History of King Cakes
The Mardi Gras or Carnival season officially begins on January 6th or the "Twelfth Night," also known to Christians as the "Epiphany." Epiphany comes from a Greek word that means "to show." Jesus first showed himself to the three wise-men and to the world on this day. As a symbol of this Holy Day, a tiny plastic baby is placed inside each King Cake.
The King Cake tradition is thought to have been brought to New Orleans from France in 1870. A King Cake is an oval-shaped bakery delicacy, crossed between a coffee cake and a French pastry that is as rich in history as it is in flavor. It's decorated in royal colors of PURPLE which signifies "Justice," GREEN for "Faith," and GOLD for "Power." These colors were chosen to resemble a jeweled crown honoring the Wise Men who visited the Christ Child on Epiphany. In the past such things as coins, beans, pecans, or peas were also hidden in each King Cake.
Today, a tiny plastic baby is the common prize. At a party, the King Cake is sliced and served. Each person looks to see if their piece contains the "baby." If so, then that person is named "King" for a day and bound by custom to host the next party and provide the King Cake.
Mardi Gras Day has a moveable date and may occur on any Tuesday from February 3rd to March 9th. It is always the day before Ash Wednesday, and always falls 46 days before Easter.
If you find the baby in your slice of king's cake , tradition says you must throw a party next year.
Prep : 40 minutes + rising Bake : 30 minutes makes 1 cake (16 slices)
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
2 (.25 ounce each) packages active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees)
1/2 cup white sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
5-/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup confectioners' sugar (I used 2 cups)
3 tablespoon water
1 . Scald milk, remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of butter. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the white sugar. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat the flour into the milk/egg mixture 1 cup at a time. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. When risen, punch down and divide dough in half.
2 . Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
FOR FILLING :
3 . Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup raisins. Pour 1/2 cup melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly.
4. Roll dough halves out into large rectangles (approximately 10x16 inches or so). Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough and roll up each half tightly like a jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of each roll together to form 2 oval shaped rings. Place each ring on a prepared cookie sheet. With scissors make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Push the doll into the bottom of the cake. Frost while warm with the confectioners' sugar blended with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.
My cakes took about 25 minutes to bake. I covered them with aluminum foil at about 15 minutes to avoid excessive browning.
When you are ready to ice the cakes, you might want to make the icing separate for each cake, especially if you are going to sprinkle them with colored sugars. The icing hardens pretty quickly.