King cake is a Mardi Gras favorite, but you may not be able to find this unique food if you don't live in Louisiana; try this bread machine recipe and carry on the tradition wherever you live.
Mardi Gras is coming up on February 12, and that means King Cakes are on the menu. One of the most popular foods during Mardi Gras, the purple, green and gold cakes are sold from January 6 to Ash Wednesday, and can be on the menu all day long--breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and snacks.
According to New Orleans Online, the king cake is a tradition that Mardi Gras simply cannot exist without:
The tradition of king cake dates back to the Middle Ages when a popular devotion during Christmas was placed on the Three Wise Men (or Kings) who followed the North Star to find Christ. The twelfth night after the birth of Christ marks the end of Christmas and the celebration of Epiphany. Thus, Twelfth Night in some cultures became a time for pageants and giving special presents to children. Along with gifts came the celebratory cake, or king cake.
Of course, over the years, the king cake has gone through some tweaking--who doesn't tweak a recipe as time goes by, after all? Today's king cakes are made of a Danish pastry, often braided, NOO indicates, and are typically laced with cinnamon. They are decorated with the traditional colors of Mardi Gras: purple (justice), green (faith) and gold (power). And, most importantly, a tiny baby is hidden in the king cake. According to Mardi Gras New Orleans, the original cakes were just a simple ring of dough, lightly decorated, unlike today's cakes, which are becoming more and more elaborate, with bakeries stuffing them with cream cheese, fruit, and other creative fillings and toppings.
There are many bakeries in the New Orleans area--no doubt throughout Louisiana--where one can purchase king cakes. Suggestions are given on the New Orleans Online and Mardi Gras New Orleans websites. However, for those who are not able to find a king cake in their area bakeries, or who would like to give the king cake a try themselves, here is a basic bread machine recipe for the dough, on which you can put your own creative twists!
- 1/4 cup warm water (100-110 degrees F/40-45 degrees C)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3 Tbsp. butter or margarine, softened
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/4 c. sour cream
- 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp. white sugar
- 1 tsp. lemon OR orange zest, depending on your taste preference
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 packet or 2-1/4 tsp. yeast
Add ingredients in order as directed by your bread machine manufacturer. Begin "dough" cycle. Check to be sure there is enough liquid, and add more warm water if needed. When dough cycle is complete, remove dough to a floured surface, and roll into a rectangle, approximately 12X26 (think of rolling out as if you were making cinnamon rolls). At this point, you will want to top dough with your filling of choice. A good, simple mixture is 8 oz. of cream cheese, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 c. of brown sugar and 1/2 cup of pecans. And, if you wish to insert the traditional "prize"--a plastic baby or, if you cannot find one of those, a bean--do so at this point. After spreading your filling on the dough, begin rolling--again, think cinnamon roll--and roll into a long log. Then, form the log into a ring, moistening the ends with a little water and pinching them together. Place the ring onto the baking pan (a pizza pan works well for this), cover, and allow to rise for approximately 30 minutes, or until dough has doubled in size.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees, then bake the ring for approximately 20-25 minutes; it should be golden brown when you remove it. Remove to cool on a wire rack. As the cake is cooling, prepare a glaze for the cake with a simple mixture of 1-1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, 2 Tbsp. melted butter, 1/4 tsp. vanilla, and 1-2 Tbsp. milk, as needed to produce a glaze that is smooth enough to pour, but not overly thin. When the cake has cooled about 10 minutes, pour the glaze over the cake, then immediately shake on sugar in the traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple, green, and yellow.
And, don't forget: Whoever finds the baby (bean) gets to fix the next king cake for you and your family and friends.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
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