From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

The Liturgical Cookbook: King Cake makes a royal pre-Lent treat

by Sierra Lawrence, for the Inland Register

(From the Feb. 8, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

Laissez les bon temps roullez! “Let the good times roll” is the theme for Mardi Gras, the day before Lent. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday,” the day when everyone gets “fat” and parties before abstaining for Lent.

One of the best ways to get fat before Lent is to indulge in King Cake. King Cake is also known as Twelfth Night Cake, as it was traditionally baked on Epiphany Eve and served to family and friends the following afternoon. Today, it’s served throughout the Epiphany season which, in New Orleans, lasts until Mardi Gras.

The tradition of baking King Cakes started in the Middle Ages with the celebration of the Feast of the Three Holy Kings, or Wise Men. Like New Orleanians, Latin Americans place a figure representing the Christ child inside the cake. Sometimes it’s a plastic baby, but it can even be made of gold-painted porcelain. In other cultures, a coin, bean, pecan, or pea is used. The person who gets the “baby” is made King/Queen for the day, and in New Orleans, this means they have to buy the next King Cake.

Local bakeries report selling 4,000 to 5,000 king cakes a day!

This is a great recipe for traditional King Cake, which is similar to brioche. More recent versions of King Cake are stuffed with a cream cheese or fruit filling.

King Cake
2 envelopes active-dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar, 1/2 cup sugar, and four 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup warm water (105º to 115º F.)
5 egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1/2 cup melted butter
1 1/2 tsps. salt
1 tsp. grated nutmeg
4 1/4 cups flour
1 egg beaten with 2 tsps. milk (glaze)
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 dried bean
green, purple and gold sugars
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, strained
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
3 tbsps. water

Sprinkle yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar over warm water in a heavy-duty mixer bowl. Let stand until dissolved; stir to blend. Let stand until mixture is foamy and proofed, about 10 minutes. (If mixture does not get foamy, then start over with fresher yeast.)

Whisk together egg yolks, milk and butter in a small bowl. Stir 1/2 cup of the sugar, salt and nutmeg into the yeast mixture, stir yolk mixture into yeast mixture. Attach dough hook(s).

Gradually add flour and beat until dough starts to climb hook(s), about 5 minutes. (Dough can also be made by hand.) Turn dough out onto generously floured surface and knead until somewhat stiff, adding up to 1/4 cup more flour if dough is sticky, about 5 minutes.

Butter large bowl. Add dough, turning to coat entire surface. Cover and let rise in warm draft-free area until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. Butter a large baking sheet. After dough is doubled, punch down dough. Transfer it to a pastry cloth and knead the dough until it is easy to handle, about 3 minutes. Roll dough out into 9 x 30-inch rectangle. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut dough into three 3 x 30 inch strips. Lightly brush top of each with glaze. Mix 1/4 cup sugar with cinnamon. Sprinkle over the strips. Braid the strips, weaving them back and forth. Attach the ends, forming an oval about 10 inches around. Using spatulas or something large and flat, transfer the cake to the prepared sheet. Press a dried kidney bean or pecan into the bottom of the dough, enclosing it completely. (Shhh! Don’t tell where it is!) Let the dough rise in a warm draft-free (cover with plastic) area until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375º F. Bake cake until golden, about 25 minutes. Watch this closely if your oven runs hotter, because you must not over-bake it; the cake should be moist. Cool the cake to room temperature. (It can be prepared two days ahead.) Wrap tightly.

Using your hands, mix drops of food coloring with 1/4 cup each of sugar, to make 3 colors: Purple, green, and gold. I used three separate plastic zipper sandwich bags to do this — you don’t get your fingers dyed or sticky!

Stir lemon juice into confectioner’s sugar in a small bowl. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until smooth and thin, but not too runny. Place the cooled cake on a rack over waxed paper. Frost the top of the cake, letting the icing drip down the sides. Immediately sprinkle the top with the colored sugars, alternating purple, green and gold. The cake can be prepared up to one day ahead. Serve at room temperature. Whoever gets the bean is king/queen for a day!

(If you have a great recipe that celebrates a Holy Day or a special time during the liturgical year — even Ordinary Time is a great time to eat good food — send it in to the Inland Register, attention Liturgical Cookbook, P.O. Box 48, Spokane, WA 99210-0048.)

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