Tuesday, March 4, 2014

It's Fat Tuesday-time to enjoy some King Cake

Epiphany, celebrated twelve nights after Christmas in European countries, marks the coming of the wise men who brought gifts to the Christ Child. People from all over the world celebrate Epiphany by exchanging gifts and feasting. A very popular custom that is still celebrated is the making of the “King’s Cake” which represents the three kings who brought gifts. A plastic baby is baked inside the King Cake. The tradition is whoever receives the baby in their piece of cake must buy the next King Cake or throw the next party. King Cakes are made of a cinnamon filled dough in the shape of a hollow circle. The cake is topped with a delicious glazed topping and then sprinkled with colored sugar. The three colors of sugar are Purple (representing Justice), Green (representing Faith) and Gold (representing Power). Today the King Cakes are baked with a wide assortment of fillings inside the cake. Hundreds of thousands of King Cakes are eaten in New Orleans during the Carnival season and many are shipped throughout the U.S. to those longing for a taste of Mardi Gras.

We have found King Cakes availble locally from Manderfields Bakery, ordered ahead or available in limited supply on Fat Tuesday.  My husband decided to give King Cakes a try.  He used the following 2 recipes for a starting point, using some of his sourdough starter.  To create the colored sugars, we added the desired food color to white sugar, shaking to mix the color and adding more color until we reached the desired shades. 

Mardi Gras King Cake

 1      c.       milk
 1/4   c.       butter
 2      pkgs. active dry yeast (.25 ounce)
 2/3   c.       warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
 1/2   c.       white sugar
 2                eggs
 1 1/2 t.       salt
 1/2    t.       freshly grated nutmeg
 5 1/2 c.      all-purpose flour
 1   c.  packed brown sugar
 1   T.  ground cinnamon
 2/3 c. chopped pecans
 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
 1/2 c. raisins
 1/2 c. melted butter
 1 c.  confectioners' sugar
 1 T. water

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.
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.
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.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
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.
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.
Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Push the doll into the bottom of the cake. Frost while warm with the confectioners' sugar blended with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.

King Cake

 2    pkgs. active dry yeast (.25 oz.)
 1/2 c.      white sugar
 1    c.      warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
 1/2 c.      butter, melted
 5             egg yolks
 4    c.      all-purpose flour
 2    t.       salt
 1    t.       ground nutmeg
 1    t.       grated lemon zest
 1   pkg.   package cream cheese (8 oz.)
 1/2 c.      confectioners' sugar
 2    c.      confectioners' sugar
 1/4 c.      lemon juice
 2    T.     milk
 1    T.     multicolored colored sugars (green, yellow, & purple)

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and white sugar in warm milk. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
Stir the egg yolks and melted butter into the milk mixture. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, nutmeg and lemon zest. Beat the flour mixture 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 supple, about 8 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese and 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar. Mix well. In another small bowl, combine the remaining 2 cups confectioners' sugar, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons milk. Mix well and set aside.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Roll the dough out into a 6x30 inch rectangle. Spread the cream cheese filling across the center of the dough. Bring the two long edges together and seal completely. Using your hands shape the dough into a long cylinder and place on a greased baking sheet, seam-side down. Shape the dough into a ring press the baby into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough. Place a well-greased 2 pound metal coffee can the center of the ring to maintain the shape during baking. Cover the ring with a towel and place in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Bake in preheated oven until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove the coffee can and allow the bread to cool. Drizzle cooled cake with lemon/sugar glaze and decorate with colored sugars.


Here in northeast Wisconsin, Paczki (pronounced POANCH-kee), is the traditional choice for Fat Tuesday.  To Americans of Polish descent, Pączki Day means eating pączki, special jelly-filled buns. While the practice of Pączki Day is traditionally observed the day before Ash Wednesday in the United States, in Poland, Pączki sales are the highest on Tlusty Czwartek, or “Fat Thursday.” (The Thursday before Ash Wednesday), the day marking the start of the final week of the pre-Lenten celebrations. Traditionally, butter, sugar, eggs, and jams would be gathered up to make Paczki to use up the ingredients so people wouldn't be tempted to eat them during the 40 day period of lent.

Last year Smurawa's Bakery in the village of Pulaski (with a population of less than 4,000) served up almost 20,000 of these delicious pastries to visitors streaming into town.  Smurawa’s boasts a variety of different flavored Paczki : Apple,  Apricot,  Blueberry, Cherry, Chocolate French Creme, Custard, French Creme, Lemon, Peanut Butter, Pineapple, Poppyseed, Prune, Raspberry, Strawberry, and Red Velvet Paczki.  The pastries are covered in powder sugar or dipped in cream cheese icing.

I have no intentions of trying to make these on my own, since they require deep-fat frying-better left ot others, in my opinion.  But I was intrigued by recipes in the Polish American Journal from Polish Heritage Cookery by Robert Strybel.

This is an old recipe modified for those who prefer granulated, active dry yeast to a the more traditional compressed fresh yeast.

Beat 12 egg yolks with 1. t. salt at high speed until thick and lemony. Dissolve 2 packets of dry yeast in 1/4 c. 110-degree water. Separately, cream 1/3 c. room-temp. butter with 1/2 c. granulated sugar until fluffy, and beat into yeast mixture. Scald 1 c. whipping cream and cool to lukewarm.
Gradually add 2 c. flour and the cream, plus 3 T. French brandy, beating constantly. Then add 2 more c. flour and finally the yolk mixture. Knead well until air blisters appear. Cover with cloth and let stand in warm place until doubled. Punch down and let rise again. Roll out on floured board, sprinkling top of dough with a little flour, about 3/4 inch thick.
Cut into 2 inch rounds and top half of them with spoonful fruit filling. Cover with remaining rounds, pinch edges together with seal. (Note: If dough is dry, moisten edges with water before pinching together.) Place pączki on floured board, cover with cloth, and let raise until doubled.  Heat 11/2-2 lbs. lard in deep pan so pączki can float freely during frying. It is hot enough when a small piece of dough dropped into hot fat immediately floats up. Fry pączki under cover without crowding several minutes until nicely browned on bottom, then turn over and fry uncovered on other side another 3 minutes or so. (If using electric fryer, set temp. at 360-375 degrees. If frying in stove-top pan and fat begins to burn, add several slices of peeled raw potato which will both lower the temperature and absorb the burnt flavor.)  Pączki may also be fried in oil, but lard produces the tastiest results. If you are cutting down on animal fats, you can compromise by using a lard and oil combination. drain on absorbent paper, and when cool, dust with vanilla sugar or cover with glaze, preferably containing some grated orange ring.

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