Friday, January 16, 2009

Making a Mardi Gras King Cake

Mardi Gras 2009 is officially on February 24, but if you live anywhere on the Southern coast of the US, from East Texas, through Alabama, Mardi Gras celebrations are already underway.

Many people believe New Orleans to be the birthplace of Mardi Gras, but it's not true. The country's first Mardi Gras celebrations took place in Mobile, Alabama, where they still celebrate it with gusto today.

Even if you live in an area that's nowhere near a Mardi Gras celebration, you can still get a taste of it by making a King Cake.

King Cakes are a huge part of Mardi Gras traditions throughout the South. The cake's origins date back to the Feast of the Epiphany or Twelfth Night, which honors the three kings present at the Christ child's birth. Which is, I assume, where the custom of hiding a tiny baby doll in the cake, started.

In today's Mardi Gras celebration, tradition calls for the person who gets the "lucky" piece of cake with the baby doll inside, to throw the next party -- or on a simpler note, buy or make the next King Cake. You can pick up the tiny plastic dolls at any cake decorating or novelty supply, just be sure to warn your guests of what to expect as you don't want anyone choking!

The cake, which more closely resembles a rich, sweet bread than cake, is decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors: green, representing faith, gold symbolizing power, and purple denoting justice. Over the years, some folks, myself included, have played with the traditional version to include various fillings. But here's the original, in all its glory, just as it was taught to me as a teenager in Mississippi.

(Note: If you prefer to make the dough in a Bread Machine, click here for directions).

1/2 cup warm water (100-115 F)
2 tablespoons yeast
1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 teaspoons
3 1/2 - 4 cup flour
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup warm milk
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup butter
2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash

3 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
3-6 tablespoons water

additional sugar and food coloring for decoration (click this link for how to make tinted sugar directions)

1 tiny 1" baby doll (see notes above)

Sprinkle yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar over warm water in a small, shallow bowl. Allow to rest for 3-5 minutes, then mix thoroughly. Set bowl in a warm, draft-free place until yeast starts to bubble up and mixture almost doubles in volume, about 10 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, mix 3 1/2 C flour, 1/2 cup sugar, nutmeg, lemon zest and salt. In mixing bowl of a heavy duty electric mixer or food processor, combine yeast , milk and egg yolks. Gradually add dry ingredients, and softened butter, adding additional flour, as necessary to achieve a medium-soft ball. Knead dough, again adding flour if necessary, until smooth, shiny and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Place dough in a covered, buttered bowl , in a warm, draft-free place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

In the meantime, butter a large baking sheet and set aside.

When dough has risen, remove and punch down. Sprinkle with cinnamon and form into a cylinder, then twist this cylinder into a circle. Pinch the ends together to complete the circle. Once again, cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Brush top and sides of cake with egg wash and bake for 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown.

Cool on wire rack completely before hiding baby doll inside or icing and decorating.

Mix sugar, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of water until mixture is smooth, adding more water as necessary to achieve a smooth, spreadable consistency. Spread icing over cake and immediately sprinkle colored sugar in alternating color rows.

More on Mardi Gras!
Stay Tuned Next Week!
We'll be featuring lots of Cajun food and drink recipes to further put you into a Mardi Gras frame of mind!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave us a comment