Happy Feast of the Annunciation!
Here is a lovely recipe, printed with permission from the Annunciation Society. Enjoy!
In the village of Tichborne, England, flour was blessed on Annunciation day and distributed to the needy. Some of that flour was no doubt baked by the recipients into traditional English feast-day cakes called “plum cakes.” (In those days raisins were called “plums,” hence the name “plum cake.”) To make plum cake one simply kneaded butter or lard, sugar, spices, lemon peel, raisins, and sometimes eggs, into ordinary yeast-raised bread dough at home and carried it to the village baker to be baked in a large round loaf.
Every country had some version of plum cake whether it was Spanish pan de feria, Russian babka, Irish barm brack, or Italian pannetone. Here is a recipe for Annunciation feast-day cake adapted from a traditional pannetone recipe. (The recipe may be doubled, if desired, to make two loaves.):
2 packages quick rise yeast
3/4 cup warm water
½ cup sweet butter (1 stick) melted and cooled
1 t salt
½ cup sugar
2 room-temperature whole eggs, beaten
3 room-temperature egg yolks beaten till lemon-colored
grated peel of one washed lemon
1 T natural almond extract
5 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
½ cup yellow raisins
½ cup black raisins
¾ cup dried apricots snipped into small strips and dredged with flour
1 silver coin, e.g. a quarter, wrapped in wax paper
extra butter for greasing tin and coating dough
bright green poster board
red, pink, and yellowish-green construction paper
small figures of Mary and the Angel from Christmas crib
1. Start early in day. (If desired, cake may be baked well in advance of use, cooled thoroughly, and stored tightly wrapped in freezer.) Soften yeast in the warm water.
2. Mix butter, salt, sugar, eggs, lemon peel, almond extract, egg yolks. Add the yeast and butter mixture to 2½ cups of flour and beat with electric beater. Remove beater and add as much of the remaining flour as needed to make a very soft dough. Grease your hands lightly with butter and coat them with flour. Knead dough on a lightly floured board till smooth and free from stickiness, adding only as much of the remaining flour as needed to make a very soft dough. Knead in raisins and apricots and continue to knead till dough becomes silky and stretchy in texture and bubbles or blisters appear.
3. Place dough in greased warmed bowl, turn dough once to grease top surface, cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place, such as the top of a radiator, until doubled in bulk, i.e. one to two hours. If dough does not double in bulk in this time, knead again and repeat rising process. (If you run out of time, punched-down dough may be covered and refrigerated overnight and the rising continued the next day.)
4. Knead dough again till smooth. Separate out a lump of dough large enough to halfway fill a greased and floured two-pound coffee tin. Insert wax-paper-wrapped coin into dough. (Any remaining dough may be baked in muffin tins.) Brush tops of loaf with melted butter and let rise again until doubled in bulk. The dough should just reach the tops of the pan. With a razor or sharp knife cut a deep cross in top of loaf.
5. Bake in a pre-heated hot oven (400 degrees) about ten minutes or till the surface begins to brown. Reduce over temperature to slow (350 degrees) and bake about 30 to 40 minutes longer until the loaf pulls away from the side of the pan and rings hollow when thumped.
6. Cool thoroughly upright on a rack before serving or storing.
7. On Annunciation day, decorate the cake with small Christmas-crib figures of Mary and the angel and four white candles. The Christmas message “Gloria” on the angel’s banner may be painted out with acrylic paint and the Annunciation message “Ave Gratia Plena” written on the banner with a fine-tip indelible pen. The angel may be suspended from its hook on the notched end of two large matchsticks which have first been spliced together with masking tape and the unnotched end inserted in the cake. Or, if desired, the angel may be suspended with thread from a chandelier above the cake.
8. Cut a crown from bright green poster board, stapling it together in the back. Cut tulip shapes out of red and pink construction paper; cut stems and leaves out of yellowish green paper. Paste or staple the tulip shapes around the outside of the crown alternating red and pink tulips. At dessert time light the candles and sing an Annunciation carol before cutting the cake. The person who finds the coin in their slice receives the flower crown to wear. The coin signifies that Christ has bought us; the flower crown signifies the bliss of heaven which Christ won for his people the Church. Annunciation day marks the beginning of our redemption for it is the conception day of Christ.
This recipe may be freely photocopied by churches, schools, and individuals for their own non-commercial use . Courtesy of the Annunciation Society.