Friday, February 18, 2011

Did you say there's a flamingo in that cake?

Officially checked off my list of life and things to make is the King Cake. Yes, that pastry that epitomizes Mardi Gras, New Orleans, debauchery, etc. That giant cinnamon bun monstrosity, the cake that really does take a day to make. There's scalding, rising, kneading, rolling, and icing involved over what ended up being an 8 hour time frame. Granted, while the rising was taking place there were not a lot of other things to do- besides make ceviche- so it's not like a slaving over the stove cake. But was it worth it? Well, let's just say even my vegan friends gave in and tried it at the anti-S.A.D. party, and said it was worth cheating.
King Cakes are another pastry of European descent. Associated with the festival of Epiphany in Europe and with Carnival in Brazil, in the U.S. they're most typically linked to Mardi Gras. Named for the biblical 3 Kings, New Orleans King Cake Parties started by French and Spanish immigrants in the Louisiana area are documented back to the eighteenth century. The most traditional New Orleans style King Cake is made with a bread similar to Brioche, stuffed with a mixture similar to a cinnamon roll and twisted into a ring. Iced and then topped with the Mardi Gras colors of gold, green and purple. Gold to represent power, green for faith and purple for justice.
The cake was monstrous!
Inside the cake is a hidden trinket, typically a plastic baby, but anything small enough to stuff but not too small to choke on can represent the trinket, such as a small plastic flamingo taken off a drink stirrer in our case. The tradition is that whoever has the slice with the trinket has to bring the cake the next year, and since I was the one that stuffed the flamingo into the cake and knew exactly where it was, I knew exactly where to avoid grabbing a slice from. Not that I would never make this again, in fact now that I know how it's a little less daunting. I would definitely cut the recipe in half because the cake that resulted was HUGE. But the smells of cinnamon, nutmeg and bread that resulted from baking made it pleasant to make and obviously it was a hit at the party. But for me it is checked of the list... for now.
King Cake
1 c. milk
1/4 c. butter
2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
2/3 c. warm water
1/2 c. white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
5 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1 c. packed brown sugar
1 Tbl ground cinnamon
2/3 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. raisins
1/2 c. melted butter

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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Preheat oven to 375. Grease cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.

5. To Make Filling: 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.

6. 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.

7. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Push the doll into the bottom of the cake. Frost while warm.

Cream Cheese Frosting
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. butter, softened
1.5-2 c. sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar. Store in the refrigerator after use.

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