11:44 p.m. Feb. 5
I’ve lived many illustrious Mardi Gras traditions including springing my friend Mark out of a crowded New Orleans jail with bail bondsman Rev. John English during a Mardi Gras misplaced somewhere in the early 1980s.
I spent all my money obtaining Mark’s release on a Friday night and his court date was not until Monday. So this marked the final time I shoplifted. I grabbed a slab of meat from that tiny A&P store down the street from Pat O’Brien’s in the French Quarter. We barbecued the rest of the weekend in Louis Armstrong Park. I slept in the back seat of his grandfather’s Cadillac.
I never could have ripped off King Cake, which I never had until this Mardi Gras trip to Biloxi…..
…There was King Cake everywhere I went here.
King Cake parties run from the first day of Lent and end on Fat Tuesday. The cakes are decorated in three colors: green (represents faith), purple (justice) and gold (the voice of power). The cake is named in honor of the three kings.
King Cake is made with a rich Danish dough and baked. In the early 1970s Paul’s Pastry Shop in Picayune, Miss. began filling the cakes with fruits and cream cheese and topping them off with sugars and sliced almonds.
I never made it to Paul’s, but the best one I had was at the Hard Rock Cafe casino in Biloxi. The cake was imported from Gambino’s in New Orleans. The King Cake was anchored by honeybun, cinnamon, sugar and rich green icing. I also discovered locals got crabby if the cake wasn’t made the right way (like with croissant dough).
An early King Cake tradition began by baking a red bean into the cake. Whomever bit into the red bean had to bring the King Cake to the next event. These days people bake a little plastic baby into the cake to see who will continue the tradition.
Here’s the best King Cake recipe I found:
1/2 cup water (110 to 115 degrees)
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon sugar
3 1/2-4 1/2 cups flour, unsifted
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon lemons, zest of
1/2 cup warm milk
5 egg yolks
1/2-1 cup butter, cut into slices and softened
2 tablespoons softened butter
1 tablespoon milk
1 egg, slightly beaten with the milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
green food coloring paste
purple food coloring paste
yellow food coloring paste
12 tablespoons sugar
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
3-6 tablespoons water
1. Pour the warm water into a small shallow bowl, and sprinkle yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar into it.
2. Allow the yeast and sugar to rest for three minutes then mix thoroughly.
3. Set bowl in a warm place, for ten minutes or until yeast bubbles up and mixture almost doubles up in volume.
4. Combine 3 1/2 cups of flour, remaining sugar, nutmeg and salt, and sift into a large mixing bowl.
5. Stir in lemon zest.
6. Separate center of mixture to form a hole and pour in yeast mixture and milk.
7. Add egg yolks and using a wooden spoon slowly combine dry ingredients into the yeast/milk mixture.
8. 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.
9. Place ball of dough on a lightly floured surface and knead like bread.
10. During this kneading, add up to 1 cup more of flour (1 tablespoon at a time) sprinkled over the dough.
11. When dough is no longer sticky, knead 10 minutes more until shiny and elastic.
12. Using a pastry brush, coat the inside of a large bowl evenly with one tablespoon softened butter.
13. Place dough ball in the bowl and rotate until the entire surface is buttered.
14. Cover bowl with a moderately thick kitchen towel and place in a draft free spot for about 1- hours, or until the dough doubles in volume.
15. Using a pastry brush, coat a large baking sheet with one tablespoon of butter and set aside.
16. Remove dough from bowl and place on lightly floured surface.
17. Using you fist, punch dough down with a heavy blow.
18. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top, pat and shake dough into a cylinder.
19. Twist dough to form a curled cylinder and loop cylinder onto the buttered baking sheet.
20. Pinch the ends together to complete the circle.
21. Cover dough with towel and set it in draft free spot for 45 minutes until the circle of dough doubles in volume.
22. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
23. Brush top and sides of cake with egg wash and bake on middle rack of oven for 25 to 35 minutes until golden brown.
24. Place cake on wire rack to cool.
25. If desired, at this time, you can”hide” the plastic baby in the cake.
26. Colored sugars——————.
27. Squeeze a dot of green paste in palm of hand.
28. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over the paste and rub together quickly.
29. Place this mixture on wax paper and wash hands to remove color.
30. Repeat process for other two colors.
31. Place aside.
33. Combine sugar, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons water until smooth.
34. If icing is too stiff, add more water until spreadable.
35. Spread icing over top of cake.
36. Immediately sprinkle the colored sugars in individual rows consisting of about two rows of green, purple and yellow.
37. Cake is served in 2″- 3″ pieces.