FANTASTIC CONFECTIONS A PART OF MARDI GRAS HISTORY
NEW ORLEANS – January 18, 2005 – King cakes, those delicious sugared pastries with the tiny plastic baby hidden inside, have become a near universal – and delicious – symbol of Mardi Gras. Tradition dictates that whoever finds the baby is crowned king (or queen) for the day and bakes – or buys – another cake for the next party tomorrow.
The king cake tradition came to New Orleans with French settlers around 1870, continuing a custom dating back to twelfth century France. Similar cakes were used then to celebrate the coming of the three wise men at an event called the feast of Epiphany, Twelfth Night, or King’s Day. The modern king cake, with the braided shapes and colors, symbolizes the unity of faiths and the three kings, hence the name – King Cake. On early Christian calendars, Jan. 6 was the day the gift-bearing magi visited the baby Jesus, thus this date is the traditional start of the king cake season.
Each king cake is decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple represents justice, green represents faith and gold represents power. The hunt for the plastic baby is a reminder of the search of the three kings for the baby Jesus. Tradition holds that the person who finds the baby in their slice of cake will be blessed with good luck for the coming year. In other cultures, the king cake might contain a coin, bean, pecan or pea.
The traditional king cake is made from twisted strands of cinnamon dough, topped with icing, and sprinkled with purple, green, and gold colored sugar. Today, many additional varieties of king cake are also available, with fillings such as cream cheese, strawberry, apple, and lemon. New Orleans bakeries report selling nearly 5,000 king cakes each day during the Carnival season, and cakes are shipped to destinations worldwide. Some sources put the number of king cakes consumed in New Orleans during the Mardi Gras season at more than 750,000!
The essential ingredient for king cakes doesn’t have anything to do with flour, water, sugar or baking powder. It’s all about the baby. Mardigrasday.com offers a wide selection of king cake babies, including large and small sizes, metallic babies and rare black king cake babies, collectors items even in New Orleans. There’s even a king cake pin for the fashion-conscious.
Good parties don’t stop and end with the food. A rousing game of “Who’s Got the Baby?” is guaranteed to liven up any gathering. A take on Old Maid, the card game features lively graphics and a familiar playing style, all without the stuff old maid! Just ask “who’s go the baby?” at the next Mardi Gras party and let the fun begin.
Can’t get to New Orleans for a fresh king cake? Mardigrasday.com can supply visitors with recipes, games, an array of king cake supplies and even a chocolate candy confection sure to delight the taste buds! Our king cake mix comes with nearly everything – even the plastic baby – needed to turn any kitchen into a French Quarter bakery. Just add butter or margarine, an egg, some water and enjoy! Can’t boil water? Choose our instant king cake kit and pick up the rest of the items at a local grocery store. Feel like baking? Try our authentic New Orleans recipe for king cakes.
Got a hankering for a king cake? Need king cake supplies or other Mardi Gras necessities? Visit www.mardigrasday.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
King Cake (Traditional New Orleans Recipe )
- 1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
- 3 and 1/2 to 4 and 1/2 cups flour unsifted
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest, this is lemon rind, grated
- 1/2 cup warm milk
- 5 egg yolks
- 1 stick butter cut into slices and softened, plus 2 tablespoons more softened butter
- 1 egg slightly beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 1″ plastic baby doll
Pour the warm water into a small shallow bowl, and sprinkle yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar into it. Allow the yeast and sugar to rest for three minutes then mix thoroughly. Set bowl in a warm place for ten minutes, or until yeast bubbles up and mixture almost doubles in volume. Combine 3 1/2 cups of flour, remaining sugar, nutmeg and salt, and sift into a large mixing bowl. Stir in lemon zest. Separate center of mixture to form a hole and pour in yeast mixture and milk. Add egg yolks and, using a wooden spoon, slowly combine dry ingredients into the yeast/milk mixture. When mixture is smooth, beat in 8 tablespoons butter (1 tablespoon at a time) and continue to beat 2 minutes, or until dough can be formed into a medium-soft ball.
Place ball of dough on a lightly floured surface and knead like bread. While kneading, sprinkle up to 1 cup more of flour (1 tablespoon at a time) over the dough. When dough is no longer sticky, knead 10 minutes more until shiny and elastic.
Using a pastry brush, coat the inside of a large bowl evenly with one tablespoon softened butter. Place dough ball in the bowl and rotate until the entire surface is buttered. Cover bowl with a moderately thick kitchen towel and place in a draft-free spot for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in volume. Using a pastry brush, coat a large baking sheet with one tablespoon of butter and set aside.
Remove dough from bowl and place on lightly floured surface. Using your fist, punch dough down forcefully. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top, pat and shake dough into a cylinder. Twist dough to form a curled cylinder and loop cylinder onto the buttered baking sheet. Pinch the ends together to complete the circle. Cover dough with towel and set it in draft-free spot for 45 minutes, or until the circle of dough doubles in volume. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
Brush top and sides of cake with egg wash and bake on middle rack of oven for 25 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Place cake on wire rack to cool. If desired, you can hide the plastic baby in the cake at this time.
Green, purple, & yellow paste
12 tablespoons sugar
Squeeze a dot of green paste in palm of hand. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over the paste and rub together quickly. Place this mixture on wax paper and wash hands to remove color. Repeat process for other 2 colors. Place aside.
3 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 – 6 tablespoons water
Combine sugar, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons water until smooth. If icing is too stiff, add more water until spreadable. Spread icing over top of cake. Immediately sprinkle the colored sugars in individual rows consisting of about 2 rows of green, purple and yellow.
Cake is served in 2″ – 3″ pieces.
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