Tuesday, January 10, 2012

King's Cake

Traditional shape indicating Wise men's route
The tradition is thought to have begun with French settlers, a custom dating back to 12th century France twelve days after Christmas. (When a cake was used to celebrate the arrival of the three wise men bearing gifts to the Christ child.) The celebration being called one of these names: The feast of Epiphany, Twelfth Night, or King's Day. The brioche-style King Cake is prepared in New Orleans bakeries for the period between the Twelfth Night (January 6) and Ash Wednesday. Although the cakes are baked in many shapes now (also different recipes) they were originally round in shape to portray the circular route taken by the Kings to confuse King Herod who was trying to follow the wise men so he could kill the child. The cakes usually contain a bean, pea, or a figurine symbolizing the baby Jesus.

In 1871 the tradition of choosing the queen of the Mardi Gras was determined by who drew the prize in the cake. It is definitely considered good luck to the person who gets the figure, and that person usually holds the next King Cake party. The colors of the King Cake are purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. (Since 1872 the colors have been used to tint the cake's icing.) As I said there are many different recipes more cake-like, doughnut-like, but to me they are not King's Cake!

This cake is based on a vintage recipe.


8 cups of all-purpose flour, sifted
A brioche style breakfast bread
6 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 pound butter or shortening
2 cups whole milk, scalded then cooled
to lukewarm
1/2 ounce yeast (2 1/4 once packages,
or about 4 1/2 tsp)
2 teaspoons salt
Candies to decorate


Take 6 cups flour, sift in a large mixing bowl. Before beginning the entire process in a second bowl, combine the last 2 cups flour with the salt; set aside. Add the 2 cups milk. Knead and mix the flour, while adding the milk. In a third mixing bowl, beat eggs with butter and sugar until light. Add to dough, kneading lightly, and adding more eggs if the dough is a little stiff. Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, then add the reserved flour and salt.
Knead the dough by turning it over on itself three times and set to rise again, covered with a cloth, for about an hour. Take it up and work again lightly, and then form into a ring. This is a large amount of dough, so it should be divided into several King's Cakes. (Unless you have a bakery size oven.)

This represents the Christ child today
Pat gently and flatten a little. The image of the Christ child is tucked in before baking. (it was porcelain when I was young) Have ready a greased parchment paper and set the ring in the middle. Cover the pan with a clean cloth, and set the cake to rise for an hour longer. When well risen, glaze the loaves lightly with a beaten egg. Place in 325° oven; let bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or less if making smaller loaves. Decorate with colored icings and candies, as desired.

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