KING FOR A DAY

Mardi Gras King Cake | for the love of the south

The cool, brisk air gave me goose bumps as I waiting in line for my class to proudly march out in the Mardi Gras parade. My blacked out teeth were chattering from the cold and my blonde, matted hair (teased to ultimate perfection) was being bullied every which way by the wind. My clothes were baggy, carefully mended with pastel yellow and pink patches, which was a very poor wardrobe choice on my part seeing how the patches did not shield me from the biting wind very well. Nevertheless, I held my head high and braved the bitter chill. We, the 1st grade class of St. John Elementary, were the Krewe des Hobos, and I must represent with great pride.

Every class had their own krewe (pronounced crew). Like the traditional Mardi Gras parade, each grade dressed up according to their assigned group, or krewe. Waiting anxiously in line were the Krewe des Pirates, Krewe des Cowboys, Krewe des Indians, and, of course, Krewe des Hobos. When our teacher let this bunch of 6 year olds choose what they wanted to be for Mardi Gras, it was almost unanimously hobos, with the exception of Maggie Mouton, who wanted the entire class to dress up like fairies. Her request was seriously considered in pure silence and an impressive array of spit wads. Hobos it was!

We gathered outside the building, teachers and parents waiting with their point-and-shoot cameras and camcorders (which were roughly the size of an ice chest back then). We began parading around the school in decorated red Radio Flyer wagons while tossing tangled plastic beads, root beer Dum Dums and half melted chocolate coins out of our pillowcases to the lucky participators. Purple, green and gold beads littered the power lines, tree limbs and street signs forever after, to serve as a reminder of the day I felt like a king, disguised as a hobo, in the Mardi Gras parade.

*This article was originally posted on Coca-Cola

-In honor of the Mardi Gras season, Relish.com asked me to write a New Orleans City Guide to Good Eating! You can click the link to read more.

.Mardi Gras Beads & Coins | for the love of the south

Recipe: Roasted Pecan King Cake with Buttermilk Icing

Serves 6-8

Note: I used small pieces of gold leaf to decorate the cake, but you can use whatever you like, whether it be colored sugars, edible gold and silver pearls or colored icing!

Filling:

1 cup of pecan halves

1 tablespoon of cinnamon

½ cup of light brown sugar, packed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Toss the pecans onto a roasting pan and toast for 5 minutes in preheated oven. Whenever the pecans come out of the oven, roughly chop the pecans. Let the pecans to cool for a few minutes.

Combine cinnamon and brown sugar together in a small bowl.

Dough:

1 cup of warm water (110-116 degrees)

1 package of dry active yeast (1/4 ounce package)

2 tablespoons of sugar

2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for brushing

1 tablespoon of kosher salt

3 cups of all-purpose flour

1 egg, slightly beaten, for egg wash

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, combine warm water, yeast and sugar. Allow the yeast to bloom for 5-10 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add 2 tablespoons of melted butter and salt. Slowly begin to add the flour until you have incorporated the entire 3 cups of flour. Continue mixing until the dough comes together and gathers around the hook attachment. Place the dough in a large, butter-greased bowl. Flip the dough over once so the top and bottom of the dough is slightly greased. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and place in a warm spot for 1-1 ½ hours, until the dough has doubled in size.

Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough in half.  On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out until thin and slightly rectangular (don’t worry if it’s not perfect!) Lightly brush the dough with melted butter, leaving a 2-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle half of the brown sugar cinnamon and pecans onto the dough.

Roll the dough up tightly, longwise, beginning with the side closest to you (this step is a lot like making homemade cinnamon rolls.) Once the dough is in one long, snake-like shape, pinch the seams together (using the melted butter as an adhesive agent), and begin rolling the dough out with your palms gently until the length reaches about 1 ½ feet (depending on the length of your counter space!) Be very gentle when rolling out the dough, the pecans can easily cause a tear in the dough if too much pressure is applied. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Place the two snake-like logs of dough side by side. Pinch together two ends of the logs and adhere with melted butter. Gently begin braiding the dough while forming the dough into a circle. Pinch the ends together and tuck under the king cake. Cover and let rise for 1 hour in a warm space.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Once the dough has risen for the second time, place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with slightly beaten egg. Bake in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Allow the cake to cool completely on a cooling rack. Decorate with icing (recipe below) and gold leaf if you wish!

