Of Rose Water, Cloves, & Honey

St. Titus’s and St. Gregory’s Day

Again today, like yesterday, there are no particular customs associated with this, the Tenth Day of Christmas. It is the Feast Day of St. Titus and St. Gregory. Titus was a disciple of St. Paul in the first century, and St. Gregory was a bishop in the sixth century. It’s also St. Rigobert’s Day and St. Ramon’s Day.

If you still have it in you to celebrate another grand event or two, well, very soon will come Twelfth Night and Epiphany. In this house, we sometimes mark these closing days of the Yuletide season quietly, and sometimes with a big meal and a gathering of family and friends. Whatever you decide, this Tenth Day of Christmas is a good one to use for preparations. With Twelfth Night and Epiphany, our focus shifts a bit toward the Magi and the star that they followed. We bring out the illuminated paper star lanterns and we make Christmas sweets that, no matter how much we try to make earlier, we never seem to get made until the last few days of Christmas. Maybe it is a subconscious decision, for these baked goods feel older, more influenced by ancient flavors, flavors the Magi were probably familiar with: Baklava flavored with honey and walnuts, our friend Paula’s Kourambiedes cookies, each studded with a clove, and our Three Kings Cakes, flavored with honey, rose water, and currants.

For years now on the blog on this Tenth Day of Christmas, we’ve been giving you our recipe for Three Kings Cakes with the idea that it is a very good day to bake them. Perhaps this is the best custom around for the day! The recipe yields three cakes, cakes you will prepare in three loaf pans. You will end up with one cake for each of the Magi, who have traditionally been called Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, though no one knows who they were really. As the story goes, it took the Magi all this time to travel through the desert, and seeing the child lying in the straw was their great epiphany. We happen to sell a wonderful rose water made at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community in Maine. If you’re local and you need some to bake these cakes, let me know and together we’ll find a way to get you a bottle in time, even if it means meeting up in a parking lot somewhere!


makes three cakes

For the Batter
1 cup butter
generous 3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups currants
3 cups applesauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
4 cups flour

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cream together the butter and the sugar, then add the eggs and vanilla. Beat smooth before adding the remaining ingredients. Grease 3 loaf pans (about 8″ x 4″ x 3″ or so) and divide the batter amongst the pans. Bake for one hour, or until a toothpick poked into the center of each cake comes out dry. Let the cakes cool in their pans on a rack.

For the Syrup
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
2 tablespoons rose water

Once the cakes are baked, combine the syrup ingredients, except for the rose water, in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar dissolves, add the rose water. Remove the cinnamon stick and the cloves and then pour the hot syrup over the cakes in their pans, divided equally amongst the three cakes. The syrup will soak into the cakes. Allow to cool completely before unmolding from the pans. Serving the three cakes on three platters makes for a nice presentation on Epiphany Day or on Twelfth Night.

Image: Our pottery studio, still a work in progress… but finished enough that Seth hung a fir wreath on the door this Christmas. This has nothing at all to do with St. Titus or St. Gregory, I realize, or St. Rigobert or Ramon, for that matter. But I am very excited about the project, and I’m hopeful that 2018 is the year that Seth Thompson gets back to making pottery. He’s awfully good at it.


9 thoughts on “Of Rose Water, Cloves, & Honey

  1. Mary Grigat says:

    I’m so glad I subscribed. What a delightful blog. Thank you!

    • John Cutrone says:

      Oh, thank you, Mary! I’m glad you subscribed, too. I truly appreciate everyone who does, and the commentary, too. It’s good to know folks are reading along.

      • Mary Grigat says:

        We have a friend in common (Beth G.) and she pointed me in your direction. I’m so glad she did. This is a much-needed respite from the ugliness of the modern world. I’m glad she did.

        Go Owls!

  2. Ester says:

    YUM…. anything with honey and rosewater…thank you, will make the cakes and let you know.
    love you and hope to see you soon!

  3. Camden says:

    I’m about 20 days late in thanking you for this recipe, but I just wanted to say, I made the cake on Epiphany and it was, despite me missing a few key ingredients, delicious! I’ll have to order some rose water from you for next year as I could not find any in the three grocery stores I searched. I ended up with more cake than I could possibly eat alone, but my friends were quite pleased with surprise January cake.

    Thank you for sharing this recipe, it truly was delicious!

    • John Cutrone says:

      Camden, you’re welcome! It is so good. It is a lot of cake, isn’t it?!? But it is nice sharing it and it lasts a long time in the fridge, too. I’m going to work this year on some variations… I think chopped dates would make a fitting addition (very Three Kings) and I wonder, too, about making it in one pan instead of three. I’m sure Seth and I will enjoy the experiments. The rose water is key, though… next year, you’ve got to get some!

      • Camden says:

        I actually had to make it in two casserole dishes as I don’t own a cake pan and forgot to buy some while I was out shopping. Casserole dishes I’m not sure I can recommend or not as I ended up with one gigantic cake and one normal sized cake both of which were a mess to put into containers but my friends weren’t complaining as again – free cake.

        I hope you’ll post your recipe again next year – I had such fun making it. I’ll be sure to buy some rose water!

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