King Cakes

What are King Cakes and why are they used to celebrate Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras season begins on January 6, the Twelfth Night after Christmas. This day is also known as the Feast of the Epiphany or King’s Day. It is a celebration of the Biblical three wise men who brought gifts to the Christ Child. The tradition (starting in the late 19th century) for the feast is to bake an oval cake in honor of the Biblical three kings.

The “King Cake” is constructed from rich Danish dough that is braided, baked, and then  decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple represents justice; green represents faith; and gold represents power. A tiny baby (made of plastic, porcelain, or gold) symbolizing the Baby Jesus is baked into each cake. Custom holds that the person who finds the baby in their slice of cake will be rewarded with good luck.

(Fat Tuesday, the last day of the Mardi Gras season, is always 47 days prior to Easter Sunday. Fat Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday.)

Buy a King Cake online or make your own cake from recipes like this one:

Ingredients:
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 (16 ounce) container sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 (.25 ounce) envelopes active dry yeast
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 cup warm water (100-110 degrees)
2 eggs
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
Colored Frostings (see right)
Colored Sugars (see right)
Colored Frosting:
3 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 drops green food color
2 drops yellow food coloring
2 drops blue food coloring
2 drops red food color
Colored sugars:
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 drops green food color
2 drops yellow food coloring
2 drops red food color
2 drops blue food coloring
Directions:
1. COOK first 4 ingredients in a saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until butter melts. Cool mixture to 100 degrees to 110 degrees.
2. DISSOLVE yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1/2 cup warm water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Add butter mixture, eggs, and 2 cups flour; beat at medium speed with an electric mixer 2 minutes or until smooth. Gradually stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.
3. TURN dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.
4. STIR together 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon; set aside.
5. PUNCH dough down; divide in half. Turn 1 portion out onto a lightly floured surface; roll to a 28- x 10-inch rectangle. Spread half each of cinnamon mixture and softened butter on dough. Roll dough, jellyroll fashion, starting at long side. Place dough roll, seam side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bring ends together to form an oval ring, moistening and pinching edges together to seal. Repeat with remaining dough, cinnamon mixture, and butter.6. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes or until doubled in bulk.7. BAKE at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden. Decorate with bands of Colored Frostings, and sprinkle with Colored Sugars.

8. COLORED FROSTINGS: Stir together powdered sugar and melted butter. Add milk to reach desired consistency for drizzling; stir in vanilla. Divide frosting into 3 batches, tinting 1 green, 1 yellow, and combining red and blue food coloring for purple frosting.

9. COLORED SUGARS: Place 1/2 cup sugar and drop of green food coloring in a jar or zip-top plastic bag; seal. Shake vigorously to evenly mix color with sugar. Repeat procedure with 1/2 cup sugar and yellow food coloring. For purple, combine 1 drop red and 1 drop blue food coloring before adding to remaining 1/2 cup sugar.

 

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