With the season of Lent just around the corner, I started thinking about King Cakes and Pancakes. At our church we belonged to in Houston, Shrove Tuesday, (the day before Ash Wednesday), was when we held an all-church pancake supper. All the teens would make the pancakes. Being Fellowship chairman, I was in charge of this event. Sweet Husband would supervise the pancake making and I would make sure there was plenty of butter, syrup, sausage, coffee, orange juice and all the breakfast-for-dinner fixings. Again, I digress.
King Cakes are another “before Lent” tradition. I had never heard of a King Cake until I was an adult and my father-in-law sent us a traditional King Cake from Baton Rouge. It looked like a huge doughnut with white icing and sprinkled with green, yellow and purple sugar. Inside the cake, for whoever got that particular slice, was a tiny plastic baby. The tradition goes that king cakes were baked as a celebration of Mardi Gras. They were baked to honor the three kings who came to see Baby Jesus. Some believe that the shape of the cake, an oval, symbolized the unity of faiths. The colors of Mardi Gras — purple, green and gold — also have meaning. Apparently purple is for justice, green is for faith and gold is for the power of God. The baby is of course Baby Jesus, and whoever gets the baby in his/her slice of cake will be lucky. Others believe that whoever gets the baby buys the next King Cake.
When the girls were kids, I would buy a King Cake each year for fun. We even began serving King Cake at those Shrove Tuesday Pancake Suppers.
Last year at a wedding we went to in Baton Rouge in January, King Cake was served at a day-of-the-wedding brunch. After that beautiful wedding, I was inspired to make King Cakes and give them to our neighbors. My idea was to make mini-cakes, as who needs a huge King Cake sitting around? A few bites and your sugar level will surge.
I looked through my cookbooks and found several King Cake recipes (we have several cookbooks from Louisiana due to Sweet Husband’s family living there). Some of the recipes said to just use the dough of your choice, ranging from packaged cinnamon rolls to making dough with yeast. I decided on a recipe and went out to get what I needed, including the sugars and the little baby dolls. I found six in a package at Hobby Lobby, where I also found small cardboard cake rounds and doilies to fit. I had plastic bags in which I placed the cakes and tied with green, gold and purple ribbon. On my computer I made a little tag that explained the King Cake tradition. It was a nice gift for my neighbors on a cold, dreary Saturday in February. I used an Easy King Cake Recipe I got off the Internet at http://www.mardigrasday.com/kcrecip.php.
Easy King Cake
1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup, plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups un-sifted flour
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest, (lemon rind) grated
1/2 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 (optional)
1 plastic baby doll
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 and then mix thoroughly. Set the bowl in a warm place for 10 minutes, or until the yeast bubbles up and the mixture almost doubles in volume. Combine 3 1/2 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 1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in volume. Using a pastry brush, coat a large baking sheet with one 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. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. If desired, you can hide the plastic baby in the cake at this time. 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.
Green, purple, & yellow
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 – 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.
What I did different
Before baking, I divided the dough into six, small cakes.