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King Cake for Carnival Season

When I was little, all of my friends would get their Christmas trees right after Thanksgiving. I would go spend the night and listen to Christmas carols and enjoy their fully decorated trees and then go home to my house that was in full Advent mode. Yes, we decorated for Advent, the season before Christmas. The greenery wound around our bannisters and the wreath on our door had blue bows. The Mary and Joseph from our crèches would stand on a mantle, while the manger sat empty across the room surrounded by waiting barn animals. And don’t even ask about the Wise Men. They were trailing Mary and Joseph from afar.

After years of choosing between the tree that looked perfect until you saw the three foot wide gap between branches in the back and the tree that was so crooked its trunk seemed to have a full letter “Z” midway up, we realized we needed to start buying a tree earlier than Christmas week. Then, we’d head out Thanksgiving weekend with all the other families and find a beautiful tree…that would then sit in our garage in a bucket of water for three weeks.

When Christmas week would arrive, my brother and I would begin pestering to get to decorate. The tree would finally come inside and red bows would replace the blue ones. On Christmas day, Mary and Joseph would arrive at their stable (and a baby Jesus would be pulled from a drawer somewhere) and the Wise Men would get to move slightly closer.

While the waiting was terrible as a kid, there was also a silver lining since our Christmas lasted until January 6, when the church calendar changed from Christmas to Epiphany. So as all my friends had their trees taken down on the 26th, mine stayed up.

I know that, at my house, the Wise Men have finally made it to the manger today. Here in New Orleans, the garbage men drove past this morning and picked up my tree that I undecorated yesterday. Of course, I’m also transitioning to Carnival season, which kicks off with Epiphany. So, while my tree was going in the garbage truck, I sat eating a piece of King Cake, a Carnival treat that makes the seasonal transitions sweeter…

King Cake
Adapted from Taste of Home
Makes two cakes

Because the recipe makes two cakes, I decided that it seemed silly to make them the same. That makes it harder to justify sampling both often; now, I need to try them a few times to see which is better, right? For one, I used the almond cake filling that the recipe recommended. For the other, I spread melted butter on the dough before coating it in a brown sugar-cinnamon mixture. Both are delicious.

1 package dry yeast
½ cup warm water
½ cup warm milk
⅓ cup shortening
⅓ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 egg
4 cups flour

1 can almond cake and pastry filling
2 tbs butter, melted
1 ½ cup brown sugar
1 tbs cinnamon
1 tbs flour

3 cups confectioner’s sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
4 tbs water
purple, green, and gold sugars

In the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add next 5 ingredients and 2 cups of flour. Beat on medium speed for 6 minutes. Gradually add the rest of the flour, while beating on low speed, until a dough has formed. It will be slightly sticky.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 6-8 minutes, or until dough is smooth. Form into ball and put it into an oiled bowl. Turn to coat. Cover and let sit for an hour, or until doubled.

Punch dough down and divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll one half out into a 16” x 10” sheet. Starting with the almond filling, cover the sheet to within ½” of the edge. Roll the sheet, up starting with the long side. Pinch to seal and place on a greased baking sheet. Pull the two ends together and inch these to seal. Repeat with the other dough half. For the filling, melt the butter and spread within ½” and then cover with the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Cover both formed circles and allow to rise for another hour.

Bake at 375° for 20 minutes. Keep a close eye on them thought – they dough can burn fast, so if it looks golden brown, go ahead and take it out! To ice, combine the sugar, vanilla, and water to reach an icing consistency and cover the cakes. Then, stripe the cakes with the three sugar combinations.

Picnic tip: Try your king cake as a sweet breakfast treat. Pack a coffee backpack and your slice of cake.


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