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Befana Cake

Torta di Befana
Celebrate the holidays all year round with this fruit-studded bread made for the Feast of Epiphany.


1 1/4 cups raisins

1/2 cup diced, candied lemon peel

1/2 cup diced, candied orange peel

1/4 cup brandy (optional)

1 TBS active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm (110-115F) water

5 cups plus 2 tbs King Arthur Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbs grated lemon zest

8 tbs (1 stick) unsalted butter cut into pieces, softened

2 large eggs

1/2 cup warm milk

1/2 cup chopped almonds

1 dried fava or other large bean

egg yolk

2 tbs turbinado (coarse brown) sugar

Put raisins in bowl, cover with warm water and let aside to plump.

In a bowl, mix the citrus peels with the brandy and set aside. If not using brandy, use hot water.



In a medium bowl dissolve the yeast in warm water. Add one cup of the flour and mix until a ball of dough is formed. Fill a large bowl 2/3 full with warm water. Place the ball of dough in the water, cover with bowl with plastic wrap and let the "sponge" rise in a warm place until doubled, about 20 minutes.

In a food processor, combine 4 cups of the flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Add the butter, eggs, and milk and process to a slightly stiff dough. With a slotted spoon, scoop the risen sponge from the water and add it to the dough. Process until thoroughly incorporated into the dough. If the dough seems too stiff, add a little tepid water.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes. Butter a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap, then a towel, and let rise in a warm spot for one hour or until doubled in size.

Butter a 10 by 3 1/2 inch round cake pan, ceramic pan or tube pan. Dust with flour and shake out excess. Drain the raisins, pat dry with paper towels and toss with one tablespoon of the flour. Drain the candied citrus peels, reserving the brandy. Toss the peels with the remaining 1 tablespoon of flour.

Punch down the dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. With your hands, work the raisins, candied peels, almonds, and dried bean into the dough, and knead until you have a uniform ball of dough. It should feel slightly tacky.

Place the dough in the pan, cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for one hour, or until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk and reserved brandy together. Brush the top of the cake with this mixture and sprinkle with the coarse sugar.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until nicely browned. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Carefully run a knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake, and turn the cake out onto a cooling rack to cool completely. To serve, cut into wedges.

NOTE: To freeze, wrap the cake well in aluminum foil. Freeze for up to a month.

This recipe is from CELEBRATIONS ITALIAN STYLE by Mary Ann Esposito, published by William Morrow and Company, Inc. in 1995.


  1. Tom's avatar


    OK - you've got me. What is up with the bean?

    Is this one of those holiday games - who ever gets the bean in their slice of the bread has the good luck through the year?
  2. Maria Sforza's avatar

    Maria Sforza

    whoever gets the slice of cake with bean is king or queen for the day!
  3. Linda's avatar


    This sounds very much like the ingredients for Panatone. Are they the same or similar? Thanks. Happy New Year!

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