Cakes & Ale is the most often performed ritual within witchcraft, as well as one of the most ancient in practice, and consists of the sharing of food and drink among sorcières to mark a gathering.
The concept of sharing a meal with someone to show goodwill dates back to prehistory and is symbolic of a shared connection – ancient war lords would feast together publically as a show of alliance before their supporters. “Breaking bread” may indicate a shared meal or the act of sharing itself.
It is common knowledge that if you eat or drink whilst visiting Fairyland this constitutes a binding contract to stay there for a span of time – anything from a year to forever.
In France and some other French-speaking countries, a réveillon is a lengthy shared meal held on the evenings preceding Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The name of this dinner is based on the word réveil (meaning “waking”) because participation involves staying awake until midnight.
Thanks for hosting to Etienne Clément
If you can accommodate it, a Yule log should be burning on these occasions, the traditional French version being a cherry log sprinkled with red wine. In the Provence region it is preferred that the whole family should help to cut the log, and that a little of it should be burnt each night leading up to the 5th of January. If any of the log remains after Twelfth Night, it would be stored away as a charm to keep lightning away from the house.
The custom of burning the Yule log predates medieval times. An antique Nordic tradition, it is named for the pagan Yule festival and was originally a whole tree, brought into the house with great ceremony. The largest end of the log would be placed into the fireplace, with the remainder sticking out into the room, to be gradually pushed into the hearth as the fire consumed it.
The head of the house would sprinkle the log with libations of mead, oil or salt, and once it had burnt down to fine ashes, they would be scattered around the house to protect the family from hostile spirits. When Christianity took over the pagan festivals and rebranded them, the log ritual became a part of Christmas Eve festivities.
In Cornwall, the log is referred to as The Mock. In Holland, the remains of the log are kept as a lucky charm, but must be stored under a bed. Today, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds would be the consuming of the log in delicious cake form – the bûche de Noël.
Yule Log or Bûche de Noël
These are made with a chocolate sponge roll layered with cream, buttercream or jam. The outside is covered in chocolate icing or chocolate and decorated to resemble a bark-covered log.
100g (4 oz) caster sugar
100g (4 oz) plain flour
Icing sugar to dredge
Chocolate butter icing
Make a roulade tray with baking paper- make it to fit inside a standard baking tray, fold up the corners and secure them with paperclips. Tricky, but it can be done.
Dust it lightly with icing sugar.
Combine eggs and sugar in a large bowl over a pan of hot water and whisk vigorously until a trail is left on the surface of the mixture when the whisk is lifted. You can cheat and use an electric whisk, if you have any savvy whatsoever.
Very gently fold in the flour, then drip in a tablespoon of hot water and stir gently. Don’t overstir, or the mixture will lose its volume.
Pour the mixture into the paper tray and bake at a medium heat for approx. 10 mins, watching carefully. It should be firm to the touch when it’s ready, and slightly risen.
Place a sheet of baking paper over a damp tea towel, and dredge the paper with a little icing sugar.
Turn the cake out onto this paper as soon as you take it out of the oven, then roll it up with the paper still on it.
I then repeated the process because I wanted to have extra branches for my log- you can re-use the paper tray. I made the 2nd batch green with food colouring, just for a laugh.
When it cools, unroll, spread with your choice of filling, and roll that thing back up. I used pre-prepared chocolate butter icing because it’s easy and I’m lazy.
Now you can start to have fun with your log.
Candy fungi can be created from marzipan, Hershey’s Chocolate kisses and mini-marshmallows or Kinoko No Yama Japanese biscuits, made to look like tiny ‘shrooms. You may wish to add edible faux-insects or anything else reminiscent of woodland terrain. I had some small chocolate leaves knocking about so I used those.
I made marzipan mushrooms from plain marzipan coloured with red food colouring and dotted with white icing. If you try this, I advise you to use gloves, as this is a gory business indeed.
While chocolate is the standard, you could opt for a red velvet or green pandan cake version. The Flemish version is known as Kerststronk or “Stump Cake” and is served with chips and beer.
I must admit, the process of bringing this together did start to remind me irresistibly of “Little Otik”, the fantastically bonkers film by Jan Švankmajer where a childless couple fashion themselves a baby out of a log and I don’t want to ruin it for you, but it doesn’t end well.
Here is a pandan cake version with green buttercream icing I made for a later Christmas gathering:
Other traditional French food options for these occasions are oysters, foie gras and Roquefort cheese, “Amuses guele” (little square toasts decorated with pate or caviar)…
…or the Galette des Rois (Cake of Kings). These cakes can be baked at home, but at this time of year French supermarchés are full of them. Each cake has a charm or small figurine baked into it, not unlike an English Christmas pudding with its silver sixpence. They are displayed with a golden crown made of paper or cardboard as a topper.
They should be served and eaten at a shared gathering with the following tradition :
The Coronation of the Cake King or Queen
The cake should be warmed in the oven, then sliced by one person and handed around, with all present hoping to get the slice with the charm inside.
In the interests of absolute fairness, the youngest or smallest person present sequesters themselves under the dining table, and announces the recipient of each slice as it is cut. They can do this by calling out names or by tapping on people’s legs under the table.
This person is known as the Cake Gnome during this process.
The lucky person who gets the charmed slice is crowned with the paper crown from the cake, and rules as the King or Queen of the Night, with everybody bound to obey them. They also get to pick a consort to rule at their side.
Anointing the new-made monarch with Champagne or powdered sugar is optional.
Thanks to Nagete Boukhezra for sharing this Gallic tradition with me.
All Hail notre nouveau monarque de gâteau !
Whether droit du seigneur is practised or not depends on the personalities of those present, really, and probably on how many cadavres de bouteilles (empty bottles) pile up as the evening goes on.