public announcement of Jesus’ mission when he was baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist. On the occasion, Lebanese Christians pray for their deceased. It is celebrated by attending church, most often the midnight mass, as the Christ is passing to bless homes.

In Mexico the evening of January 5 marks the Twelfth Night of Christmas and is when the figurines of the three wise men are added to the nativity scene. Traditionally in Mexico, as with many other Latin American countries, it is not Santa Claus, but the three kings who are the bearers of gifts, leaving them in or near the shoes of small children. Mexican families also commemorate the date by eating Rosca de reyes.

In the Philippines the Christmas season traditionally ends on Epiphany, known colloquially as “Three Kings” or Tres Reyes. Filipino children also leave their shoes out, so that the Kings will leave behind gifts like candy or money. Most others on this day simply give the common greeting of “Happy Three Kings!”

In Poland, Epiphany is celebrated in grand style with huge parades welcoming the Wise Men, often riding on camels or other animals from the zoo. The Wise Men pass out sweets, children process, carols are sung, and living nativity scenes are enacted. The Poles also take small boxes containing chalk, a gold ring, incense and a piece of amber, in memory of the gifts of the three Kings, to church to be blessed. Once back home, they inscribe “K+M+B+” and the year with the blessed chalk above every door in the house, according to tradition, to provide protection against illness and misfortune. The letters are said to stand either for the names of the Three Kings – Casper, Melchior and Balthazar – or for a Latin inscription meaning “Christ bless this house.” They remain above the doors all year until they are inadvertently dusted off or replaced by new markings the next year. On January 6, as in much of Europe, a Polish style Three Kings cake is served with a coin or almond baked inside. The one who gets it is king or queen for the day. According to Polish tradition, this person will be lucky in the coming year.

In Puerto Rico, Epiphany is an important festive holiday, and is commonly referred to as Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos, or Three Kings’ Day. It is traditional for children to fill a box with fresh grass and put it underneath their bed for the Wise Men’s horses. The three kings visit the children’s homes during the night of January 5, and as their horses feed on the grass, they leave presents for the children. Wood carvings of the Three Kings are a staple of Puerto Rican arts and crafts, and to many, these three men (called not only wise, but also saints) are representative of Puerto Rican culture as a whole. On the eve, January 5, the “Rosario de Reyes” or “Víspera de Reyes” is celebrated with songs dedicated to the Kings, usually before a little table with figures of the Nativity and the Kings or with the Kings and their horses. This celebration is accompanied with a chicken soup, snacks, and drinks.

In Russia the Epiphany is celebrated on January 19 and marks the baptism of Jesus. As elsewhere in the Orthodox world, the Russian Church conducts the rite of the Great Blessing of the Waters. Believing that on this day water becomes holy and contains special powers, Russians cut holes in the ice of lakes and rivers, often in the shape of the cross, to bathe in the freezing water.  Participants dip themselves three times under the water, honoring the Holy Trinity. The ritual is supposed to symbolically wash away their sins from the past year and provide a sense of spiritual rebirth. Orthodox priests bless the water and rescuers are on hand to monitor the safety of the swimmers in the ice-cold water. This practice was fairly uncommon in the czarist days, but has become popular again since the 1990s.

In Louisiana, as in the Caribbean, the Epiphany marks the beginning of the Carnival season, during which it is customary to bake King Cakes. They are round, filled with cinnamon, glazed white, and coated in traditional carnival color sanding sugar. As is the custom in France, the person who finds the doll (or bean) in the cake must provide the next King Cake. The interval between Epiphany and Mardi Gras is sometimes known as “king cake season,” and many may be consumed during this period. The Carnival season begins on Epiphany, and there are many traditions associated with that day in Louisiana and along the Catholic coasts of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. King cakes are first sold then, Carnival krewes begin having their balls on that date, and the first New Orleans krewe parades in street cars are held that night.

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Re: Epiphany /Carnival King Cake

@cherry THANK you so much for posting this!  It is great information, and a lot of history I didn't know!  The ideas and recipes are great!

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[ Edited ]

I am happy you enjoyed it @Sooner ..If I find more recipes I will share them

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Re: Epiphany /Carnival King Cake

roscaokok.jpg Rosca de Reyes with hot chocolate Heart

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Re: Epiphany /Carnival King Cake

@cherry  I had no idea the history of the King Cake was so far reaching -- trans cultural.  I always just associated it with the south, but primarily with Cajun country.  Now I want a King Cake.


The cultural Epiphany celebrations, was fascinating, as well.  Good reading!  Thanks for sharing.   

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[ Edited ]

One thing many people don't know is Christmas Tide lasts until Feb 2, which is the feast of Candlemas. It was when all of the church candles were blessed ,and our throats were blessed against illness on Feb 3. It was through the intercession of St Blaise..

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Candlemas (also spelled Candlemass), also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ and the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a Christian Holy Day commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. It is based upon the account of the presentation of Jesus in Luke 2:22–40. In accordance with Leviticus 12: a woman was to be purified by presenting lamb as a burnt offering, and either a young pigeon or dove as sin offering, 33 days after a boy's circumcision. It falls on February 2, which is traditionally the 40th day of the ChristmasEpiphany season.[1] While it is customary for Christians in some countries to remove their Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night (Epiphany Eve),[2] those in other Christian countries historically remove them on Candlemas.[3][4] On Candlemas, many Christians (especially Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, Orthodox and Roman Catholics) also bring their candles to their local church, where they are blessed and then used for the rest of the year;[5][6] for Christians, these blessed candles serve as a symbol of Jesus Christ, who referred to Himself as the Light of the World.[7]



A tapestry from Strasbourg depicting the Purification of the Virgin Mary and the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple
The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple being celebrated through Mass at the Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral (2015).

