Thursday, March 02, 2006

King Cakes

The King Cake is an oval-shaped bakery delicacy rich in flavor and history. The Cake is made with a rich Danish dough which is a cross between a coffee cake and a French pastry It is covered with a poured sugar topping and decorated with the traditional Mardi Gras-colored sugars. Purple which signifies "Justice" Green for "Faith" and Gold for "Power."

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!

The King Cake Story

The King Cake is believed to have been brought to New Orleans, Louisiana, from France in the 1870's. It evolved from the Twelfth Night or Epiphany pastry made by those early settlers. They added their own touches with the Spanish custom of choosing Twelfth Night royalty. A King Cake is shaped like a crown to represent the kings.

A dried bean or pea was hidden inside the cake and whoever found it received a year of good luck and was treated as royalty for that day. Starting around the 1930s, a tiny naked baby was used instead of the bean or pea. The baby can be pink, brown, or golden. Some people believe that the baby represents the baby Jesus because Twelfth Night was when the three kings found the baby in Bethlehem.

The payback for being king or queen for the day is that person has to buy the king cake for the next day. That can cost from $4.00 - $6.00 for a small, plain grocery store cake to well over $25.00 for an elaborately filled and decorated cake. The good thing is it keeps the party rolling along throughout the holiday season.

King Cake season lasts throughout Mardi Gras from Epiphany until Mardi Gras Day. The royal colors of purple, green and gold on the cake honors the three kings who visited the Christ child on Epiphany.

The three colors appeared in 1872 on a Krewe of Rex carnival flag especially designed for the visiting Grand Duke of Russia. He came to New Orleans just for the carnival, and the universal colors remain his legacy.

Bring the Mardi Gras celebration to wherever you live! Bake a King Cake and start the tradition. Once you have tasted a homemade King Cake, those you buy from the grocery store can't hold a candle to it. This recipe may look long and complicated, but it really isn't.

King Cake

(From Southern Living 1990 Annual Recipes)
  • ¼ cup butter or margarine
  • 1 (16-oz.) carton sour cream
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 pkgs. dry yeast
  • 1 T. sugar
  • ½ c. warm water (105° to 115°)
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 to 6 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 ½ t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • Colored icings
  • Colored Sugars
  1. Combine the first 4 ingredients in a saucepan
  2. heat until butter melts, stirring occasionally.
  3. Let mixture cool to 105° to 115°.
  4. Dissolve yeast and 1 T. sugar in warm water in a large bowl
  5. Let stand 5 minutes.
  6. Add butter mixture, eggs, and 2 cups of flour; beat at medium speed with an electric mixer for 2 minutes or by hand until smooth.
  7. Gradually stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.
  8. Turn dough out onto a lightly-floured surface
  9. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes).
  10. Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease top.
  11. Cover and let rise in a warm place free from drafts, for 1 hour or until dough is doubled in bulk.
  12. Combine ½ cup sugar and cinnamon; set aside.
  13. Pinch dough down and it divide in half.
  14. Turn one portion of dough out onto a lightly floured surface
  15. Roll to a 28" X 10" rectangle.
  16. Spread half of the butter and half of the cinnamon mixture on the rolled out dough.
  17. Roll dough, jelly roll fashion, starting at the long side.
  18. Gently place dough roll, seam side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet.
  19. Bring ends of dough together and form an oval ring.
  20. Tuck a tiny plastic baby or a large, dried bean into the seam before sealing.
  21. Moisten and pinch the edges together to seal.
  22. Repeat this procedure with the second half of the dough.
  23. Cover and let rise in a warm draft free place, 20 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
  24. Bake at 375° for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden.
  25. Decorate each cake with bands of colored icings
  26. Sprinkle with colored sugars.
Makes 2 cakes.

Note: If you prefer, you can replace the cinnamon and sugar inside the roll of dough with a cream cheese filling or a pie filling in the flavor of your choice... just spread it thinly on the center of the rectangle before you roll it up. Popular flavors are blueberry, cherry, and lemon.