‘La Befana’ Epiphany Gluten-Free Fruit Cake

This Befana Cake recipe is inspired by the Venetian traditions of Pinza Cake which contain cornmeal, dried fruit, fennel seeds and Grappa. In old-world traditions, Epiphany Eve is the date of Twelfth Night (the end of Yuletide) a celebration of the rebirth of the sun. It was marked by plenty of round, sweet-spicy bread-like cakes enriched with dried fruit (and a splash of spirits). These circular cakes were symbolic of the growing light and associated with an ancient star or sun goddesses whose bright light brought an end to the years darkest period and promised the coming of warmer longer days. The old 12th Night Feast became the Christian Feast of Epiphany, which was held – and still is – in honor of the night the Three Magi found the baby Jesus.

  • Serves: 8 servings
  • Prep Time: 60 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour


  • 2 tablespoons minced candied ginger
  • 1/4 cup each: dried cherries, golden raisins, apricots (finely chopped), candied orange peels
  • 1/4 cup of Brandy
  • 3 1/2 cups of whole milk
  • 1 1/4 cup polenta
  • 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 cup(1 stick) softened butter
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • • 2 teaspoons lemon or orange zest
  • 1/3 cup each: slivered almonds & pine nuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of crushed star anise
  • teaspoon of sea salt plus one pinch
  • 2 tablespoons of almond flakes for garnish
  • powered sugar


  1. Put all the candied & dried fruit and ginger in a bowl; pour the brandy over them and soak for an hour.

  2. Bring the milk to a boil with a pinch of salt. Once boiling, pour in the almond flour and polenta, slowly, mixing well with a whisk, so that it does not form lumps. Reduce heat to low, continue to cook until thick, stirring constantly, for about 10-12 minutes. The mixture should be soft and non-gritty so add more milk if necessary. Remove from heat, then add the butter in chunks, teaspoon of salt, the brown sugar, nuts, citrus zest, brandy-soaked fruit, fennel and star anise and stir until well mixed.

  3. Pour the mixture into a pre-greased round springboard cake tin (8 -9 inch). Level it, and sprinkle the surface generously with brown sugar. Cook at 350 F for about 50-55 minutes, until a beautiful golden-brown crust forms on the surface. Let sit overnight before serving so flavors can intermingle and deepen; dust with powered sugar and almond flakes.


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  1. am currently making “‘La Befana’ Epiphany Gluten-Free Fruit Cake” as is listed in this website. The ingredient list specifies a teaspoon of sea salt, but in the directions for this cake, the only use of salt is “a pinch” added to the milk before boiling. Why is there a requirement for a teaspoon of sea salt if it is not noted or used in the recipe? Was there an omission in the directions somewhere? My version of your cake is now in my oven, but I’m hoping that the cake turns out, given this confusion over salt.

    Comment by paul mailander on December 30, 2022 at 11:17 am

  2. Hi Paul, thank you for pointing out the confusion in the directions. A pinch of salt goes into the milk as well as a teaspoon into the batter. I have updated the recipe, I hope your cake turned out beautifully!

    Comment by Belle Bouvier on December 30, 2022 at 2:01 pm

  3. I find it quite unusual this cake recipe has no eggs ! Have eggs been left out of the ingredient list above ? Just wondering — in the photograph the cake looks delicious.

    Comment by Mary Evans on January 12, 2023 at 12:41 pm

  4. Hi Mary, this cake sets without the addition of eggs. It also does not ‘raise’ when it bakes, it is basically a polenta pudding cake! It is one of my favorite desserts and I wait all year long to be able to make it during the holidays, it is well worth the enedeavor!

    Comment by Belle Bouvier on January 12, 2023 at 1:12 pm

  5. OK — thank you !

    Comment by Mary Evans on January 13, 2023 at 4:54 pm

  6. you’re very welcome!

    Comment by Belle Bouvier on January 16, 2023 at 8:43 am

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