In the Gulf Coast region, as well as many cultures across the world, Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, ushers in Carnival season, which ends on Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. The celebrations will include King Cake, traditionally made in this area with a soft brioche-type dough, with, or without fillings, iced simply, then sprinkled with sugars in the the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold, and green.
During my years in Louisiana, I had the opportunity to eat little slices of seemingly hundreds of King Cakes. It was customary during the season to have a weekly King Cake party at one's workplace, and the teacher's lounge was no exception. We all had a piece, and the one of us lucky(?) enough to discover the traditional 'baby' in our slice was expected to provide the following week's cake.
Occurring so closely to Christmas, this time of year was often one of catching up with a budget set a bit out of whack from the holidays, so there were many weeks in which one or more of us skipped the cake, to avoid the chance of having to provide the next one for the group.
But, oh, what a sacrifice this was! My very favorite regional sweet, it was all I could do not to sneak a slice after the baby was discovered by another! But that was kinda cheating. So was born the motivation, for me, to learn to make one, myself!
Gambino's Bakery, in Baton Rouge, made my favorite in those days, and every year, I try a new recipe to replicate the sweet tender bread, surrounding many fillings; traditional cinnamon is my favorite. Gambino's isn't the only bakery that makes King Cake. In fact, EVERY bakery makes them, and every native has their favorite.
This year, I based my efforts on the recipe, below, from Allrecipes.com. I made a few adjustments: the zest of 2 sweet oranges and 1 Meyer lemons were added to the pastry, the filling was doubled, but the raisins were omitted in favor of golden currants, dried, and the glaze was thinned by doubling the water. I reduced the oven temperature to 350 degrees, and baked about 10 minutes longer, covering the cake with foil for the last ten minutes. I kept a low level of steam in the oven by misting the sides with a spray bottle of water, every ten minutes of baking, taking care not to get mist on the cake. Also, I used paste food colorings to dye fine and coarse ground sugars, and sprinkled them liberally, in bands, immediately over the glazed cake,while still warm.
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon water
1. Scald milk, remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of butter. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the white sugar. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
2. When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat the flour into the milk/egg mixture 1 cup at a time. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. When risen, punch down and divide dough in half.
4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
5. To Make Filling: Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup raisins. Pour 1/2 cup melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly.
7. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Push the doll into the bottom of the cake. Frost while warm with the confectioners' sugar blended with 1 tablespoon of water.
Recipe copyrighted, and courtesy of Allrecipes.com.
Mardi Gras falls on February 28 this year, and whether you're making the Big Easy a part of your carnival plans, or simply celebrating from the comfort of your home, you might want to acquaint yourself with route maps and schedules of parades, balls, merriment, and more. The website, New Orleans online, is a great place to start.
Let the good times roll, my friends!
Let the good times roll, my friends!