'Tis the most wonderful time of the year.

It's finally the beginning of festival season here on the Gulf Coast. Once Christmas and New Years were over, I immediately switched to Mardi Gras mode. Mardi Gras (which originated in Mobile in 1703) starts at the official end of the Christmas season (Epiphany, or the twelfth night) and continues to Fat Tuesday, or the day before Ash Wednesday. Since Easter falls in April this year, 2011 has the longest Carnival season since 1943, spanning a total of 61 days. Which means, we have a lot of celebrating to do.
King Cake in its full, tacky glory
I decided to kick off Mardi Gras season this year by attempting to make my first King Cake.  A King Cake is essentially a braided cinnamon bread topped with icing and sprinkles in the colors of Mardi Gras. Often the cake has a cream cheese or praline filling, but I decided to stick with the original for my first attempt. A small trinket, usually a plastic baby, is baked inside the cake and rumor has it, the one who finds the baby is to be treated like a king for a day and then he/she buys the cake next season. Of course, Tom found the baby. 
I had been searching for a recipe to make my own for a while, but I never really decided on one, until Tom and I went to New Orleans this past weekend. On Sunday, we did a bit of shopping in the French Quarter and we stopped in Beckham's Bookstore where I came across my new favorite book: The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine by Chef John D. Folse. This is an incredible book which includes hundreds of recipes, detailed history, and amazing photography (have I sold you yet?). It's a large, heavy book, but if you're interested in Cajun or Creole cooking, I definitely recommend it.  I flipped through to the desserts and I found the recipe for the King Cake and I had to try it. I followed the recipe as is, and it turned out very well, it was delicious. There are a few changes I would make the next time: less icing, less almond oil, smaller cake. The recipe follows below. 

Ingredients for dough:
1/2 ounce instant yeast
1/2+1 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
5 cups flour
1/2 cup dry milk powder
2 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup melted butter
Mix until dough separates from bowl
In a measuring cup, combine yeast and 1/2 cup of water. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, sift together all dry ingredients. Using a dough hook on an electric mixer, blend ingredients 2-3 minutes on low speed. In a separate mixing bowl, combine eggs, 3/4 cup butter and remaining water. Slowly pour liquids and blossomed yeast into mixing bowl with flour, gradually increasing speed. Mix 8-10 minutes or until dough separates from bowl. An additional 1/2 cup of flour may be sprinkled into bowl if dough is too wet.  Brush a large stainless bowl with melted butter until coated then place dough inside. Brush dough with remaining butter and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow dough to proof in a warm place for 1 hour or until double in size.
Brush bowl and top of dough with butter
Ingredients for glaze:
2 pounds powdered sugar
1 pinch salt
1 tbsp almond extract
3/4 cup water
1 tsp cinnamon
Mix ingredients on a low speed until smooth
In an electric mixer, combine sugar and salt. Mix on low speed while slowly pouring in almond extract and water. Add cinnamon and continue to blend until glaze is smooth. Set aside.
3/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
egg wash (1/2 cup milk, 2 eggs beaten)
purple, green, and gold sugars.

Cut into three sections and pinch each end together.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. After dough has proofed, roll out onto a well-floured surface into a long rectangle. In a small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon. Brush top of dough with melted butter, then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon mixture. Cut cake vertically into 3 even sections. Pinch together end of each strip.
Tom caught me braiding

Starting from the joined end, form into a basic braid. Shape into a circle and pinch together to hold form.

Form the braid into a large, hopefully even circle.
Brush with egg wash to give a golden brown color.
Brush entire cake with egg wash and proof in a warm place until it doubles in size. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Drizzle glaze over entire cake and sprinkle with purple, green and gold sugars. Enjoy with beer while wearing over-sized, colorful beads. 
and don't forget: Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!


  1. That king cake looks amazing! That John Folse cookbook is totally awesome. It is probably one of the best food geography texts ever written as well.

    --Andy, who's stuck in Puebla for the night because the immigration office closes at 1:00 p.m..

  2. Andy!
    I love that cookbook. I can just sit and read it for hours, and I completely agree, it's the best regional cookbook I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot, I have a sick addiction to cookbooks).

    I hope you can get to Oaxaca soon! (and we hope to visit soon!)


  3. Any recipe that calls for 2 POUNDS of sugar is all right by me...catch some big beads for us!