Plastic bead necklaces flying through the air, everything painted or glittered in royal colors and sugar coated round cakes with a secret plastic baby inside. Does any of this sound familiar? Probably not. We northerners generally don’t know much about a Tuesday referred to as “fat” or as the French would say Mardi Gras.
Having a few family roots embedded in the south has allowed for some cultural exploration. Ever eat a ‘crawdaddy’? Pinch the tails, suck the heads! It’s hard to remember the first time I ate these little buggers. The intensity of flavor and the overwhelming desire for more has fogged up that first moment. In other words, there was no turning back after that first tail.
I’m sure you’ve tasted a good pot of gumbo, right? Don’t forget the okra or it wouldn’t be a gumbo, a dish that begins with the Cajun trinity and ends with a mouthful of authentic home cooking. Be careful who you ask where to find the best bowl of gumbo or you might get yourself into a tiffy.
And how about that Po Boy? Your choice of fried “anything you desire,” from soft shell crab to shrimp to oysters served up on a flakey French bread dressed with lettuce, tomato, pickle and mayonnaise. A southern must-have, especially for the northern visitor. (Yes I’m the visitor and of course we must always get a Po Boy.)
Ok, enough about food we have to fly across country for. Back to the plastic babies. Typically you would find one stuffed inside one of these delicious king cakes and if you are the lucky finder you are entitled to bring the cake to the next party.
King cake is a brioche rolled cake that is traditionally filled with cinnamon and sugar but can be filled with everything from fruit fillings to cream cheese. It’s topped with a glaze icing and then coated in sugar the colors of Mardi Gras; purple which represents justice, gold representing power and green for faith. A southern cousin of mine told me there should be so much sugar on top it should crunch when you eat it, that’s how you know it’s a good king cake.
Well, lucky for you this Tuesday is “Fat Tuesday” and have I got a recipe for you. Now don’t go throwing beads out of your second story window and expect your neighbor to just accept the fact that you’ve decided to go all out this year for Mardi Gras. (Although a slice of this king cake might help persuade them from calling the authorities on you.)
For me, baking isn’t always easy, but I found this to be quite simple and fun. There is some time needed for rising but this allows for kitchen clean-up and plenty of time to perfect your cake filling. I have provided you with a recipe that makes enough dough for two large king cakes, which is perfect for making a traditional cinnamon sugar-filled cake and another of your liking. I personally like to split it into three, this allows for more sharing, plus having two king cakes in the house large enough to feed an army can become quite dangerous.
Remember you can get creative with your fillings but don’t get too excited and over-fill your cake before rolling. You might end up with a gooey mess. Oh and if you might be wondering where to find those babies, you can order them online or find them in the local craft store in the party section. Please note I am not liable or responsible for any plastic baby mishaps.
Happy Mardi Gras!
Makes two cakes
Serves: 18 per cake
1 16oz. container sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 (¼ oz) envelopes active dry yeast
½ cup warm water (100 degrees – 110 degrees)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 to 6 ½ cups all purpose flour
(Makes for two cakes)
½ cup softened butter
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Cream Cheese filling
(Makes for two cakes)
2 (8oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Fruit pie filling or jam, (optional)
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 4 tablespoons milk
2 mini plastic babies or dried beans
Place the sour cream, 1/3 cup sugar, ¼ cup butter and 1 tsp. of salt in a medium sauce pan. Cook over low heat until butter melts. Set aside and allow to cool to 100 degrees-110 degrees.
In a small dish stir together ½ cup warm water, 2 yeast packets and 1 tablespoon of sugar, let stand for 5 minutes.
In a stand mixer add 2 eggs, 2 cups of flour, the yeast mixture and the sour cream mixture. Beat at medium speed until smooth. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the remaining 4 – 4 ½ cups of flour until a soft dough forms. The dough might not need all of the flour, continue to mix until the dough does not allow for anymore flour to be absorbed.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Grease a large glass bowl with about a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Place dough in bowl. Flip dough over in bowl, allowing both sides to become oiled.
Cover with a dish cloth and allow to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
After it has risen divide dough in half. Roll out each portion into a 22 x 12 inch rectangle.
If using the traditional filling spread half a ¼ cup of the softened butter onto each rectangle. Sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon mixture evenly amongst both rectangles.
If using the cream cheese filling beat the softened cream cheese, 1 egg and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract at medium speed until smooth. Spread evenly on each rectangle leaving a 1 inch border on all sides. If desired spread fruit filling or jam on top of cream cheese spread.
Roll each rectangle like a jelly roll starting with a long side. Place rolled dough on a lightly greased baking sheet, bring ends together to form a ring, moistening to create a seal. If using a plastic baby or dried bean, place in the filling before rolling or insert into the dough from underneath after you have rolled up the dough. Repeat with second dough.
Cover with a dish cloth and allow to rise in a warm place for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.
Prepare your creamy glaze. Combine the sifted powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons of melted butter, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract together in a small bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the milk, adding additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time until the mixture forms a spreadable consistency. Set aside for use after cakes have baked.
Bake in a 375° oven for about 14-16 minutes. The cake will get a nice golden brown top and feel and look more like bread than your traditional cake. Place on cooling rack and allow to slightly cool. Drizzle or spread the creamy glaze over top of the warm cakes and then sprinkle with colored sugars; using yellow, green and purple forming alternating bands around the cake. Let cool completely. Serve with coffee for dessert or mid-morning snack.
How to make colored sugar:
If you can’t find the desired colored sugar at your local grocer you can make your own.
All you need is Sugar and Food Coloring.
Fill a small Ziploc bag halfway with sugar. Add food coloring such as yellow, purple or green to the bag. Seal closed. Massage the sugar and food coloring until the sugar is evenly colored. If a darker color is desired add more food coloring. Repeat until desired color is reached.
Kayleigh Van Vliet Baig was born and raised in Riverhead, where she lives with her husband Tahir.
Kayleigh has been in the culinary industry for the last 12 years, working in kitchens on the East End. She also is a personal chef.
Got questions? Recipes? Ideas?
Write to Kayleigh- Click here.