Wednesday, March 5, 2014

King's Cake- New Orleans Style... Happy Mardi Gras!

Hello, everybody! The Fresh Pioneer is here and I've got a fun recipe for Mardi Gras (which was yesterday).
(Gratuitous brownie photo. This is what some of us WON'T be having during Lent!)
Really, this post should have been last week, but Lent sort of snuck up on me. I mean, really, didn't we just HAVE Lent like two months ago? I guess Christmas was in there somewhere, so it stands to reason that Lent has come again. Funny how the fun holidays can't come fast enough, but nobody says, "Gee, I can't wait for Lent this year!"
(If you're not familiar with Lent, it's a liturgical season before Easter. Just as Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying, it's a time to spend 40 days getting rid of bad habits and growing closer to God. No hair shirts required, unless you've got one lying around.)
 (A little Lenten inspiration for those of us who think we don't have time, or the means, to make a difference.)

Don't ask what I'm doing yet. As I said, it all sort of snuck up on me. In my family, we usually dedicate ourselves to one new good thing (extra prayers, extra chores for someone else) and working on breaking a bad habit/ giving up something as a sacrifice. At my age, I should had lots of bad habits, but as a non-drinker, non-smoker, non-party type, I don't have much to work with. 
I was thinking of giving up sugar, but I'm not sure that's enough of a sacrifice. We've got to really FEEL the Lenten burn, baby! 
Maybe coffee? Oooh, scary thought!

Anyway, this little cake will be just perfect for NEXT fat Tuesday, as a pre-Lent celebration, and you'll be all ready for Ash Wednesday... and the forty days of tightening your spiritual belt. 

Let's start with the brioche (the sweet bread)

     Add 1/2 cup warm water to 2 envelopes active dry yeast (this is 5 tsp if you use a larger container)
        Let it sit for five minutes

Mix together:
4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups sifted flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Mix  and beat lightly 
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
3 eggs
4 egg yolks

 Make a well in the flour mixture and add to the center.
 Mix, adding a little flour if needed.
 Start kneading on the board.
Mix 1/2 cup butter, softened into the dough. Knead until it's elastic.

 Put it in a buttered bowl, turning to make sure all sides are buttered.
 Cover and let rise for about an hour, somewhere a little warm, until doubled in size.
 Punch it down once.
 Form into a ring, pinching the ends. Now, this is where most people would add a small figurine (the baby) or a coin or a bean.
 I hid a little bean in there. Preheat the oven to 375F and while the oven is warming, cover the cake and let it rise a little more, about 15 minutes.
 Put it in the oven for 30 minutes and while it's cooking, set out three small bowls of plain sugar.
 Use a few drops of food dye and make yellow, green, and purple.


 OK, at this point, I realized I missed a small step in the recipe. The dough should have been divided and it makes two cakes. Ah well. One GIANT brioche emerged from the oven.
 Layer on the sugar, patting it down as needed. (Don't worry about how thick to lay it on. The bread isn't that sweet, and when you cut a slice, there will be a layer of sugar at the top. If anyone objects, they can brush it off.)

And there it is, a sweet bread that rises nicely (and should probably rest a few minutes before cutting, but hey, the blog post must go up!).

 Happy Ash Wednesday everybody and I hope this Lent brings you closer to Jesus in every way!


  1. I'd rather have the brownies! we have a couple of coworkers who love doing the king cake with the plastic baby in it - to me they taste too dry and not very sweet :-( and I didn't know about the plastic thing inside til I bit into it and it hurt! then she told me I had to make tamales for the next month because I had the baby Jesus....I told her I'd bring a can and she freaked on me! oh well dont' know how to make tamales and aint' gonna learn LOL!

    1. I'm pretty sure she was kidding about making the tamales, since if you get the baby Jesus, you have good luck! And I always dip my bread in hot coffee. Mmmmm.

    2. nope gues she lied because she wasn't kidding - supposed to bring them on a certain day but can't remember which - makes a big deal out of it :-( wouldn't surprise me since she seems to make up her own rules LOL!

  2. Okay, I gotta admit I read the post twice looking for brownies.

    Delicious looking brioche. Happy Marde Gras. I am a recovering Catholic so I don't celebrate Lent, but wishing you all a pious Lenten season. :)

    1. Awwwww. Lapsed Catholics are in Lent all year, poor things.

      Kidding! And I know some very pious people who fast twice a week and pray the rosary daily, then fast on bread and water all of Lent. Lovely people. I don't know how they got so much discipline. They should be spreading it around. I'll be doing well if I remember not to eat meat on Fridays... right after I have a hotdog.

  3. I've always wondered what king cake was. Thanks for enlightening me, Virginia! This looks good! Of course I love any yeasty baked goods. :)

    Don't know yet if I'll give up anything for Lent. We're having our Ash Wednesday service tonight. Will ponder it then.

    1. Have a good service! I always find it's easier to DO something, rather give something up. It's because I have no bad habits, ahahahahahahahahaha.

  4. BTW I just learned about the tradition of FAT Tuesday yesterday. I heard of Fat Tuesday, of course, but never really knew what it meant. Using all the fat in the house as a lead in to Lent. I NEVER KNEW THAT. So apparently these donuts brought in to work are a pre Lenten German tradition. I didn't succumb, but boy was I tempted.

    1. I know people who have Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers. I just looked it up in Wikipedia. Here's what it says: Shrove Tuesday, a moveable feast, is determined by Easter. The expression "Shrove Tuesday" comes from the word shrive, meaning "confess".[1] Shrove Tuesday is observed by many Christians, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Roman Catholics,[2] who "make a special point of self-examination, of considering what wrongs they need to repent, and what amendments of life or areas of spiritual growth they especially need to ask God's help in dealing with."[3]
      Being the last day before the penitential season of Lent, related popular practices, such as indulging in food that one sacrifices for the upcoming forty days, are associated with Shrove Tuesday celebrations, before commencing the fasting and religious obligations associated with Lent. The term Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday," referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday.

