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Let the Mardi Gras King Cakes Roll!

And a recipe if you want to make one!

King Cake at Mardi Gras

Used with permission.

We had many favorite things about New Orleans, but I will admit, the yummy desserts were top of my list. Bread pudding, pastries and of course, the king cakes! 

In New Orleans, king cakes and Mardi Gras go hand in hand. They are eaten throughout the Carnival season from Epiphany to Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent starts. 

King cakes are circular, sweet and bready, a cross between a coffee cake and a French pastry. They are twisted or shaped into a ring or oval to mimic a king’s crown and decorated with a thin layer of white icing that is sprinkled with decorative sugar tinted in the Mardi Gras colors of purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power. Plastic Mardi Gras beads and other trinkets can also be used to decorate the cake. 

King cakes are believed to have originated in Old World France and Spain and were brought to New Orleans from France in 1870. They’re served January 6, on Twelfth Night or Epiphany, to honor the three kings who followed the holy star to gift baby Jesus with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. That is why a plastic baby is hidden inside the king cake. 

Baking a small plastic baby into the cakes started in New Orleans in the 1950’s. Before that, they hid things like coins, beans, pecans, or peas inside each King Cake. At first, the tiny babies were made of porcelain, but they switched to plastic ones because they were easier to get. Nowadays, the plastic babies are sold along with the already-baked cake and hidden by the buyer. There were concerns about eating something that had a piece of plastic baked inside it. 

Per Mardi Gras tradition, the person who gets the piece containing the baby must host the next year’s celebration. There is another custom with the baby, that whoever finds it in their slice of cake has good luck and gets to be king for a day.

There is a theory that even though king cakes are connected to Baby Jesus, they may have their roots in the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, a winter solstice celebration honoring Saturn, the god of agriculture. This is also the festival that we most likely got the tradition of gift giving at Christmas from. The Romans considered Fava beans to be magical and during Saturnalia the king of the day was chosen by lot, using a bean concealed in a galette. The French word fete for the trinket inside the cake literally translates as fava bean. Apparently, in the Middle Ages, this cake ceremony began to be associated with the festival of Epiphany.

Want to make a King Cake? Here is a Recipe: 

Serves 10 to 12

Ingredients:

1 cup milk

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons dry yeast

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup melted butter

5 egg yolks, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest

3 teaspoons cinnamon

Several gratings of fresh nutmeg

Icing:

2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup condensed milk

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Purple, green, and gold decorative sugars

A plastic baby 

Preparation:

Pour the milk into a large bowl and whisk in the granulated sugar, yeast, and a tablespoon of flour. Mix until the sugar and the yeast dissolve.

Once the milk begins to foam, whisk in butter, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the remaining flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.

When the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, shape it into a large ball. Knead the dough on a flat, floured surface about 15 minutes, until it’s smooth.

Put the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for 1 1/2 hours, until the dough has risen and doubled in volume. Then punch it down and divide the dough into three equal pieces.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. 

Roll each piece of dough into long rope-like strips of equal length. Braid the 3 ropes around one another and shape it into a circle, pinch the ends together to close it. 

Lay it on a nonstick cookie sheet for about 30 minutes until it rises and doubles in size. Bake it in the oven about 30 minutes, until it’s golden brown. Take it out of the oven, and let it cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

To make the icing, whisk the powdered sugar, condensed milk, and lemon juice in a bowl until it’s smooth and spreadable. If the icing is too thick, add a little more condensed milk; if it’s too loose, add a little more powdered sugar.

Once the cake has cooled, spread on the icing and sprinkle purple, green, and gold decorative sugars on top. Tuck the plastic baby into the underside of the cake and serve with a side of Mardi Gras beads!

Get ready to get your Mardi Gras on! Most posts incoming!

Perilously yours,

Pauline

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