Icing:

¾ cup of powdered sugar

2-3 teaspoons of buttermilk

In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar and one teaspoon of buttermilk. While whisking, add a little more buttermilk until the mixture is thick and smooth.

Let Them Eat King Cake

King Cake Iced

Growing up in Louisiana, Mardi Gras seemed like a magical time when adults dressed up in colorful costumes, parades filled every street, and leftover plastic beads and candies were evidence of the spectacles. Best of all, I was allowed to eat my weight in King Cake. To a five year old, King Cakes are like one gargantuan filled doughnut; deep-fried and drenched in icing so thick it would make my dentist pass out. There were many in depth conversations with peers on how the diminutive, plastic baby Jesus did not melt whilst being fried. The verdict was that the filling created a magical gooey force field around Jesus to protect him. That was enough to suffice my curiosity as it made complete sense.

As I now know, the cakes are baked, not fried and the plastic babies are inserted after the cake has baked and cooled… but I still like my childlike version better, and I am still convinced that the filling has magical powers. Ahem.

Here is my grownup version of King Cake, dough made by hand, meticulously braided and baked until beautifully golden brown, adorned with the traditional colors of Mardi Gras.

I also included step-by-step photos in the process of rolling out the dough, filling it and braiding it. I hope the photos help!

Recipe: Inspired by Smitten Kitchen

Makes 1 Braided King Cake

Filling:

Combine ½ cup of brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon in a bowl. Set aside.

Dough:

1 cup of warm water

1 package of dry yeast

2 tablespoons of sugar, divided

2 tablespoons of butter, melted, cooled, plus more for brushing

1 tablespoon of salt

3 cups of flour

1 egg, slightly beaten for egg wash

Combine water, yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a mixing bowl of a stand mixer for 5-10 minutes to bloom. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar, butter, and salt and mix on low with dough hook attachment for a few seconds. Add half of the flour and continue mixing for a few more seconds until the mixture begins to combine, and then add the rest of the flour. The dough will start to come together and stick to the dough hook attachment. Transfer the dough into a large, butter-greased bowl and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour to double in size (I usually place the bowl of dough into an oven that has been preheated to 200 degrees and then shut off. It’s a warm place for the dough to rise on a cool day.)

King Cake Step 1

Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out until thin and slightly rectangular. Lightly brush the dough with melted butter, leaving a 2-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle half of the filling onto the dough.

King Cake Step 2

Roll the dough up tightly, longwise, beginning with the side closest to you (this step is a lot like making homemade cinnamon rolls.) Once the dough is in one long, snake-like shape, begin rolling the dough out with your palms gently until the length reaches about 2 feet. Cut the dough in half and continue with the other half.

Once you have 4 equal pieces of rolled dough, place 2 pieces of dough side by side, and then place the remaining dough in a tic-tac-toe format. Take the pieces of dough that are coming from the underneath of the center and cross it with the piece of dough to the right of it.

King Cake Step 4

Then, take the pieces that are now on the underneath and cross them with the piece to the right of it.

King Cake Step 5

Continue until you run out of dough and tuck the remaining stragglers on the underbelly of the dough.

King Cake Step 6

Place dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, lightly brush with egg was and let rise in a warm spot for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

Once the dough has risen, brush lightly with egg wash again and place in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until golden (if the bread browns too quickly, tent it with foil and let continue cooking.) Let cool while you prepare the icing (or if you don’t want to decorate the cake, EAT NOW!)

Baked King Cake

Icing:

3 cups of powdered sugar

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon of lemon juice

Purple, green and yellow food coloring paste

In an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk all ingredients together until the mixture becomes glossy and stiff, about 1-2 minutes.

Divide the icing into 4 equal amounts in 4 separate containers. In one container, place purple paste into the icing and stir to combine. The intensity of the icing really depends on your taste, so you can make the colors as rich or as subtle as you like by adding more or less of the coloring paste. Continue the same way with the green and yellow, making sure the last container is left white.

Carefully fill the colored icing into individual sandwich-sized Ziploc bags. Push all of the icing to one side of the bag and snip the tip off with scissors. Decorate the king cake anyway you wish (just make sure that you sneak the baby into the cake before you ice it, then you can cover up your tracks with the icing!) I usually start with white as a base, then purple, green and finish with a pop of yellow! Have fun with it!