    2. And here I just thought it meant "Party hard, because tomorrow it's all going away." :D

      Same general principle, I suppose.

    3. And my beloved college roommate (who inspired my Austen Takes the South series) is a Methodist. We'd go to my Ash Wednesday service, her Maundy Thursday service (we call it Holy Thursday), my Good Friday service, my Easter Vigil (it's the coolest, we have a bonfire! Ok, it's really to light the Easter candle, but still), and her Easter Sunday service.
      I actually didn't know that a lot of Christian churches celebrate Ash Wednesday, since I'd only known non denominational Protestant when I was growing up.

      I also didn't know that John Wesley's brother Charles wrote a LOT of hymns we sing!

    4. Isn't it funny what you realize as you grow up? And I love that so many Lenten traditions cross many church doors.

      Working in the bakery, they made sure to carry Paczkis, (Polish bakery donuts) Fastnachts (Dutch stretched dough fried-cakes) and the famous sweet bread. And of course hot cross buns will come in a few weeks.... But I was never a fan of them. I could leap through this computer screen right now and chomp on that Kings Cake. With little remorse!

    5. Virginia, that sounds so fun to do that with your roommate. Trading off and sharing traditions.

      Yes! We love our Charles Wesley hymns! :)

    6. You know what's really odd? I made a friend a few years after college who was from Barbados. She is Monravian, and I'd never heard of it. A Methodist friend standing near us said, "Oh, sure, I know who those people are. John Wesley mentions them in his journal when he was on a ship in a storm and he was so impressed with their faith." I just watched them smile at each other. Great moment!

  5. I am very impressed, Virginia. I don't think I would have even attempted a King Cake. I used to work with a guy from New Orleans who always brought in a king cake. I never knew it was brioche, though.

    I have made brioche before. Long ago and far, far away. Makes an excellent French toast. And I have no doubt your homemade version is way better than the store-bought version he brought.

    Random thought... We should have a King party. Only things with KING in the name. King Cake, King Ranch Casserole, King Crab... ;)

    1. I just busted up laughing! Chicken a la King, Crispy King Salmon, Burger King sauce...

      And I think King Cake can be made a lot of different ways. I have to admit, I chose a recipe that looked more like bread and less like cake. In France, our king cakes were very flat, thick, almond cream in an almond crust.
      But I wanted to do a Southern recipe and this one said it was from N'Ahlinz. :D

  6. I had never heard of King Cake before this year, and now it's showing up EVERYWHERE! But I had no idea what it was, so thank you for the tutorial, Virginia!

    Only one complaint - like Tina, I'm looking for the brownies :)

    I grew up with Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers at church. Which really didn't make sense to me at the time. If I'm not giving up anything for Lent, why have the party the night before? Hmmm.... I guess that's what happens when you mix things up too much.

    Now we don't do Lent or Shrove Tuesday, so pass the brownies :)

  7. I'd never heard of Shrove Tuesday before college and I LOVED the idea of a pancake day. Seriously, how sweet is that?? "We know you've got Lent coming, so let's have a big party and get all sticky, so tomorrow we can face our forty days with courage!" LOL
    I need Lent. I just don't make enough sacrifices on my lonesome. Most people are very disciplined and don't float through life on Christmas and Easter, but I'm not one of those people. I need someone to remind me it's nt all fun and games. And pancakes.

    1. I don't want to be flippant about observing Lent or not. When I say we don't observe it, that doesn't mean we don't discipline ourselves in other ways. I support those who do observe Lent, though, and will be praying for all of you during these 40 days. :)

  8. P.S. Here's a site that has some awesome ideas for Lenten sacrifices. Making your bed every day first thing, not taking the best parking spot, turn off the radio in the car to have more prayer time, etc. I love the "give up mirrors"! That's something I would love to do!

  9. I was explaining Lent to some delightful readers online today.... and I had my sister say "Nobody does Lent anymore, do they?" And I thought, ummm.... gosh.... (raises hand) and said, "Yeah. I do."

    I love that we haven't ruined Easter like we've confiscated Christmas. I love the days of preparation, body and soul, and I love thinking of cool things the kids and I can do to show we're thinking about God's sacrifice.... Virginia, we usually make a similar thing (although I didn't this year) to think a sweet bread that we repeat for Easter.... although by then I'm so darned EXCITED ABOUT YUMMY FOOD that the simple sweet bread with jelly beans gets lost in the shuffle. But I love this, i love that sweet bread is a "thing" in so many cultures. Wonderful!!!!

    1. Funny, everybody I know (who is Christian) does Lent here. But some do a sort of "start a good habit" thing. Others work on discipline. But the Catholics I know... watch out! We've got some serious Lenten champions! I love the families that sing/pray the Divine Office as a Lenten tradition. It reminds me of the beautiful Dominican monastery that was my home parish in Poland and the Dominicans that staffed my home parish when I was in school in Eugene, OR. It depends on the year, but we usually just try to focus on sacrifice, of Jesus' time in the desert, of his temptations and his refusal to take the easy route.

  10. coworker stayed laet for me tonight so I was able to go to Ash Wednesday service. it was awesome and the first I've been to since I was muchmuchyounger I think. I vaguely remember one Ash Wednesday service wen I was middle school or high school but apparently methodists have always observed it LOL - guess it depends on the church since ours were probably added on with our fellowship dinner afterwards. I loved teh service though and the communion.

    1. That's really neat Susanna! I'm glad you had a chance to go!