Serving a King Cake during Mardi Gras celebrations is a tradition that honors the Magi who visited the Christ child on the twelfth night or Epiphany (January 6).
The cake is shaped in a ring with a pecan, bean or plastic baby placed inside the dough, before baking, to represent the baby Jesus.
The cake is then decorated with the purple, green and gold colors of Mardi Gras, and divided among guests. Whoever finds the baby doll will host the next King Cake celebration.
4 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water (110-115 degrees F)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup cold milk
1 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 stick butter or margarine
5-6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick butter or margarine, melted
2 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 dried bean, shelled pecans, or naked plastic babies
3 tablespoons soft butter or margarine
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
4-6 tablespoons milk
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Combine the yeast, 1/2 of the sugar, and the lukewarm water in a very large bowl, stir well and set aside for a few minutes until the mixture swells slightly and small bubbles appear on the surface. Stir in the remaining sugar, milk, yogurt, lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Mix well. Add egg yolks and mix again.
In another bowl, work the butter/margarine into 5 cups of the flour.
Add the flour-butter/margarine mixture to the yeast mixture a cup at a time, mixing well after each cup is added. Begin to knead in the bowl, adding more flour if necessary to make a smooth, elastic dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 5 minutes, adding more flour if the dough is still sticky.
Shape the dough into a ball and place in a bowl which has been buttered or sprayed with a no-stick spray. Cover and let stand in a warm place until dough doubles in size.
Punch dough down and divide in half. Roll each half on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 8 x 14 inches. Brush each rectangle with 1/2 stick of melted butter or margarine. Combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle 1/2 of the mixture over each rectangle. Roll up from the wide end, as you would a jelly roll, inserting one of the dried beans, pecans, or naked babies along the way. Press the ends of the dough together and stretch the roll into an oval about 14 inches long. Place on a greased/sprayed cookie sheet and allow to rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 35-45 minutes until the cakes are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with the fingers. Remove from the oven and cool for 30 minutes.
Beat the butter or margarine until softened. Add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and continue to beat, gradually adding milk until a glaze consistency is achieved. Use half of the icing on each cake.
Spread the icing evenly over each cake and decorate immediately with granulated sugar that has been rendered purple, green and gold with food coloring, making alternating bands of color.
Other decorating options:
Divide the icing into three portions and use food coloring to make purple, green and gold icing. Spread in alternating bands along the length of the cakes.
Use purple, green and gold gumdrops, jelly beans, or other candy to decorate the white icing.
Recipe courtesy of New Orleans Public Library.
Bonus Trivia Question:
And, why are those three colors chosen for the King cake?