Why Shakespeare didn’t much care for detail, and thought we should eat more cake
With Twelfth Night upon us, we are all for one last hurrah, a bit of feasting, foolery and festive merriment to see in the first week of January. And, for that reason, Twelfth Night is right up there with our favourites of Shakespeare’s plays. It’s been purported that the play was first performed (for Queen Elizabeth) on Twelfth Night, though that has never been proved. What is certain, however, is that it is the only of the Bard’s plays with not one, but two, titles. The play is officially entitled Twelfth Night or What You Will.
What Will’s aim was with the ‘What You Will’ bit, no one is entirely sure. It’s possible the ‘what you will’ is simply a nod to the topsy-turviness of the night before Epiphany, a day when young boys were chosen to play the king - the lords of misrule - and a night that celebrates illusion, disguise and mishap. So ‘what you will’ simply means: ‘Twelfth Night, a night when you can do what you like’.
A second theory guesses that the alternative title is a nod to the audience: ‘Here’s my play, Twelfth Night - make of it What You Will.’
The third theory, and our favourite by far, is that it was a total afterthought. The theory goes that Shakespeare was asked to give his play a title and he essentially said: “Oh… call it Twelfth Night… or whatever you like to be honest, I don’t give a monkey’s…” (we are paraphrasing, here) - it was a sort of Elizabethan “whatevs, mate”.
Titular queries aside, we’re a big fan of the script that gave us Sir Toby Belch and his famous words “Does thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”
We agree that virtue and cakes (and ale) go hand in hand at this time of year. And to celebrate that, here’s our recipe, from our January issue, for a Galette des Rois, a traditional French cake-style pud designed to be eaten on Twelfth Night.
1 x 400g block ready-made puff pastry
2 tbsp apricot jam
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
2 tbsp Calvados
1 tbsp whole milk
1 small plastic coin (as found in a child’s shop till)*
300ml fresh double cream, to serve
1 Preheat oven to 200C/Fan 180C/ Gas 6. Cut the puff in half and roll out each piece into a circle about 25cm across.
2 Grease a baking tray and place one puff pastry circle on the tray. Spread with the apricot jam, leaving an edge of 2cm around the outside. Place the coin (fève – see below) to one side of the circle on top of the jam.
3 Whisk the butter and sugar in a bowl until fluffy, then beat in the egg. Next, add the ground almonds and Calvados.
4 Spoon this fragipane mixture over the jam, keeping within the border. Brush the edges with the milk and cover with the second circle of pastry, pressing the edges together.
5 Using a sharp knife, score the top with vertical lines 4–5cm apart. Then score diagonally across within each line, alternating direction, to create a chevron effect. Brush the top with a little milk to help it go a lovely golden brown when baking. Cook for 25–30 mins.
6 Serve the galette warm with double cream in a pouring jug, alongside a small glass of Calvados for each guest to toast the person who discovers the fève. The lucky guest is crowned King (Le Roi) or Queen (La Reine) of the Fête and chooses their partner to rule with them for the rest of the evening!
* We used a toy plastic coin to avoid anyone breaking their teeth and it didn’t melt. You could of course use a real one, just make guests aware.