Friday, January 9, 2015

Foodie Friday: #fbf King Cake

Sorry for the sad picture, I hadn't learned the secret of natural lighting in 2009...
It's officially the season of Carnival (from the evening of January 5 - Fat Tuesday, I believe) and that means: KING CAKE! Almost every year I am fascinated by King Cake. Normally I have had King Cakes that are basically large cinnamon rolls, covered in thin icing, and sprinkled with sugar. But this year I have learned that they can have all sort of fillings, including cream cheese and pralines (not together). 

Living in Houston, I've always felt a sort of connection to Louisiana, New Orleans, and therefore Mardi Gras. When you're in Houston, Louisiana is Texas' closest neighboring state and in a state as large as Texas, that's a big deal. 

Several years ago I made a King Cake for my family that was pretty much cinnamon bread with pecans and raisins. I remember it being rather dry, but still tasty. This year I'm thinking I might make one with a cream cheese filling. So....this isn't the last time you'll see me post about King Cake (most likely). 

But today I'm posting that recipe from way back when (hence the "flash back Friday", aka #fbf), partly because it's King Cake season, and partly because I sadly have not cooked anything this week and have nothing new to post. Sad face. 

Oh well. I highly recommend making a King Cake this season. It's so fun! Anyway, here's an old post from 2009...

At church on Sunday one of the elders, who was speaking, explained the 12 Days of Christmas. The 12 days from December 26 to January 6 represent the time period it took the 3 wise men (you know, "we three kings of Orient are...") to journey to see the newborn King Jesus. Epiphany is the celebration of the wise men's discovery of the One, True King.

I was really fascinated by the elder's explanation. I grew up in a church that did not observe Epiphany and I've always only vaguely understood what it celebrated. As for the 12 Days of Christmas, I think I've grown up my whole life singing that Christmas carol and just being baffled - what are the "12 days of Christmas", what does that mean, and why??

Now those 12 days make sense. For Christians, the celebration of Christ's birth shouldn't just last one day! In the days leading up to December 25, we are celebrating His impending arrival (called Advent in the church) and in the days following the 25th, we are still celebrating because He has been born! It makes sense that the celebration should not end after the 25th. So, I guess according to the church calendar, you could keep your Christmas tree and lights up and keep singing Christmas carols and celebrating with friends and family until January 6th. January 1st is actually not a Christian holiday and not the "new year" on the church calendar.

I just think that's interesting.

For several years now I have enjoyed "celebrating" Epiphany mostly because (and maybe only because) I wanted to eat King Cake! :) King Cake has always confused me with its Mardi Gras colors and connection to New Orleans. Most of the King Cakes I've had have come from the grocery store. One year my dad bought my college roommate and I a giant King Cake all for ourselves. I was eating King Cake for breakfast for days!

While I have always enjoyed grocery store King Cakes (last year at this time of year, when my friend and I would go grocery shopping at Target, we would get several samples of King Cake every time...) this year I was curious about making my own. I found some complicated recipes and some very simple recipes. Since I have some time off right now, I decided to go with one of the more complicated recipes. And no, it did not involve almond paste.

The name "King Cake" comes from the fact that the 3 wise men were looking for The King. As an added fun factor, most of the time, a little plastic baby is hidden in the cake. Whoever finds the baby in their piece of cake is supposed to either make the cake the next year or get a prize. If you can't find a baby, you could substitute almost anything else - a piece of chocolate, a whole nut, an orange slice. Just make sure you insert the "baby" AFTER you bake the cake. You don't want Baby Jesus to melt inside your cake! I couldn't find a plastic baby (sad day), so I used a Whopper (candy).

The circular shape of the cake could represent Christian unity and the 3 colors of sugar could represent the 3 gifts that the wise men gave Jesus. It's fun to think about - I like my food to have meaning!

King Cake
Adapted from several sources

1 packet dry, active yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup warm water (110-120 degrees F)
1/2 cup milk
2 Tablespoons butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 3/4 cup flour

1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Green, Gold, and Purple colored sugar

In your mixing bowl place 1/2 Tablespoon (of the 1/4 cup) sugar, the warm water, and the packet of yeast. In that order. Measure the temperature of your water, if you can. You don't want to kill the yeast with water that's too hot. You don't have to mix this up, just let it sit for 10 minutes until it's bubbly. (It will look kind of gross - to me anyway).

In a saucepan scald the milk. To my understanding, scalding the milk means bringing almost to a boil, but not quite! Don't let it boil! Stir in the butter (it will slowly melt) and then let the milk mixture cool to room temperature.

In your mixing bowl, with the whisk attachment, combine the yeast mixture, the milk mixture, the rest of the sugar, nutmeg, and salt. Add the flour, 1 cup at a time until well combined. Scrape down the sides of your bowl periodically.

Now switch from your whisk attachment to your bread hook attachment and knead the dough on low speed for 10 minutes. If you don't have a coveted bread hook attachment, you will have to knead by hand, on a lightly floured surface, for 10 minutes.

Now, get a clean bowl, spray some nonstick spray in the bottom, plop your dough in there, and spray some more nonstick spray on top of the dough. Cover it with a clean cloth, in a warm area of your kitchen, and let it rise for about 2 hours.

While you're waiting, make the filling: combine all the filling ingredients until the mixture is crumbly. You can omit the pecans and/or raisins if you don't like them.

When your dough has risen (mine took less than 2 hours), roll it out, on a lightly floured surface to a large rectangle, about 10x16 inches. Now you have 2 options.

Option 1: On one half of the dough sprinkle the filling mixture. Fold the other half of the dough over the filling. Seal the edges of the dough. Use a pizza cutter or knife to cut the filled dough into 3 long strips (lengthwise). Now braid those 3 strips together and then connect them in the shape of a circle. This is what I attempted to do and I'm not going to lie - it was a little tricky! Mine didn't come out perfectly braided, more of a crazy twist, but it still look good.

Option 2: Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough. Then roll the dough up like a jelly-roll, or like you're making home-made cinnamon rolls. Then connect the ends of the dough to form a circle and cut slits in the top of the dough, every inch or so.

Place your cake on a well greased or parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Place a clean towel over the cake and let it rise for about 45 minutes. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20-30 minutes.

When the cake comes out of the even, while it is still warm, drizzle it with the icing and then sprinkle it with the sugars. I had some green sugar already, leftover from the holidays. But I made my own gold and purple sugar just by adding food coloring to plain white sugar and stirring for a long time. I wasn't really satisfied with the shade of the purple sugar, but oh well, the gold came out great and it's just for decoration, doesn't really effect the taste much!

Makes 1 small cake, for about 6-8 people. Double the recipe to make 2 cakes.

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