A Weird Louisiana Thing

For as long as I can remember, every year in the dead of mid-winter Mom would come home triumphantly carrying a white box from the grocery store’s bakery. The box was usually decorated in purple, green and yellow with harlequins or masks; the pastry inside in the form of a lumpy oblong, and there was usually a little plastic nude seated in the green, yellow and purple sugar and glaringly white icing. Occasionally they were even brazen enough to label it as “authentic New Orleans” King Cake.

Every year Mom would try to explain the significance of the King Cake, and the mid-winter festivities associated with it. Each of the colors meant something, and they were only made for a few weeks a year. She would talk about Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday and Lent like it meant something. Then again, she spent what she calls her “formative years” in New Orleans.

I don’t really remember the significance, but I remember the little naked fellow was supposed to be Jesus (as a baby, so it was OK for him to be in the nude). Theoretically little naked Jesus was to be hidden in the cake, and the person that found him was supposed to buy/make the next cake and throw the next party.

Inevitably that never really happened, Mom would invite a half-dozen or so people over and we’d all have cake. A week or so later, another cake would appear, and a few more people would be invited over. Sometimes the “baby” would make it into the cake, but the little nudes usually collected in a container near the cupcake wrappers (no one wanted to misplace baby Jesus and accidently slice him in half, or choke on him).

I am not the sort of person who feels that food should be limited to certain times of the year (with the possible exception of Thanksgiving turkey), so when I came across a recipe for King Cake I decided to give it a try. The fact I am making this cake at approximately the “right” time of year is merely coincidental.

Actually, now that I look at the recipe factoid, I might not be on schedule, but that’s OK.

Served beginning on Epiphany, or Twelfth Night (January 6), it’s enjoyed right on through Mardi Gras, a sweet symbol of this festive season. The sugars decorating the top of the cake mirror the color scheme of many a Mardi Gras parade float: gold (yellow) for power, green for faith, and purple for justice.

When I (rather proudly) told Gavin that I had made a King Cake, I got a rather blank stare. When I tried to further explain it with the wiki entry and some google images, the response came back: So it’s a weird Louisiana thing?

I guess that’s one way to put it.

Mine turned out rounder and less twisty/free form than most, the recipe called for a pan (which was improvised), next time I will remember the correct amount of butter (1 stick not 2), and free-form and twist the dough for a more exciting shape. The sugar colors look better on the cake than they do in the photos, I made those myself using regular white sugar and food coloring (thanks to Rebecca for the tip). The purple looks a bit off in the photos, but it looks quite good on the cake.

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So this evening after dinner (home made pizza, after all, it is Friday), I carefully cut into the cake. Gavin looked on skeptically, and then declared it was “interesting” and then “good.” I found it a little dry, but I was happy that the extra stick of butter didn’t do any harm.


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