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King Cake and New Orleans

King Cake

I’ve got New Orleans on my mind. Way back in the 80’s we were able to visit several times. Twice for a conference, once just for fun, one with sadness attached. I love New Orleans. I love the energy that it gives me. N’awlins makes me feel like I’m in another world and I could use that feeling right now. When I think of the Big Easy I think of my husband’s relations who treated me like family from the get go. Gentle, honest, just nice people they are. And loving, definitely loving.

I also think of the salty, wet dampness in the air and the lingering smells of liquor and perhaps mold. But hey, that’s what it smells like to me; unless you are in front of the bakery or local candy shop. And then the smell of butter and sugar drifts out and oh so politely draws you in. Well, that might have been the guy handing out samples.

And oh, the candy shops. I’ve never seen such decadent looking caramels and pralines and marshmallows. I’m sure there is chocolate but here it plays a back seat to the brittle and such. I happened to be their pre Mardi Gras when the bakeries were filling their windows with King Cake. I had never seen, let alone tasted a King Cake but their gaudiness appealed to me. What a happy food. What a fun food. And they come with a tiny plastic baby-and beads. I love those beads. Purple and gold and green. This cake lets you be a kid for a day and who wouldn’t love that?

When you go I strongly recommend a reading. The one I saw told me I would have twins and this was two years before I was pregnant. Don’t say no way. I have it on tape. They gave it to me when I handed them my dollars. And make sure it is a happy reading. After all you are on vacay.

Peruse the voodoo shops. Take in the music. Stay in a quaint hotel. One with black iron railings that serves chickory coffee each morning along with fresh, warm beignets. One that closes the gates at night and makes you feel secure and secret and safe and all tucked away from the world. And when you are lying in your big 4 poster bed listen for the sounds of the trumpet. You will hear it along with the magical trombone.

Go in the antique shops. Visit the cemeteries. Talk to the people. They all have a story. Take the hurricane tour. (We were there prehurricane.) Pretend you are Scarlett and Rhett will rescue you.

Run, don’t walk to every restaurant in town. Eat at Commander’s Palace. Visit Emeril. And Paul Prudhomme. Go to Galatoire’s, but men must have a
jacket. And the myriad of others. Have a Po’Boy. Have Bananas Foster and a Hurricane. Eat crawfish. I must confess that when we left after four nights I’d never felt more full in my life. Full of life and full of food. You can eat way to much down there and it is all rich and good until you have to get on that plane. I don’t think I ate for two days when I got home.

Which somehow brings me back to King Cake. I never tasted one from there. But it made me want to go home and bake one. It wasn’t what I thought it would be but it has become somewhat of a tradition in our home. When my kids were young they both fought over who would find that damn baby in their slice. I always prayed it was me so the two of them wouldn’t argue. And what does that baby mean? Well, it usually means you buy the cake or host the party next year. I’m not sure my kids thought of that.

Bloggers will do anything to get the right shot. 
Like even putting food on the floor.

King Cake isn’t really a cake. To me it’s more like a giant cheese Danish. I understand they fill them with all kinds of things down there but up here, I keep it simple. It takes the place of a coffee cake and isn’t overly sweet. Like I said they may look a bit gaudy but the glaze is what makes the cake, at least in my opinion. I love the crunchiness of the sugar but some just dye the glaze and skip the sugar.

According to Emeril, the history of the king cake began in 12th century France when the cake was baked on the eve of January 6th, the Feast of Ephipany. It was
meant to celebrate the visit to the Christ child by the three kings. The small token or magi, in this case the plastic baby, was hidden in the cake as a surprise for the finder. In New Orleans the cake is still baked then and parties are held to share the cake. Whoever gets the baby must hold the party the next week and so on, until Mardi Gras. (These are my kind of people!). The cake is circular to represent a crown and richly decorated with green symbolizing faith, gold is power and purple is justice.

Well, I will let you decide, but I love baking this cake as it lets the inner artist in me explode. And even though there are allusions to Christ I still think it is fun to make for Purim. Sacrilege, I know! But Purim has a king and a queen and a bad guy. And we get to go crazy on Purim so maybe this is my way of showing it. But I do bake hamentaschen, too!

