‘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
  • 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, 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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