King Cake for Mardi Gras

Many people do not know that the term Mardi Gras actually means “Fat Tuesday.” Fat Tuesday is the last day of the Carnival season which begins on Twelfth Night (January 6th is the twelfth night after Christmas which is also known as the Feast of the Epiphany) and ends the day before Ash Wednesday. This is the last opportunity to celebrate before the beginning of Lent. The pre-Lenten carnival has Roman Catholic origins and is celebrated in New Orleans, as well as Brazil, France, and Germany. A tradition of the Mardi Gras season is the King cake. The cake has hidden within its sweet brioche, a token, usually a plastic or ceramic baby, coin, or bean to represent Mary and Joseph hiding their baby from King Herod's persecution. When the cake is cut the recipient of the token is the King (or Queen), and can expect good fortune in the coming year. The recipient is also responsible for providing next year’s King cake. King Cakes have a reputation of being hard to make, but I think this recipe will put an end to that myth.

King Cake Dough:
1 package active dry yeast (1 Tablespoon)
½ cup warm milk
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
3 ½ cups sifted flour

4-6 ounces jam or preserves of your choice
1/4 cup softened butter
1 token (baby, coin, bean)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk and allow to proof (bubble). In a large bowl, cream together 1/4 cup butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring between additions. Next, add the yeast mixture, and mix. Gradually blend in the flour one cup at a time. Mix together until a soft dough is formed. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise in a warm location until it doubles in size, about 2 hours.

Gently deflate the dough and transfer to a floured surface. Roll out the dough into a large rectangle. Grease the token and push it into the dough, then rub 1/4 cup of softened butter over the rectangle of dough. Spread preserves over the buttered rectangle. Starting from one long side, roll the rectangular dough into the shape of a tube. Pinch the seam and gently place the roll on a greased cookie sheet to form a ring, pinching the ends to seal. 

Cover the ring again with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise for 30 minutes to an hour. Place in a pre-heated 375ยบ oven and cook for about 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown. It should feel firm to the touch and have an internal temperature of about 190°F. 

Let the pastry cool and decorate with purple, green, and yellow frosting and colored sugars. Add beads to the plate for decoration.
Epiphany, mardi gras, fat tuesday