Recipes and Photography by
Danielle Prohom Olson (a.k.a. Gather Victoria)
January 6 is the date of an ancient celestial holiday celebrated with a banquet of heavenly sweets. Today in the Christian world it is known as the Feast of Epiphany, and star cookies, cakes, and starry jam tarts are baked to commemorate the Great Star of Bethlehem. But in old world traditions this was Twelfth Night (the end of Yuletide), and round sweet spicy bread-like cakes enriched with dried fruit (and a splash of spirits) were served. These Twelfth Night cakes were symbolic of the coming sun and were often adorned with celestial imagery associated with ancient star or sun goddesses whose bright light brought an end to the year’s darkest period and promised the coming of warmer longer days.
Now, I love culinary traditions—especially when they involve cake. So I’ve gathered together some classic January 6 recipes to help you brighten and sweeten one of winter’s deepest and coldest nights. From Victorian Epiphany Jam Tarts to Irish Women’s Christmas Barmbrack to Italian Sweet Focaccia and Finnish Spiced Wishing Stars, this celestial feast celebrates the coming of the light!
EPIPHANY STAR JAM TART
In England, Epiphany tarts were a popular Victorian tradition. They featured pie dough latticed in the shape of a six-pointed star to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem. Each of the sections were filled with different colored jams to resemble stained glass windows. These tarts were quite elaborate, and cooks used a wide variety of different colored jams for effect. Housewives were said to be very competitive over who could make the most beautiful tart, as they were often entered into Epiphany “Church Supper” contests.
- 1½ cups flour
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 9 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
- 1 egg yolk
- An assortment of jams—strawberry, grape, apricot, black currant, raspberry, marmalade, etc.
- In a food processor, pulse your dry ingredients together to combine.
- Add butter and pulse again until coarse and crumbly.
- Add your egg yolk and continue to pulse for 10 to 15 seconds. When the dough begins to ball up and clump, turn out onto a lightly floured work surface.
- Knead lightly and roll out to make a pie crust. You will need enough dough to make both the crust and the lattice star shape.
- Press some of the pie dough into a buttered pie tin, and cut off the any excess dough from the edges. Take the leftover pie dough and trimmings and roll out into a rectangle.
- Cut the dough into six strips and arrange these strips in the tart base in the shape of a six-pointed star. You’ll have to do some shaping and pinching.
- Once done, warm your jams and spoon them into the spaces between the latticework strips.
- Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until pastry is golden brown. Allow to cool slightly and serve with ice cream or custard.
Follow Danielle Prohom Olson (a.k.a. Gather Victoria) on her blog at gathervictoria.com.