King Cake- A Favorite New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition

 

 

It has always been said (and I have to agree) that New Orleanians are either having a party, recuperating from a party, or planning a party. The biggest and best party of all and the city’s most famous celebration is Mardi Gras, "the greatest free show on earth." Mardi Gras dates back to 1837 when the first street parade took place.

 

New Orleans’  Carnival season, with roots in preparing for the start of the Christian season of Lent, starts after Twelfth Night, on Epiphany (January 6). It is a season of hundreds of parades, balls (some of them masquerade balls), and king cake parties. It has traditionally been part of the winter social season when plenty of debutante balls are scheduled for the official ‘coming out’ parties for young women.

 

 

As a native New Orleanian, Mardi Gras has always been my favorite time of year.  From the colorful parades, non-stop parties, and delectable foods, I love it all..Especially King Cake

 

The King Cake season starts the first week of January in New Orleans.  The traditional King Cake is a coffee cake, and is oblong and braided.  It is baked and covered with a poured sugar topping and decorated with the traditional Mardi Gras-colored sugars. The end result is a delicious and festive cake in traditional Mardi Gras colors: Purple, representing Justice; Green, representing Faith; Gold, representing Power. Inside each cake is a small plastic baby. If you are the lucky one that finds the baby you must either buy the next King Cake or throw the next King Cake Party.

 

Hundreds of thousands of King Cakes are consumed at parties every year, making the King Cake another fine Louisiana tradition. A Mardi Gras party just wouldn’t be a Mardi Gras party without a King Cake!

 

Here’s one of my favorite King Cake recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse

 

 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 to 5 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1/2 cup warm milk (105 to 115 degrees)
  • 1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, cooled
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped candied citron
  • 1 pecan half, uncooked dried bean or King Cake Baby

Glaze:

  • 2 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Purple, green and gold sugar crystals

Directions

Preheat the oven 350 degrees. Combine the warm water, yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside to a warm place for about 10 minutes. Combine the 4 cups of flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, nutmeg, lemon rind and add warm milk, melted butter, egg yolks and yeast mixture. Beat until smooth. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place the dough in a well-greased bowl. Turn once so greased surface is on top.

Cover the dough and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 1/2 hours). Punch the dough down and place on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle with the citron and knead until the citron is evenly distributed. Shape the dough into a cylinder, about 30 inches long. Place the cylinder on a buttered baking sheet. Braid dough into a ring, pinching ends together to seal. Place a well-greased 2-pound coffee can or shortening can in the center of the ring to maintain shape during baking. Press the King Cake Baby, pecan half or dried bean into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough. Cover the ring with a towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the coffee can immediately. Allow the cake to cool. For the glaze: Combine the ingredients and beat until smooth. To assemble, drizzle cake with the glaze. Sprinkle with sugar crystals, alternating colors. Cut into the cake and hope you do not get the baby.

               

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Chef Lynn Ware

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