By WFAE’s Catherine Little
Returning from a visit to our “southern sister,” New Orleans, left me with a craving for the flavors, spices and distinct aromas of that fair city on the Gulf. One of the city’s many Mardi Gras season specialties is the King Cake.
Mardi Gras season begins on January 6th of each year and ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent. The King Cake, a New Orleans tradition, borrows heavily from European influences and is believed to have begun in the 1870’s. It is traditional for residents to bake this cake in honor of the three kings – the King Cake.
Oval-shaped to symbolize the unity of faiths, and with twisted strands of cinnamon spiced dough, the cake is decorated with sprinkled colored sugars in traditional Mardi Gras hues – purple represents justice, green represents faith, and gold represents power. Hidden inside this confection is a surprise which insures that a party will most certainly follow.
In New Orleans, King Cake parties are held during the Mardi Gras season. Throughout the city, King Cakes are sliced and enjoyed by all. The cake is baked with a small plastic baby, symbolizing the baby Jesus hidden inside. The “search for the baby” culminates as everyone waits to see which slice of cake gives up its hidden surprise. Custom holds that the person who “finds” the baby is rewarded with good luck, and is traditionally responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next party or gathering.
New Orleans bakeries abound with unique versions all clamoring “the best” or “original” – and many include cream cheese, or other fillings adding to the surprise. The following recipe will inspire your personal Mardi Gras celebration and satisfy that yearning to strut Bourbon Street with New Orleans locals.
And don’t forget to add the surprise! A reminder to advise your guests that King Cake contains a hidden surprise and care should be taken with each bite of this tasty New Orleans tradition – the King Cake.
Recipe for the colorful and tasty King Cake ‘below the fold.’
- 1 cup milk
- 1/4 cup butter
- 2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
- 2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 eggs
- 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
- Scald milk, remove from heat andstir 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
- 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.
- Roll dough halves out into large rectangles (approximately 10×16 inches or so). 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. Place each ring on a prepared cookie sheet. With scissors make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
- 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 to 2 tablespoons of water.