The Mardi Gras is an occasion of great festivity. And why not? This is the last day that people can go all out and celebrate before the fasting period of Ash Wednesday begins. They need to have something enjoyable to do, right?
Like all celebration, having fun is central to the liveliness of the affair. Dancing, music, food, you can name all the stuff that makes the Mardi Gras a celebration to watch for. And since we’re talking about the Mardi Gras, can we forget the King cake?
The King cake is a traditional pastry dish served during the Epiphany until the Mardi Gras celebration. Although it does have its counterparts in other parts of the Catholic world, the King cakes found in the New Orleans do take on an identity all of its own.
The King cake usually comes in different styles. The most common (and claimed to be the most traditional) of these would be a ring of twisted bread similar to the brioche, and then topped with sugar or icing. It would then be sprinkled with a generous helping of green, purple and gold toppings, in the spirit of the Mardi Gras. The Cajun version would have the cake fried like a donut, instead. Regardless of how the cake was made, all of these would traditionally have a trinket placed inside. It could be the shape of the baby Jesus, and whoever gets it will receive some special privileges (plus the obligation to buy the cake for next year’s celebration).
In the spirit of the Mardi Gras, you could try baking your own King cake. It’s fun, and you won’t have to stand in line at the bakery waiting for your order. You should give it a try.
Prep: 4 hours and 30 minutes
Original Recipe Yield 2 Cakes
2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1/4 cup butter
1 cup milk
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup chopped pecans
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup raisins
1 tbsp water
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
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.
2. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
3. When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture.
4. Whisk in the eggs.
5. 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.
6. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil.
7. 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.
8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
9. To Make Filling: Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup raisins.
10. Pour 1/2 cup melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly.
11. Roll dough halves out into large rectangles (approximately 10×16 inches or so).
12. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough and roll up each half tightly like a jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of each roll together to form 2 oval shaped rings.
13. Place each ring on a prepared cookie sheet. With scissors make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals.
14. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
15. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Push the doll into the bottom of the cake.
16. Frost while warm with the confectioners’ sugar blended with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.