Tuesday, February 20, 2007
More Mardi Gras Madness
As promised, the star of the day, the King Cake, makes its appearance surrounded by the acoutrements of the day (executed in sugar, of course). The Diva (Antonia) wanted y'all to know that SHE made the purple and gold sugar beads and strung them. She now claims she's ready for the Oklahoma Sugar Show.
The cake is fairly traditional; mine has a cream cheese filling with chopped pecans, orange and lemon zest and a touch of cinnamon (Vietnamese is my favorite). For those of you who've never had the pleasure of the King Cake experience, it is not unlike a yeast coffee ring, with or without a filling (fruit, marzipan, cream cheese, etc.). I play with the ingredients for each year's King Cake and this year's was particularly tasty (Remember, the first cake was consumed on Sunday). The harlequin diamonds of purple, green and gold on top of the cake are a thinned royal icing liberally sprinkled with colored sanding sugars. Usually, I don't make such a fuss about decorating the top of the cake; a drizzle of confectioners sugar glaze followed by a sprinkling of sanding sugars in the traditional colors in wide bands is the extent of my decorating. However, this cake had to be a bit more photogenic so out came the piping bag and royal icing. The Sugar Mask was described in yesterday's post.
The true pleasure of the King Cake is not in its taste or even its appearance. It is quite ordinary in the first and gaudy in the second. It's pleasure is in the celebration of tradition, and a religious one at that, not the Bacchanalian one we've come to associate with the celebration of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) in New Orleans. The name is derived from the Three Kings (Wise Men, Magi) whose journey in search of the infant Jesus is celebrated on January 6th, the traditional day of the Epiphany of Our Lord. It marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of the Carnival season culminating in the frenzied celebrations of Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday and the fasting and abstinence of Lent.
Although the King Cake dates back to 12th Century France (the Galette de Roi of France is a more elegant pastry affair with an almond pastry cream filling traditionally served on 12th Night-the evening before Epiphany), its incarnation in Louisiana is steeped in the rich culture and tradition of that region. The official colors of Mardi Gras which decorate the cake were first chosen in 1837 and symbolize justice (purple), faith (green) and power (gold). A small figure of a baby, representing the Baby Jesus, is usually inserted into the cake; the one whose piece of cake contains the baby has to throw the next party or make the next King Cake. This goes on all through the Carnival season with King Cakes being consumed daily. This of course does not apply to me; whether or not I get the baby, I still have to make the next King Cake. Usually I provide some kind of prize for the lucky finder of the baby.