The King of Cakes
King cakes, a quintessential Mardi Gras treat, descended from a cake served by the Romans at the Saturnalia Fest. The Romans baked a bean inside their version, and ever since then all sorts of trinkets have been concealed in the cake, like plastic pigs, pieces of candy, and today’s tiny baby. Mardi Gras begins on January 6, the twelfth night after Christmas, and the search for the plastic baby in the king cake signifies the three kings’ search for baby Jesus. Custom dictates that whoever finds the baby is said to have good luck for the day, as well as the responsibility of throwing the next Mardi Gras party (or at least supplying the king cake).
For those ready for a weekend project, we have three recipes that will get you ready to celebrate Mardi Gras. First, native New Orleanian David Guas of Bayou Bakery bakes a classic sweet bread king cake laced with cinnamon, filled with Creole cream cheese, and decorated with sugar tinted the three colors of Mardi Gras: gold for power, green for faith, and purple for justice. Meanwhile, Kristen Essig of Coquette bakes a traditional French galette de rois. Her cake has a puff pastry crust that’s filled with almond-brandy butter and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar. And Lisa Marie White of Biscuit Love fills her brioche base with bananas, toasted pecans, and a mascarpone filling with a smattering of caramel sauce.
Make Your Own Crown Confection
Native New Orleanian David Guas of Bayou Bakery reminisces of king cakes past, “When I was in high school, some friends and I would stop at McKenzie’s bakery on the way to swim practice, buy a king cake, and try to out-eat one another while driving to the pool. Whoever finished the king cake by the time we got to practice was the winner and undisputed master of the king cake. Needless to say, we weren’t the speediest (or most buoyant) swimmers during Carnival season!”
“With the coffee-cake and brioche-style king cakes readily available, classic French king cake (a puff pastry tart filled with an almond-brandy-butter filling, also known as frangipane) can be hard to find. I’ve been making it since being introduced to the recipe by my friend and mentor, chef Anne Kearney,” says Kristen Essig of Coquette in New Orleans.
Pastry chef Lisa Marie White, of Biscuit Love in Nashville (and formerly of Willa Jean in New Orleans), bakes a brioche base but fills hers with bananas, toasted pecans, and a mascarpone filling topped with caramel sauce for a decadent finish.
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