New Orleans tradition now worldwide
By: By MARY FOSTER Associated Press Writer
By MARY FOSTER
Associated Press Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — In New Orleans, people have always known what king cake is and when you should eat it.
These days that certainty is fading.
For years families celebrated the arrival of Carnival season with king cake — an oval-shaped pastry that commemorates 12th Night — Jan. 6 — the day the Catholic faith says three wise men arrived with gifts for the baby Jesus.
That’s as it should be, said Carnival historian Errol Laborde. Like oysters, Creole tomatoes and crawfish, things are better at the proper time.
“No king cake will touch my lips before 12th Night or after Mardi Gras,” Laborde said.
For years after French settlers brought the tradition to New Orleans, king cake was a plain pastry topped with purple, green and gold sugar and eaten only during the Carnival season, which culminates on Mardi Gras, Feb. 5 this year.
The Twelfth Night Revelers — the krewe whose ball traditionally signals the start of the season of parades and balls — uses a wooden replica of a king cake. Women pull open little drawers in the cake’s lower layer which contain silver and gold beans. Silver means you’re in the ball’s royal court; get a gold bean and you’re the queen.
Traditional king cake is made of sweet bread-like pastry with thin icing and sugar topping. Each contains a plastic baby, but the tradition originally called for a red bean. In community life beyond the trappings of private balls, the person who gets the baby is supposed to supply the next king cake for family or office gatherings.
“I’m a purest,” said cookbook author Kit Wolh. “I believe king cake should be what it’s always been, plain and with a baby, but now people have gilded the lily. Now they can be made with stuffing, it can be sweet or savory.”
To the dismay of traditionalists, king cakes now can be many flavors and shapes, and are available all year round.
“That’s how it used to be — you only ate them on King’s Day,” said David Haydel Jr., 32, whose family has been baking in New Orleans for three generations. “It gradually expanded out through whole season and now, with the Internet, we do king cakes all year.”
New Orleans is the king cake capital, but other cities with a European Carnival tradition have bakeries that produce some version during the season. Cincinnati, with its large German population, is an example.
In New Orleans, bakeries are turning them out in greater quantities than ever and in more styles. Haydel’s does a candycane-shaped cake for Christmas and a New Orleans Saints king cake with black and gold icing, among others.
On an average, Haydel’s ships 50,000 king cakes worldwide during Carnival season.
In addition to the cinnamon flavored traditional cake, they come with fruit fillings, cream cheese and sometimes a praline-flavored filling.
At Commander’s Palace, known for it’s haute Creole cuisine and elegant dining, king cake is rarely on the menu, said Ti Martin, whose family owns the famous restaurant. But it’s frequently on the menu at home.
“We have them all the time during Mardi Gras,” Martin said, who prefers the cream cheese cake. “And we send them as gifts to people in the restaurant business and our suppliers. We skip Christmas gifts and just go straight to king cakes. They love them.”
At Manny Randazzo’s King Cakes, a bakery that only produces king cakes, business is booming. Although they sell them on the Internet all year round, the bakery opens two weeks before Christmas with king cakes for that holiday. On Jan. 3 it reopens for Carnival season and keeps cranking them out until Lundy Gras, or Mardi Gras eve.
“We just bake as many as we can and put them out,” said store manager Johnita Perkins. “Every year we need more of them.”
King cakes shipped from bakeries run in the $40-$45 range and the packages include beads, doubloons and other souvenirs of the Carnival season.
On the web: http://www.haydelbakery.com/
Recipe for simple king cake
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Although king cakes can be very elaborate, Kit Wohl offers a simple recipe in her book, “New Orleans Classic Desserts”.
In New Orleans, people save the plastic babies from king cakes they buy at bakeries, Wohl said. They can be inserted into the dough of their homemade cake.
Don’t have a plastic baby? Insert a bean — preferably a red bean — into the cake after baking. Tradition holds the person getting the bean or baby buys or bakes the next king cake for an office or family gathering.
Bright sugar crystals represent the Carnival colors of purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power. Skip the tedious cake making process by using Pillsbury Hot Roll mix instead. Prepare it according to the package directions but roll it out, fill, shape and ice it according to the following king cake directions.
1 box Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix (16 ounces).
1/2 cup granulated sugar for filling, 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon for filling, 1/3 cup unsalted butter at room temperature.
Preheat oven to 375F.
Cream the butter, sugar and cinnamon together until soft enough to spread easily.
Follow directions on the Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix package. Turn half the dough onto a floured surface, and roll into a 2-foot-by-1- foot rectangle. Spread half the butter and filling mixture on top of dough.
Making a good thing even better, many bakeries now stuff their king cakes with apple, peach or cherry pie filling, cream cheese or chopped pecans with cinnamon sugar. Use your imagination.
BAKING THE DOUGH
Beginning at the wide edge, roll the dough toward you into a long cigar shape approximately 2 inches in diameter. Do the same with the second half of the dough. Place dough roll seam-side down on a well-greased baking sheet. Curve each roll, pinching the ends together to make an oval ring. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes or until doubled in size. Bake at 375F for 15 to 20 minutes or until a straw inserted into the dough comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool.
2 cups confectioner’s sugar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons water, 1 cup granulated sugar (large crystals), 3 or 4 drops of purple, green or yellow food coloring.
To prepare the glaze, combine sugar, lemon juice and water, mixing until smooth. Slowly add more water by the teaspoon until it spreads as easily as a thin icing.
Place 1/3 cup sugar in each of three small jars with lids. Add three drops of food coloring to each. Cover with lid and shake until color is evenly distributed throughout the large sugar crystals. Add food coloring, drop by drop until desired shade is achieved.
Coat the cake top with glaze. Sprinkle colored sugars in 2- to 3-inch alternating rows of purple, green and yellow. Cut and serve.
YIELD: Serves 12
Published in The Messenger 1.4.08