How to Make a King Cake for Mardi Gras
Rachel Miller Slices of king cake.
Before I knew Mardi Gras was associated with copious alcohol consumption or showing breasts for beads, it was all about the cake.
Tucked away in the loft of a Lutheran church, my grade-school French class would indulge in yeasty cinnamon cake every snowy February. I would cross my fingers under my desk, hoping to be crowned queen, as everyone carefully devoured a piece of the king cake, searching for the whole almond.
Rachel Miller King cake before icing and decoration.
I never got to be queen, but that's okay, because at least I could drown my sorrows in a cinnamon roll like cake glazed in sugary sweet icing and sprinkled with bold gold, green and purple sprinkles.
King cake is eaten in many countries between Twelfth Night and/or Epiphany (the night of January 5/January 6) and Fat Tuesday (the Tuesday before Lent). It is meant to draw the kings to the Epiphany. Inside the cake is a baby figurine, and whom ever receives the baby is crowned the king or queen.
Rachel Miller King cake dough.
There are many different kinds of king cake. Each country represents the cake in slightly different ways. The French version is made from puff pastry and frangipane. The king cake in Spain is often decorated with dried and candied fruits. The American Mardi Gras king cake is typically a brioche or cinnamon roll-type dough that is drizzled in sweet icing that is either colored gold, green and purple or sprinkles are added to color it. Many bakeries in Louisiana and Mississippi offer king cakes with a variety of fillings (typically a cream cheese flavored sweet filling) and now offer them for holidays surrounding Mardi Gras. Candy cane-shaped king cake, anyone?
For king cake this year, I made mine like my grade school French teacher used to make it -- an enriched, cinnamon-spiced dough with orange zest and topped with icing and boldly colored sanding sugar. I braided it and baked it as a loaf, though circular -- representing the crown -- is a very popular shape. Some do bake them as loaves (we almost always had a loaf).
My husband and I have been in great debate about our king cake, as he remembers his having a baby figurine in it, while we always had a nut in lieu of the plastic baby. I placed a pecan half in our cake this year, as I can tuck it in the dough and bake it into the cake, plus I don't have to worry about anyone chomping down on a plastic figurine.
Enjoy with friends while celebrating Mardi Gras, and don't forget to pick up a crown for the king or queen. Though I can't say I'd show my breasts if someone offered to throw me some cheap plastic beads, I would more than likely do so if they offered me this cake.