Epiphany cakes are traditionally served for breakfast on January 6, The Feast of the Epiphany.


White flour (or youthful arrogance, whichever is in your pantry).


Lemon zest. You may substitute a difficulty, as long as you triumph over it by calling forth your inner Warrior.

Sugar (or sugar substitute).

Also: Salt, milk, yeast, water, dried grapes, and 1 "token" such as a bean, silver coin, china figurine, or thimble that you will hide in the cakes for a lucky child to find.


1. In a large bowl, mix 6 cups of white flour with ½ teaspoon salt. When I made my very first batch of epiphany cakes, I was completely out of white flour. But I was 29 years old, and just happened to be second-in-command at the Burghölzli, a renowned mental hospital in Zurich. That year--it was 1904--a beautiful Russian Jewess traveled to Zurich from Rostov-on-Don in Russia to enroll in medical school. Her name was Sabina Spielrein. She was extraordinarily naïve. Her anxious parents had cosseted her all her life in a bubble of protection so impenetrable that, at age 19, she was entirely uninformed about sex. By the time she arrived in Zurich, however, nature had taken matters into its own hands, and Sabina's hormonal status had become disturbed. Indeed, she fell spontaneously into waves of orgasm that terrified her, and in the midst of one particularly overwhelming wave, she destroyed her hotel room. Apparently, it was an attempt at self-defense. The medical police brought her to my emergency room in handcuffs. My diagnosis: hysteria. Primary symptom: orgasms. Secondary symptom: She had lost the ability to talk. Remember, I was only 29 myself. I thought both symptoms were about me.
2. To the salt and "white flour," add about ¼ cup sugar or saccharine. I told Sabina I would help her.
3. Stir in 2 eggs. Set the mixture aside.
4. Then, in a smaller bowl, dissolve 1 ounce of yeast in 5 tablespoons of warm water. Add 2 additional tablespoons of sugar, or a few more saccharine lies. ("Everything will be fine" and "I will hold anything you say in complete confidence" would both do nicely.) Now set this mixture aside, too.
5. Sabina spent almost a year in the hospital under my care, during which time she regained her ability to talk, and I intoned Christus, oratorio to keep my behavior assiduously correct. After her hospital time, she continued as my outpatient. Alas, this is when she developed an intractable fantasy that she and I were twins who, having been separated at birth, had unwittingly become incestuous lovers. She believed that, with me, she would conceive a baby who would grow to be the messiah. Let's call this butter.
6. Melt 1 stick of it in a saucepan, and add to it 1-1/2 cups milk.
7. Have I mentioned that the twelve days of Christmas ends the night before the Epiphany? And that Sabina was unusually perspicacious? One day in her analytic session, she wondered aloud whether her fantasy was not just a symbolic manifestation of her desire to become a doctor--maybe even a psychiatrist like me--and make a difference in the world. An unfortunate development, that. And, indeed, "lemon" is what I quickly called it. Drawing on my inner Warrior, I assured her that sometimes a fantasy holds a literal truth; if hers did, she would discount such truth only at great loss to the world. There you have it: "zest".
8. Pour the lemon zest, the butter and milk mixture, the yeasty sugar water, and the flour/egg/salt/sugar mixture together. What will result is a soft dough, which, for simplicity's sake, I will refer to as Sabina's easily molded personality. Add the dried grapes, distributing them evenly.
9. Optional: Add cheese.
10. Tear Sabina's personality apart, forming six or eight discrete dough balls of confusion. Trust, love, purpose, integrity, respect, and even reality would all qualify. Realizing that one of the balls--perhaps the confusion about reality--is the largest of them all, arrange the other balls around it on a greased tray. Think "livestock around a manger" if you need creative direction in the arrangement.
11. Slyly insert the token into one of the balls. Ouch!
12. Let Sabina's confusions grow until all of them have at least doubled in bulk and she begins spontaneously to sing "We Three Kings of Orient Are". One way to accelerate this would be to leave her in a warm, draftless room for as long as it takes. More fun would be to engage her in "We're Making a Savior!" romps for a minimum of three years of analytic sessions, withholding from her for at least some of those years the satisfaction of actual intercourse. (You see, I was married to one of the wealthiest women in Switzerland. Were I to have engaged Sabina in actual intercourse, I would have needed to explain to her about biological reproduction while putting on a condom, which might have given even my messiah-focused darling pause.)
13. After the three years, if Sabina's mother lets you know she has received a letter from her daughter proclaiming her ecstatic love, sweep the cakes with the yellow of an egg.
14. Bake for about 40-50 minutes at 440 Fahrenheit. Perhaps this is where my own original batch of cakes fell flat. Instead of baking my darling, I wrote her a short note telling her that I was no longer available to be her doctor.
15. Some people create a paper crown to give to the lucky child who finds the token in the cakes. I didn't, because Sabina so clearly was not a lucky child. As things turned out, neither was I.
16. As fervently as I have always celebrated the providence that brought the Magi to Bethlehem, I neglected to respond to Sabina's increasingly desperate letters. She arrived unannounced at my office one day, and stabbed me with a knife.
17. I drifted free of my own emotional and cognitive moorings. Diagnosis: hysteria. Primary symptom: The drivel I wrote.
18. Set the cakes aside for 3-4 years. This is how long it took me to recover my sanity and begin my steady ascent toward celebrity psychoanalyst status. By the late 1930s my client list included high-ranking members of the Nazi party.
19. And the icing on the cakes? In 1942, Sabina died in the Holocaust--but not before becoming a student and adherent of my chief rival, Sigmund Freud, and writing a seminal paper on the link between the urges towards sex and death. From this paper both Freud and I borrowed liberally, usually without attribution.
20 Ambivalent as I was to hear about Sabina's demise, I found comfort in epiphany cakes--delicious, if you remember to bake them, and full of inspiration!
Epiphany #1: The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely. Well, not for me.
Epiphany #2: The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed. Obviously.
Epiphany #3: I am not what happens to me. I choose who I become.
Epiphany #4: As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.
Cheesy, gritty, and yummy! And, heavens be praised, I have, oh, so many more.

Rebecca Coffey's short fiction has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Rumpus, The Revolving Floor, Narhwal, jmww,Breakwater Review, Miranda, and The Linnet's Wing. Short nonfiction appears irregularly in Discover Magazine. She is a commentator on Vermont Public Radio, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and her book Unspeakable Truths and Happy Ending: Human Cruelty and the New Trauma therapy was cited as an Outstanding Academic Book by the American Library Association's Choice magazine.

An enormous box of Sabina Spielrein's journal fragments and correspondence with Carl Jung were discovered in a cellar in Geneva in 1977, about 35 years after she died.  These have been translated into English and published with commentary in several scholarly books.  More recently, Jung's hospital notes on Sabina have been made available and translated.



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