Mardi Gras King Cake
It’s my favorite day of the year to be in New Orleans – Mardi Gras (French for Fat Tuesday), the culmination of the annual carnival season. Mardi Gras day is an official holiday in New Orleans. Everyone is out there in costume, watching Rex and Zulu, the two big parades, second lining in the French Quarter (i.e., following a marching band and dancing along to the fat tunes of the tuba, drums, and trumpets), enjoying a cup of gumbo or a plate of red beans and rice, and of course, admiring the incredibly beautiful handmade costumes of the Mardi Gras Indians. Mardi Gras day is New Orleans at its best. If it was up to me, every day would be Mardi Gras, but I guess it wouldn’t be special anymore.
This year, we’re not in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and we’re missing it terribly. Especially Mardi Gras King Cake, because it’s simply not Mardi Gras without a King Cake. King Cakes are a European tradition brought to Louisiana by the French and Spanish, honoring the Three Wise Kings who came to Bethlehem on the Twelfth Night (twelve days after Christmas). There are as many different King Cakes as there are cooks, but they all have at least three things in common. The cake is always a round or oval shaped ring traditionally filled with cinnamon. It always contains a plastic baby representing Baby Jesus, and whoever happens to find the baby in his slice has to either throw the next King Cake party, or buy the next cake. And the cake is always decorated in the traditional colors of Mardi Gras – green (representing faith), purple (representing justice), and gold (representing power).
In New Orleans, we always get our King Cake at a place called Randazzo’s. People often line up there around the block just to get the cake. But my husband, who is from New Orleans and the biggest King Cake aficionado you can imagine swears they make the best King Cake on the planet. Unfortunately, Randazzo’s doesn’t ship to Europe, and knowing that my husband can’t go for an entire year without having his beloved Mardi Gras King Cake, I decided to take matters into my own hands and bake him one.
I used this recipe from Whole Foods, but with a couple of minor changes. After the first rise, I rolled the dough into a rectangle with a rolling pin, sprinkled it with cinnamon, and then starting from the long side of the rectangle rolled it up into a tight log. To achieve the typical ring shape of the cake, I simple attached the ends to each other. For the glaze, I omitted the lemon juice, because there simply is no lemon in King Cake glaze. Ever. If you like colored sprinkles or colored sanding sugar, and alternative is to not color the sugar glaze but leave it white and spread it over the top of the cake. Once it has started to dry a bit add green, gold and purple sprinkles or sugar. I’m not a fan of either. Unfortunately, my purple glaze came out a bit too dark making it look almost black in the photo, but my husband said the cake tasted as good as the one from Randazzo’s, and that’s a huge compliment!
Happy Mardi Gras!