The Feast of the Presentation is one of the oldest feasts of the Christian church, celebrated since the 4th century AD in Jerusalem. There are sermons on the Feast by the bishops Methodius of Patara (died 312), Cyril of Jerusalem (died 360), Gregory the Theologian (died 389), Amphilochius of Iconium (died 394), Gregory of Nyssa (died 400), and John Chrysostom (died 407). It is also mentioned in the pilgrimage of Egeria (381–384), where she confirmed that the celebrations took place in honor of the presentation of Jesus at the Temple.

XXVI. [The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.] But certainly the Feast of the Purification is celebrated here with the greatest honour. On this day there is a procession to the Anastasis; all go in procession, and all things are done in order with great joy, just as at Easter. All the priests preach, and also the bishop, always treating of that passage of the Gospel106 where, on the fortieth day, Joseph and Mary brought the Lord into the Temple, and Simeon and Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Famuhel, saw Him, and of the words which they said when they saw the Lord, and of the offerings which the parents presented. And when all things have been celebrated in order as is customary, the sacrament is administered, and so the people are dismissed.[8]

Christmas was, in the West, celebrated on December 25 from at least the year AD 354 when it was fixed by Pope Liberius. Forty days after December 25 is February 2. In the Eastern parts of the Roman Empire, Roman consul Justin established the celebration of the Hypapante on February 2, AD 521.

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Re: Epiphany /Carnival King Cake

[ Edited ]

I attended a New Year's Day brunch last year at my SIL's home.  It was a 'pot-luck' of sorts, and one of the attendees contributed a King Cake he had mail-ordered from Joe Gambino's Bakery in Metairie, Louisiana.  It was delicious.  I would describe it as a danish-type yeast dough filled with cinnamon sugar and topped with a fondant icing.  It reminds me of what we in Wisconsin call a "kringle".

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Re: Epiphany /Carnival King Cake

Twelfth Night, also known as Twelfth Day Eve, Epiphany and Old Christmas Eve, falls on January fifth, the twelfth day after Christmas. The once famous customs of Twelfth Night have not been celebrated extensively in England since the midnineteenth century, although some folk practices connected with the season have continued to modern times.

The Twelfth Night revels of the past dwindled perceptibly in popularity after the calendar change, in 1752, from Old to New Style. In the Green Room of London's Drury Lane Theatre, however, Twelfth Cake still is eaten and a toast drunk in honor of Richard Baddeley the comedian, who died in 1794. The ancient ceremony, interrupted by war, was revived in 1947, and will continue — God willing — for centuries to come.

Richard Baddeley was a pastry cook who later became an actor. Upon his death he left the sum of one hundred pounds, invested at three per cent interest, to provide a cake, known as the "Baddeley Cake", which was to be eaten annually, in his memory, by "His Majesty's Company of Commedians".

Originally the Twelfth Night Cake, baked with a bean and a pea inside, was accompanied by generous supplies of "Lamb's Wool" (an ale, seasoned with sugar, nutmeg and the pulp of roasted apples.for the wassail bowl), as well as various kinds of sweetmeats.

It was customary for friends and relatives to gather round the festive board on Twelfth Night to dine sumptuously and then perform the ceremony of cutting the Twelfth Cake. Whoever found the bean in his portion of cake was proclaimed King of the revel, while the person getting the pea was Queen. Immediately a mock court was established, and each of the guests was assigned to some different office and title of importance.

Herrick describes the gay seventeenth-century custom of choosing the King and Queen in the following stanzas:

       Now, now the mirth comes 
       With the cake full of plums,
Where Beane's the King of the sport here; 
       Besides we must know, 
       The Pea also
Must revell, as Queene, in the Court here. 
       Begin then to chuse 
       This night as ye use
Who shall for the present delight here, 
       Be a King by the lot,
       And who shall not
Be Twelfe-day Queene for the night here. 
       Which knowne, let us make 
       Joy-sops with the cake,
And let not a man be seen here, 
       Who unurg'd will not drinke 
       To the base from the brink
A health to the King and Queene here.
       Next crowne the bowle full 
       With gentle lamb's woll; 
       Add sugar, nutmeg and ginger, 
       With store of ale too; 
       And this ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.
(Robert Herrick, "Hesperides, Twelfe Night, or King and Queene", 1648).

In Herrick's day the Twelfth Cake was similar to ordinary plum cake. It became more elaborate as time went on until, by the nineteenth century, it resembled a modern fruit cake, crowned with "painted sugar".
Directions for making an excellent modern Twelfth Cake follow. Why not hide a bean and a pea in it, and let the cake set the theme for an old-fashioned Twelfth Night party?



• 3 cups all purpose flour
• 5/8 cup currants
• 3/4 cup sultanas
• 1 1/3 cups mixed peel, shredded
• 1 cup butter
• 5/8 cup brown sugar
• 1 Tablespoon molasses
• 3 eggs
• 1/4 cup milk
• 1/4 teaspoon allspice
• 1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Yield: 1 loaf cake

Prep Time: N/A

Difficulty:  ★★★☆

Cost: ★★★★

For Ages: 15+

Origin: England

Cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Warm the molasses and milk and add them to the butter, sugar and eggs, beating briskly. Sift a little of the flour over fruits, to prevent them from falling to bottom of pan. Sift together flour and spices and mix into batter, stirring lightly. Fold in fruits last of all.

Line bread tin with waxed paper. Pour in mixture and bake in slow oven (250° F.) for approximately 2-2 1/4 hours.

Recipe Source: From An English Oven by Dorothy Gladys Spicer, The Women's Press, New York, 1948