Mardi Gras is a magical time in New Orleans. During weeks of merrymaking, fun and food reign while centuries-old traditions are re-enacted. This year, “Fat Tuesday” will be celebrated on Feb. 11, the last day before the start of Lent.
One of the foods most associated with Mardi Gras is King Cake. Many New Orleans residents observe the feasting of Carnival between the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6) and Fat Tuesday with parties where King Cakes are served.
According to the editors of Southern Living magazine, it is believed that the King Cake was brought to New Orleans from France in 1870. A dried bean or pea was hidden inside the cake, and the finder became king or queen for a day.
Today, an almond often replaces the bean or pea, and it is customary for the person who finds it to receive a small plastic doll. Along with this treasure comes an obligation to host the next Mardi Gras party and provide the King Cake.
King Cake is traditionally decorated with sprinkles of granulated sugar in the official colors of Carnival - purple, green and gold.
Recipe from the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council. Cake:
1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
2 envelopes quick-rising yeast
3/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
3-3/4 cups to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup warm milk (110 to 115 degrees)
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter, melted
3 egg yolks
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 whole almond Frosting:
1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2-1/2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Green, yellow, red and blue food coloring
Colored sugar sprinkles, if desired
In a small bowl, combine warm water, yeast and 2 teaspoons of the granulated sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes or until bubbly.
In a large mixer bowl, combine 3-3/4 cups flour, 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar and the salt. Add the warm milk, 1/2 cup of the melted butter and the yeast mixture. Beat at low speed for 1 minute. Beat in the egg yolks, and continue to beat until smooth. If necessary, stir in additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to make a stiff dough.
Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Knead about 8 to 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place dough in buttered bowl and turn dough to butter top. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes, or until the dough is doubled in bulk. Punch the dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a rectangle about 25 inches by 10 inches.
Combine remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar and the cinnamon. Brush remaining 1/4 cup butter over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border along the edges. Sprinkle sugar-cinnamon mixture evenly over butter. Place the almond in the center of the dough; press lightly.
Starting at the long side, roll up the dough. Moisten the edge with water and pinch seam lightly to seal. Place dough, seam-side down, on a buttered baking sheet. Bring the ends of the dough together to form a circle. Moisten with water and pinch edges firmly together to seal. Cover. Let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack; cool completely before frosting.
For frosting, combine confectioners’ sugar, milk and vanilla; frosting will be thick. Divide among three small bowls. Use food coloring to tint one part of the frosting green (about four drops), one part yellow (about three drops) and one part purple (mix about two to three drops each of red and blue). Spread the icing alternately, in wide strips, over the cooled cake. If desired, sprinkle the cake with colored sugar.
Yield: 12 to 16 servings.
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