Almond and Honey Spice Cake for La Befana

The Epiphany, January 6th, is celebrated in many places throughout the world in various ways. It signifies the Three Wise Mens’ visit to the infant Jesus. In Italy, the focus is on La Befana, a benevolent old witch, who delivers gifts to children. Traditionally, the gifts consisted of toys, caramelle and fruit or carbone, a lump of coal and some garlic if they had been naughty.

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Legend has it that Befana was approached by the Three Wise Men a few days before the birth of the Jesus. ( I only own two!)  They asked her for directions as they had seen his star in the sky, but she did not know the way. She provided them with shelter for a night, as she was considered the best housekeeper in the village. The magi invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she declined, stating she was too busy with her housework and sweeping.  Later, La Befana had a change of heart, and tried to find the three wise men and Jesus. That night she was unable to find them, so to this day, La Befana flies around on her broom, searching for the little baby and visits children with gifts on the evening of January 5th.

Australians don’t celebrate the Epiphany but there is something very appealing about the idea of a crazy witch riding around on her broomstick looking for Jesus. I can relate to this figure. Tonight we will eat an Almond and Honey Spice Cake because we have been good, and something very garlicky because we have been naughty too. The recipe lives in my tried and true handwritten recipe book.

The cake

  • 125g butter, softened
  • 75g castor sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 eggs
  • 180g almond meal
  • 1/2 cup fine semolina
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup milk.

The Spiced Syrup

  • 1 cup castor sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 cardamom pods, bruised
  • 2 cinnamon sticks

The Orange Honey Cream

  • 3/4 cup thickened whipped cream
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 2 Tablespoons finely grated orange peel

Preheat oven to 180c ( 160c fan forced). Grease a 20 centimetre deep round cake tin, line base and sides. Beat the butter, sugar, honey and spices in an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating between each. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl. Fold in the almond meal, semolina, baking powder, and milk. Spread mixture into the pan and bake for around 40 minutes. Stand cake for 5 minutes, leaving in pan.

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To Make the syrup. Stir ingredients in a small saucepan until sugar dissolves. Boil uncovered for 5 minutes to thicken syrup. Pour over hot cake. Cool cake to room temperature.Image

Place the cake onto a serving plate. Decorate with the remaining spice ingredients. Refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. Serve with orange cream (Beat the ingredients together and serve at room temperature.)

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The cute little poem is known by all Italians.

La Befana vien di notte                   The Befana comes at night
Con le scarpe tutte rotte                  With her shoes all tattered and torn
Col vestito alla romana                    She comes dressed in the Roman way
Viva, Viva La Befana!                       Long Life to the Befana

Per Alberto, Quest’anno, soltanto carbone.

4 thoughts on “Almond and Honey Spice Cake for La Befana”

  1. nice post on the epiphany – though we don’t celebrate it – it was always an important part of the church calender when I was young so I always remember it – I like the european traditions of celebrating it and it makes a lot of sense to give on this day – love the Befana story

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  2. I’ve never heard of La Befana’s story, it’s such an interesting twist on the well known story of the three wise men. Love the look of this gorgeously spiced honey cake. Yum! Thanks for all of the history and culture embedded in this post Francesca. Your blog is beautiful xx

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