Tomorrow’s Fat Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras. And in Louisiana that means our month long glutton fest of eating king cake is coming to an end and moving out of the way for Lent. But, we have one more day to do it up big!
I asked my friend Kim to guest post and share her favorite king cake recipe. And here it is. I hope you get a chance to bake one and enjoy this great Louisiana tradition wherever you live.
After January 5, the Christmas decorations are safely put away and we have morphed into the “unofficial” season of Carnival, which begins on Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, and continues until midnight on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and our departure to the desert. Though not on the “official” liturgical calendar, it is a season many of us in Louisiana keep.
One year some friends and I enjoyed the Christmas season so much we were loathe to end our celebration. We were all living away from our hometowns and extended families, so we filled that role for one another. We decided to keep the Carnival season as a sure way to enter the desert of Lent in a proper frame of mind: a real sense of “farewell to the flesh.” We ate together every Sunday between Mardi Gras parades. It was a whirlwind as we cooked, laughed, traveled between houses and attended parades, grabbing beads and laughing. It was during this fun time that I first tried my hand at making a King Cake. As with lots of things we do that are successful, it has become a tradition everyone looks forward to.
If you have never thought much about Carnival as a season, I hope you will do a bit of research and consider celebrating this last hurrah, this farewell to the flesh before our Lenten journey begins. It is almost like a gastronomic retreat immediately followed by fasting and a bit of deprivation, making a marked departure from all the celebrating, feasting and revelry. Afterwards, Lent is a welcome respite.
The Best King Cake
• ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon butter
• 2/3 cup evaporated milk
• ½ cup sugar
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 2 envelopes active dry yeast
• ½ cup warm water
• 4 eggs
• 6 cups all purpose flour
• ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
• ¾ cup sugar
• 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
• ½ cup butter, melted and divided
• 1 egg, beaten
• ½ cup each yellow, purple & green
• 2 Plastic babies or 2 beans
In a small saucepan melt ½ cup butter with the milk, 1/3 cup sugar, and salt over low heat, stirring occasionally. Allow mixture to cool to lukewarm. In a large bowl combine 2 tablespoons sugar, the yeast and the warm water. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes or until foaming. Beat the eggs into the foaming yeast, add milk mixture. Stir in the flour, ½ cup at a time reserving 1 cup of flour for the kneading surface. Turn dough onto floured board and knead 5 to 10 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Grease a large mixing bowl with 1 tbsp of butter. Place dough in bowl and turn once to coat, cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 ½ hours (or until doubled in size). While dough is rising, mix the filling.
In a small bowl mix the brown sugar, sugar and cinnamon, set aside. When dough is doubled, punch down, divide in half. On a floured surface roll one of the halves into a rectangle about 15 x 30 inches. Brush with half the melted butter and spread the brown sugar mixture over the dough. Cut into 3 lengthwise strips. Fold each strip lengthwise toward the center to make a roll, sealing the seam. Braid the rolls together and make a circle by joining the ends. Repeat this process with the other half of the dough. Place each cake on a baking sheet, cover with a damp cloth and let rise again for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Brush each cake with beaten egg and sprinkle the top with colored sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove cakes and insert the babies or beans from underneath the cakes.
You can add any frosting to the top of the cake and sprinkle with colored sugar. The author usually makes a simple glaze of powdered sugar, milk and almond extract.
* Recipe originally from Bless This Food by Julia M. Pitkin, Karen B. Grant and George Grant; Published by Cumberland House Publishing Nashville, TN