The Feast of the Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, is celebrated on January 6 marking the arrival of the Three Kings at the birthplace of Our Savior. The king cake, baked in honor of the Magi, is traced back to several different cultures.
In Latin America a figure representing the Christ Child is placed inside the cake. Other cultures bake a coin, pea, or bean into the cake. In medieval France the finder of the coin was to make a donation to a worthy cause. In other parts of Europe, finding the pea or bean meant you were king or queen for a day.
In New Orleans, where bakeries sell an average of four to five thousand cakes each day during the Carnival season, the person who finds the “baby” has to host the next king cake party.
The cake itself is like a sweet bread, or brioche, decorated with bands of purple, green, and gold colored sugar. Today’s cakes range from the simple iced versions to the extravagant fruit or cream cheese filled varieties. Traditionally served on Epiphany to family and friends, today the cake is served throughout the “Epiphany season,” or until Mardi Gras.
Evann Duplantier is a homeschooling mother of six, thankevann.com webmaster, and a native New Orleanian.
KING CAKE RECIPE:
1 package yeast
1/4 cup warm water
6 tablespoons milk, scalded & cooled
4 cups sifted flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs (reduce if eggs are x-large)
Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add milk & enough flour, about 1/2 cup, to make a soft dough. In another bowl, combine butter, sugar, salt & eggs with electric mixer. Remove from mixer & add soft ball of yeast dough. Mix thoroughly. Gradually add 2 1/2 cups flour to make medium dough that is neither too soft nor too stiff. Place in a greased bowl & brush top of dough with butter. Cover with a damp cloth & set aside till doubled in bulk, about 3 hours. Use remaining 1 cup flour to knead dough into oval ring shape. The center should be about 7 x 12 inches. Connect ends of dough by dampening with water. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. A bean or one-inch plastic baby may be placed in the cake at this time.
Bake in 325 degree oven for 35-45 minutes or until lightly browned. Drizzle top of cake with white glaze icing (melted tub icing works fine) and alternate bands of purple, green and gold color sugar. (Color sugar by adding a few drops of food coloring & shake in tightly covered container until desired color is achieved.)