Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Mardi Gras is right around the corner, and in the southeastern region of the US it’s a very popular season for King Cake! Here are some fun facts about King Cake and Mardi Gras that I’ve discovered:
- Legend has it that French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville first introduced Mardi Gras to the area in 1699, after he sailed into the Gulf of Mexico on March 6 (Mardi Gras), and set up camp on the west bank of the Mississippi river about 60 miles south of New Orleans. In honor of the holiday, he named the site Point du Mardi Gras.
- Mobile, Alabama is the first city in the US to have an organized Mardi Gras celebration (1703), just a year after it’s founding.
- Mobile, Alabama is also the first city to have an organized parade in the US (1830).
- Mardi Gras can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome, when early Christians with Pagan roots feasted and celebrated ahead of the somber days of Lent.
- The season of Carnival takes place from Twelfth Night (January 6) until Mardi Gras, the day before Lent. King Cake parties take place every week during the Carnival season.
- The person to find the trinket is supposed to buy the cake for the next get-together.
- The trinket is usually a porcelain or plastic baby. The baby was originally placed into the cake to symbolize baby Jesus.
Now that we are all informed as to the origins of Mardi Gras in the South, without further ado here is an easy (but not quick) King Cake recipe!
Prep Time: 60 minutes
Cooking Time: 20-35 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
3½ cups all-purpose flour
1 (2 ¼ teaspoons) Rapid Rise yeast
1 cup milk
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, cut into 12 pieces
⅔ cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
Dark green, purple, and yellow or gold sugars, if desired.
Miniature plastic baby, if desired. I used a pecan, because what’s more Southern than a pecan!
- Mix 2½ cups flour and yeast in mixing bowl of stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, on low for about 30 seconds.
- Heat milk, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and milk is between 120°F to 130°F.
- With mixer on low, pour in liquids and mix until incorporated. Add eggs one at a time. Continue mixing until a shaggy dough forms. Clean off paddle and switch to dough hook. Mix in the remaining 1 cup flour a little at a time, adding more or less flour as needed to make a soft dough. Add the softened butter, a piece at a time, kneading until each piece of butter is absorbed.
- Knead for eight minutes on low. The dough should completely clear the sides of the bowl. If it is too sticky, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing in thoroughly before determining if more flour is needed. If the dough seems too dry, spritz with water from a spray bottle a couple of times, mixing in thoroughly before determining if more water is needed. Every 2 minutes, stop the machine, scrape the dough off the hook, and then continue kneading.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times by hand to be sure it’s smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a ball. Place dough into a greased bowl. Turn once so greased surface is on top. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- While the dough is chilling, make cinnamon filling. In small bowl, combine the brown sugar and ground cinnamon. Combine butter with cinnamon mixture and mix well.
- Roll the chilled dough into a 10 x 20 inch rectangle. Spread the filling on half of the long side of the dough. Fold the dough in half covering the filling. Pat dough down firmly so the dough will stick together. Cut dough into three long strips. (Tip: Be sure to reseal the sides after cutting, or all the yummy cinnamon filling will come out during baking!) Press the tops of the strips together and braid the strips. Press the ends together at the bottom. Gently stretch the braid so that it measures 20 inches again. Shape it into a circle/oval and press the edges together.
- Transfer the ring to a parchment lined or greased baking sheet. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled, about 1 hour. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350º. Bake the cake until it is golden brown, 20 – 35 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes on baking sheet and then place it on a cooling rack to cool completely before icing. To hide the baby in the cake, if desired, make a small slit in the bottom of the cake and put the miniature plastic baby in after the cake has cooled. (Tip: If you use a pecan, you can place it in the cake before baking. It won’t melt like a plastic baby! 😉 )
- Icing: In a small bowl, mix powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth (add additional milk if mixture is too thick or powdered sugar if too thin).
- Spoon icing over top of the cake. Immediately sprinkle on colored sugar, alternating between the three colors.