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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM NAN HAWTHORNE!
The cosmopolitan city of New Orleans, Louisiana, is known for taking par new heights with its uproarious annual Mardi Gras celebrations. One tradition of Mardi Gras which was inherited from New Orleans’ Spanish and French history begins with the post-Christmas celebration of Twelfth Night, January 6th. Weekly events mark the King Cake season. It is far more than just an “over the top” colorful cake, but brings with it luck and obligations.
The origin of the King Cake is actually pre-Christian in the Roman festival of Saturnalia and the inclusion of a bean somewhere in a loaf. The person who found the bean in his/her portion became “the king of the feast”. Christians translated the “king” to the “Three Kings” who were said to have visited Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus Christ, the feast day celebrated as twelfth Night or Epiphany. In later years the bean was replaced with first a porcelain and later a plastic trinket, usually a baby symbolizing the Christ child. The person who finds the bean or figurine trinket is likewise crowned “King of the Feast” and in New Orleans is expected to buy the next King Cake or host the next King Cake party.
King Cakes have been documented in the Mississippi Delta from the 18th century. They are usually braided brioche dough bread that is deep-fried then frosted with colored sugar icing, green, gold and purple, the Mardi Gras colors. More elaborate cakes also contain a filling, usually of cream cheese, praline, spices or fruit. The cake is such a beloved part of New Orleans culture that bakers now make King Cakes to celebrate other holidays with appropriate colored frosting, including Christmas, Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween. You can now also get football theme King Cakes humoring hometown teams. For the traditional Krewe of Zulu parade in New Orleans the cake will be filled with chocolate and coconut, coconuts being the symbol of Krewe of Zulu. A krewe, or an organization that puts on a celebration, often choose their annual “King” with finding of the trinket in a king Cake.
King Cake Recipe
For the Brioche:
1 Envelope Active Dry Yeast
2 Tbsp Warm Water (115 degree F)
1 tsp Iodized Salt
2 Tbsp Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Milk
2 tsp Orange Zest, minced
2 Cups All Purpose Flour, sifted
1 tsp Cinnamon
2 Eggs, beaten
1 1/4 sticks cold unsalted Butter, cut into very small dice
1 Egg beaten and 2 Tbsp water, for the eggwash
1 plastic baby trinket
Dissolve the yeast in the workbowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, let stand until frothy.
Dissolve the salt, sugar, orange zest and milk in a small bowl. When dissolved combine the milk mixture with the yeast mixture. Mix the cinnamon with the flour.
With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, then gradually add the flour, until all is incorporated. Knead on low speed for 10 minutes, or until a smooth elastic dough is formed. A little more flour may be necessary. With the motor running, incorporate the butter into the dough, a little at a time but rather quickly so that it doesn’t heat up and melt.
Turn the dough into an oiled bowl, loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour in a warm spot.
When the dough has doubled in bulk punch it down, cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Roll the dough out to a 6 x 18 inch rectangle. Spread the Pecan filling (recipe below) out in the middle of the rectangle along the whole length, leaving about 1 1/2 inch on each side. Place the baby trinket somewhere with the filling. Fold the length of the dough over the filling and roll up tightly, leaving the seam side down. Turn the roll into a circle, seam side down and put one end inside of the other to hide the seam, and seal the circle. Place the cake on a baking sheet and let rise, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
Brush all over with the egg wash, then place the king cake into the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
When the cake cools, brush with some of the glaze (recipe below) thinned out with more cold water. This will help the sugars adhere. Decorate the cake with the colored sugars and drizzle some of the thicker glaze onto the cake.
Place on a large round serving plate and decorate with Mardi Gras beads, doubloons and whatever else that you like.
For the Pecan filling:
1 Cup Pecan halves, broken up slightly and roasted until fragrant
2/3 Cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Ground Allspice
1 pinch of salt
4 Tbsp Steen’s Cane Syrup
Combine all of the ingredients together.
For the glaze
1/2 Cup Powdered Sugar
1 Tbsp Bourbon
Water (enough to make a paste that can be drizzled)
Combine the sugar and bourbon, whisk in enough water to make a glaze that can be drizzled.
Nan Hawthorne is a historical novelist whose work in progress is set on a Mississippi riverboat at the time of the American Civil War. Her website can be found here:
Nan’s give away to one lucky commenter is a bag of Mardi Gras goodies: namely – Mardi Gras beads strings, Mardi Graas doubloons and two Mardi Gras masks.
The BONUS BUMPER PRIZE QUESTION (don’t answer this yet – write them down and I’ll ask you to email them in on Christmas Eve.)
2. In the film “A Wonderful Life” how do you know when an angel has received his wings?