MUSCADINE MISSION

Muscadine Focaccia | for the love of the south

Earlier this week, I woke with bated breath. This happens every so often during the year. The excitement revolves around the arrival of my favorite seasonal produce, especially crops that have a tendency of poking their head out without notice like a prairie dog and quickly disappearing.

With wild abandon, I fling open the windows of my loft and deeply inhale the warm, summer air. I barely run a comb through my blonde bob, throw on a white tee and denim shorts, and stumble into my black rubber boots. This is no time for vanity. I have been impatiently waiting for muscadines to arrive for a year. An entire year! Today is the day they arrive. I can feel it in my bones.

The light of day barely began creeping over the grounds of the Carnton Plantation. Sunbeams welcome me into the garden as I walk the pea gravel paths. Ruby tomatoes and ladyfinger okra pods thrive on their stalks. Sunflowers keep a watchful eye out as they tower above everything else in the garden. Chive flowers with their violet crowns sway in the breeze on their long, elegant stems.

Muscadines | for the love of the south

Keeping on task, I walk to the edge of the garden where I know there is an archway of muscadine vines. I stop in my tracks, pea gravel flying every which way. I spot the beauties dangling like deep, wine-hued baubles on a lady’s arm. I pluck a few muscadines off their vines and pop them into my mouth. The skin of a muscadine is thick, much thicker than that of a grape. The skin bursts and separates from the pale green flesh as I bite into it. The combination of tart, chewy coating and the sweet, squishy flesh is delightful. Using my teeth, I strategically fish out the seeds from the muscadine, which are neon green and the size of a sunflower kernel, and discard the seeds by the base of the vines. I sit on an iron bench in the garden, fully content with a pile of muscadines in my lap. Muscadine season is officially mine for the taking, and I’ll cherish it for as long as it lasts.

Muscadine Focaccia | for the love of the south

Muscadine Focaccia:

Makes 1, 10” focaccia

Note: Leave smaller muscadines (the size of a marble) whole and cut larger ones (the size of a cherry) in half and discard seeds. If you can’t find muscadines, substitute with a lovely grape like Concord.

306g all-purpose flour

8g sea salt

2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

1 cup warm water

2g active dry yeast

1 teaspoon light olive oil

1 cup muscadines (See Note)

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and 1 tablespoon sugar. In a small mixing bowl, combine water, yeast and olive oil. Make a well in the flour and pour the water and yeast mixture in the center of the flour. Knead until combined, about 3 minutes. Place a tea towel moistened with warm water over the bowl and allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes. The warm water clinging to the tea towel will create a warm, moist environment for the dough to rise.

On a floured surface, knead the rested dough for 3 minutes. Place the dough on a heavily floured plate or baking sheet, sprinkle with more flour and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to slowly rise in the fridge for 12-24 hours. Whenever you are ready to make the focaccia, take the dough out of the fridge 30 minutes before shaping.

In a small bowl, combine muscadines and the remaining tablespoon of sugar.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface, and gently pull the dough into a 10” inch circle. Place the dough in a generously buttered 10” skillet. Cover the top of the dough with the muscadines (including any juice that has come out of the muscadines), pressing the fruit firmly into the dough. Cover with a warm, moistened tea towel, and allow the dough to prove once more for 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400oF. Bake the focaccia until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar right before serving. This sweet focaccia is also lovely slathered in ricotta and drizzled with honey.

 

 

 

 

 

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!