King Cake: What is this Mardi Gras tradition, how do you make it?

By HALEY STAUB
Spring Grove High School

A worker distributes a slice of traditional Mardi Gras king cake during a ceremony to mark the beginning of carnival season in New Orleans. ASSOCIATED PRESS

A popular Mardi Gras tradition is baking a “king’s cake” in honor of the three kings.

The cake is believed to have originated in 12th-century France when the early Europeans celebrated the coming of the three wise men bearing gifts for Jesus. The Europeans celebrated the 12 days after Christmas, which they called the Feast of the Epiphany, the Twelfth Night or King’s Day.

King’s cakes have become more festive and elaborate throughout the years, but their circular shape has remained. This shape is inspired by the circular route the kings took to confuse King Herod, who was also seeking the Christ child, but with threatening plans.

After the Danish dough is baked, a small baby — generally plastic today, but previously a bean, pea or coin — is placed inside the cake. It has become tradition that whoever receives this baby in their slice of bread will host the king’s cake party the next year.

The top of the cake is then covered in sugar and the traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. You can also buy cakes filled with different fruit and cream cheese fillings.

Mardi Gras is always 46 days before Easter and is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday. This year, Mardi Gras begins Feb. 12.

The king’s cake has become an important custom in this time of celebration, exchanging gifts and feasting.

Source: http://www.kingcake.com/t-history.aspx

King Cake Traditional Recipe
½ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
2 packages active dry yeast
½ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3 ½ to 4 ½ cups flour, unsifted
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest, (lemon rind), grated
½ cup warm milk
5 egg yolks
1 stick butter cut into slices and softened, plus
2 tablespoons more softened butter
1 egg slightly beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 plastic baby doll

Directions
Pour the warm water into a small shallow bowl, and sprinkle yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar into it. Allow the yeast and sugar to rest for three minutes then mix thoroughly. Set bowl in a warm place for 10 minutes, or until yeast bubbles up and mixture almost doubles in volume. Combine 3 ½ cups of flour, remaining sugar, nutmeg and salt, and sift into a large mixing bowl. Stir in lemon zest. Separate center of mixture to form a hole and pour in yeast mixture and milk. Add egg yolks and, using a wooden spoon, slowly combine dry ingredients into the yeast/milk mixture. 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.

Place ball of dough on a lightly floured surface and knead like bread. While kneading, sprinkle up to 1 cup more of flour (1 tablespoon at a time) over the dough. When dough is no longer sticky, knead 10 minutes more until shiny and elastic.

Using a pastry brush, coat the inside of a large bowl evenly with one tablespoon softened butter. Place dough ball in the bowl and rotate until the entire surface is buttered. Cover bowl with a moderately thick kitchen towel and place in a draft-free spot for about 1 ½ hours, or until the dough doubles in volume. Using a pastry brush, coat a large baking sheet with
1 tablespoon of butter and set aside.

Remove dough from bowl and place on lightly floured surface. Using your fist, punch dough down forcefully. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top, pat and shake dough into a cylinder. Twist dough to form a curled cylinder and loop cylinder onto the buttered baking sheet. Pinch the ends together to complete the circle. Cover dough with towel and set it in draft-free spot for 45 minutes, or until the circle of dough doubles in volume. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Brush top and sides of cake with egg wash and bake on middle rack of oven for 25 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Place cake on wire rack to cool. If desired, you can hide the plastic baby in the cake at this time.

Icing
3 cups confectioners sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
3 to 6 tablespoons water

Combine sugar, lemon juice and
3 tablespoons water until smooth. If icing is too stiff, add more water until spreadable. Spread icing over top of cake. Immediately sprinkle the colored sugars in individual rows consisting of about 2 rows of green, purple and yellow.

Recipe from www.mardigrasday.com/king-cakes

About Samantha Dellinger

I'm a graphic/media artist at the York Daily Record/Sunday News. Outside of work, I keep busy as a freelance illustrator. When I'm not creating art, I enjoy hanging out with my family and friends. I also have a somewhat crazy obsession about my English bulldog, Diesel. I do not like bare feet, clowns and ferris wheels. My favorite bands include: New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, The Cure and Electronic.
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