C.A.R.N.I.V.A.L.E. This is the celebration that occurs before the Christian season of Lent. It starts on January 6th, which is the Feast of the Epiphany. It’s believed on this 12th day after the birth of Christ the 3 Kings – Wisemen – came to visit Baby Jesus. In my Italian house, the Epiphany was the ‘true Christmas’ and that Christmas tree stayed up until that date.
So, the King Cake celebrates this event. It’s decorated with three rich colors: Purple, Green and Gold. These colors mean something. Purple means Justice, Green equals Faith and Gold represents Power. And, this Carnivale celebration all comes to a crescendo on Shrove Tuesday, aka Fat Tuesday. This year, it’s celebrated on February 9th, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. And, that’s the biggest celebration of all – culminating in huge parades – lots of costumes and floats and beads and coins.
If you’ve never been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, you must go! If you’ve never been to New Orleans ever, this exciting, history-filled city must be on your bucket list. There are so many well-known restaurants and fun places to hang out – like Nola’s, Acme Oyster Company, Pat O’Brien’s and Cafe du Monde. But, there are some other obscure places like The Corporation, Snug Harbor, Mother’s (great for breakfast) and Tipitina’s (great music). My husband and I went to some speakeasy type restaurant under an underpass where we had to give the name of a friend before they let us in. The best meal and experience we ever had in New Orleans. Of course, we can’t remember the name of it, which was actually a number. It’s great getting old. In addition to Mardi Gras, I’ve also been to New Orleans for a Super Bowl and numerous conventions and have never been disappointed.
And, yes, I know the locals stay as far away as possible from Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, but it’s an experience of a life time. Leave before it gets too late and the craziness starts and it’s all good.
The dough for the King cake is a rich Brioche dough – made with milk and butter and eggs. This is a super sticky dough and it’s so much easier to handle if you make the dough and refrigerate it overnight. I know it takes some extra time, but this is a special cake and it’s worth it. There’s also the tradition of baking a plastic baby in the cake. What does that all mean? Well there are a couple of opinions. One thought is that the person that gets the baby will have good luck. Another opinion is that the person that gets the baby will get pregnant. But, one more practical meaning is that if you get the baby, you are responsible for providing the next King Cake and the party that goes along with it.
I’ve found that it’s best to roll out the dough between two pieces of parchment, but because this dough is so sticky, it’s best if you flour the parchment, place the dough down and flour the top of the dough and place the parchment on top and roll out to a 12″ x 20″ rectangle. You’ll spread the filling on one side of the dough and, using the parchment to help you move the dough, you’ll fold the other half of the dough over the filling. The dough gets cut into 3 even 2″ wide strips and gets braided. This dough starts to warm up pretty quickly and you may struggle a bit with the braid. If it gets too soft, just pop it back in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes and try again. Basically, it truly doesn’t matter how mangled it looks. It’s going to raise for about 45 to 60 minutes until double. You’ll bake it and once it’s cool, you’re going to drown it with a Buttermilk Glaze and colored sugar. No one will ever know what’s under there. All they’ll know is that it is perfect for breakfast with a good cup of Chicory coffee (just like at Cafe du Monde). You’ll need a nap in about an hour, but no problem.
Buon Appetito! xoxo