The King Cake is the quintessential food of Mardi Gras. When we think about Mardi Gras, we think of beads, parades, parties, and fun but what makes us drool are the King Cakes.
History of the King Cake
The King Cake was originally part of the celebration of Epiphany. Epiphany, also known as “Three Kings Day,” is a Christian feast day recognizing the day the magi visited the baby Jesus. It is also celebrated as the revelation that God the Son became incarnate in the form of Jesus.
The twelve days of Christmas end at Epiphany and it was often celebrated with a King Cake. It was common to eat King Cake from Epiphany until Shrovetide, now commonly referred to as Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday.” This is a celebration and a day of eating fatty foods prior to the season of Lent.
During Lent, it is common for people to fast from many of the luxuries of life, including fatty foods. Lent is a solemn time of preparing the hearts of the people for the remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection at Easter. So, Mardi Gras is a day of indulging prior to the six weeks of fasting.
Making a King Cake
What constitutes as a King Cake varies by country and region. Our King Cake is based on the New Orleans style King Cakes.
A King Cake isn’t really a cake at all but rather bread or pastry. We start out with a brioche-like dough. Brioche typically has a very high-fat content from using several eggs and relatively high amount of butter. This gives the bread a very rich flavor and a soft and flaky texture.
After the first rise, we stretch out the dough to an 18” x 14” rectangle. We sprinkle a generous amount of our filling on the surface. We filled our King Cake with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, and toasted, ground pecans.
Reading a recipe can be tricky at times. For example, our recipe today says:
1 1/4 c pecans, toasted and ground fine
When reading this recipe, you take the measurement from what is mentioned before a comma. So, for our recipe today, we measured 1 1/4 c of pecans. Then we toasted them and ground them fine in our food processor.
However, we would do something different if the recipe had read:
1 1/4 c toasted and ground fine pecans
In this case, we would toast and grind the pecans. Then we would measure out 1 1/4 c of the ground pecans.
Once the filling has been added to the dough rectangle, it is common to place a small porcelain baby somewhere in the mixture. It is actually more common to use a plastic baby but this must be placed after baking rather than hidden in the cake prior to baking. This tradition comes with various rules. Most often, I have heard it said that the one who receives a piece with the baby in it must provide next year’s King Cake.
After filling our dough, we rolled the dough much like you do in making cinnamon rolls or how we demonstrated when making our cast iron cinnamon swirl bread. We formed our rolled dough into a ring and placed it into a bundt pan. This is a little different from most King Cakes are made. Traditionally, a King Cake is placed on a pan, free-formed. However, we wanted our cake to be a bit more uniform and have more structure. By baking in the bundt pan, the cake will be taller and have more stability.
We let the dough rise again and then we baked it for about 30-35 minutes. After baking, we let it cool in the pan for about ten minutes and then let it cool completely on a wire rack.
To decorate the cake, we made a simple glaze and then sprinkled sanding sugar in the festive colors of Mardi Gras: purple, green, and yellow.
As you can see, the cinnamon pecan filling made a beautiful swirl throughout the flaky cake.
This is a fun cake to impress your friends with and enjoy the flavors and traditions of the American south.
If you are in the Denton, TX area and would like to see what other delicious treats Kapp’s Kitchen offers, check out our new menu!
This post was featured in the Wonderful Wednesday #216 link party.