Carnival Season

In New Orleans and other areas with historically large French Catholic populations, the time between Twelfth Night or Epiphany, January 6, and Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday sometime in February, is known as the Carnival Season. One of the most enduring rituals of the season is the preparation and eating of King's Cake or le galette du Roi. In France, the cake is a large round of flaky pastry filled with almond frangipane or a rich creme patissiere. In New Orleans, the traditional King's Cake is made with sweetened yeast dough, frosted with a powdered sugar glaze, and decorated with brightly colored sugars: purple for justice; green for faith; and gold for power. Regardless of location, a plastic baby is traditionally placed in each cake and custom dictates the person who receives the baby in their slice is responsible for providing the next cake and/or hosting the next party.

Companies in New Orleans do a brisk mail-order business in King's Cakes this time of year, but several Austin bakeries are now offering them. Central Market (4001 N. Lamar, 206-1000) and Fiesta (3909 N. IH 35, 406-3900) both sell the New Orleans-style cake between Epiphany and Mardi Gras, while Sweetish Hill Bakery (1120 W. Sixth, 472-1347) and all three La Madeleine outlets prepare the classic French variety. It's also possible to make your own. Fleischmann's Yeast sent a recipe just in time for Carnival Season baking. I usually pitch all product information and accompanying recipes into the circular file, but this one caught my attention and I made it at home this week. It's relatively easy and yields a delicious cake that tastes great with a cup of Louisiana coffee.

King Cake

4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp salt

2 packages Fleischmann's RapidRiseô Yeast

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup butter

2 large eggs

1/4 cup melted butter

1 Tbs cinnamon

In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 cup sugar, salt, and dissolved yeast. Heat milk, water, and butter until very warm (120s to 130s F). Add to dry ingredients and beat for two minutes at medium speed of electric mixer. Add eggs and 1/2 cup flour. Beat on high speed for two minutes. Stir in remaining flour to make a stiff batter. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two to 24 hours. Punch dough down and place on a lightly floured surface. Divide into three equal pieces. Roll each into a 28" x 4" rectangle. Brush melted butter on each rectangle, sprinkle evenly a combination of the remaining 3/4 cup sugar and the cinnamon. Roll each piece of dough up tightly as for a jelly roll and pinch the seams to form ropes. Braid ropes together and form braid into an oval, pinching ends together to seal. Place on a baking sheet lined with baker's parchment. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about one hour. Bake in a pre-heated 375s oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven, cook on a rack. Cover with glaze and decorate with colored sugars.

Glaze: 2 cups powdered sugar; 2-3 Tablespoons milk; and 2-3 Tablespoons melted butter whisked together until smooth. Colored sugars are available where cake decorating supplies are sold.

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