Let the good times roll!

The guts of the matter!

King Cake (Adapted from Emeril’s Every Day’s a Party and United Cakes of America)
Time to Make: About 50 minutes active plus rising time

1 package of active dry yeast
¼ c warm water at 115 degrees
¾ stick unsalted butter chilled and cut into ¼ inch cubes
½ t salt
¼ c c lukewarm milk
½ t vanilla
2 eggs
2 ½ to 3 c all purpose unbleached flour

Combine the yeast and warm water in the bowl of a standing mixer and let sit for 5 minutes. Your yeast should now be a bubblin’!

Add butter, salt, milk , vanilla and eggs to the yeast and use the paddle attachment to mix on low speed for 20 seconds. The mixture will look lumpy.

While beating slowly add the flour a third at a time stopping when a soft dough forms. Now switch to your dough hook or knead by hand. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic and looks like a beautiful, not sticky, yellow ball. Sprinkle on more flour as necessary.

Place dough into well greased bowl, cover with a clean cloth, and let rise until doubled in a good warm spot. This can take a few hours or not. (In my home this is in front of the living room window where the sun comes in.)

Meanwhile make the filling.

8 oz cream cheese
½ c confectioner’s sugar or brown sugar
1 t vanilla
1/2 t cinnamon

Beat with electric mixer or by hand on low speed until smooth. Set aside.

Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Punch dough down. Roll out on lightly floured counter top to a rectangle about 6 by 18” in size. Now spread the filling on, leaving a two inch border. Fold in sides and roll up lengthwise with seam remaining at bottom. I shape this as an oval but feel free to do whatever shape the artist inside tells you.

Transfer dough to baking sheet. Cover again and let rise until double in bulk. Now make the egg wash.

Now preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Egg Wash
Whisk together an egg, 1 t vanilla, and other flavorings you may want such as rum!

When the cake has doubled brush with egg wash and place in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden and has a hollow sound when you thump it. Let cool on a rack and then spread or drizzle the icing. Use gorgeous colored sugar crystals to your heart’s content.

1 1/2 T milk
1 t vanilla
1 ½ c confectioners sugar

Stir together to blend well and get rid of lumps. Spread or drizzle over baked cake.

Green sugar
Yellow Sugar
Purple sugar

As a footnote: I must say that I have never had the real thing in the real place. Nor have I ever been to Mardi Gras. And unlike Scarlett I will let Rhett rescue me! Please hurry up. I are running out of time. A girl’s charm doesn’t last forever!

Let the good times roll and Happy Lent!

More Mardis Gras Recipes

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King Cake, Mardi Gras Recipes

Abbe Odenwalder

Friday 31st of January 2014

Oh, I'm so glad you like it, CJ! And it tastes great, too!

CJ - Food Stories

Friday 31st of January 2014

FYI - I did go in and add the Feb hashtag to your listing so you can be considered for the Feb contest - Thx so much for posting your lovely cake - I really want a piece :-)

CJ - Food Stories

Friday 31st of January 2014

I have never made one before but I've always wanted to. No time right now so I'm living vicariously through you - Now I'm off to feature your fabulous King Cake :-)

CJ - Food Stories

Friday 31st of January 2014

OMG - I love this & it's so cute - Would love to see this posted on Food Foto (hint, hint) so I could let everyone know it's there ;)

Abbe Odenwalder

Saturday 16th of February 2013

My husband's great aunts were from Lafayette. I've never tried one sent from a real bakery but I would bet they are just as good!

Kimmie Schiffel

Saturday 16th of February 2013

Beautiful and so festive! I've yet to bake one myself (shocking, I know), but keep saying I'm going to. Don't worry, though, we have one sent from a bakery in Lafayette, Louisiana every year. =)

The Sketched Chef

Friday 15th of February 2013

Beautiful pictures !It really looks amazing..And yes, I am also that one blogger who will put the food on the floor for the right shot. :)