Celebrating Mardi Gras at Home
In Christian communities around the world, the 40 days preceding Easter comprise Lent, a period of fasting and penitence. It begins with Ash Wednesday, the day many go to church to receive the sign of the cross marked in ash on their foreheads. For much of the country the Tuesday before Lent is just that, a regular Tuesday, but in New Orleans that day is Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, representing the last gasp of decadence before a period of austerity. If your schedule doesn’t permit you to make it to New Orleans this year, you don’t need to miss out on the festivities. Simply bring the party to you.
If you’ve ever been to New Orleans you know that they love to eat and appreciate good food. So rather than serving the usual party fare, why not go native? Begin with some boiled crawfish or crab claws followed by shrimp etouffee, gumbo or alligator pie. Whatever you choose, be sure to serve king cake, an oval shaped baked good similar to brioche (a sweetened yeast bread). Each king cake comes baked with a plastic baby inside. The person who receives the slice with the baby becomes king for a day and is bound by custom to host the next party and provide the king cake.
· 1 C. milk
· 1/4 C. butter
· 2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
· 2/3 C. warm water (110 degrees F)
· 1/2 C. sugar
· 2 eggs
· 1 ½ tsp. salt
· ½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
· 5 ½ C. all-purpose flour
· 1 C. packed brown sugar
· 1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
· 2/3 C. chopped pecans
· ½ C. all-purpose flour
· ½ C. raisins
· ½ C. melted butter
· 1 C. confectioners' sugar
· 1 Tbsp. water
Scald the milk. Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of butter. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the white sugar. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture.
Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat the flour into the milk/egg mixture 1 cup at a time. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. When risen, punch down and divide dough in half.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
To Make Filling: Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup raisins. Pour 1/2 cup melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly.
Roll dough halves out into large rectangles (approximately 10x16 inches). Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough and roll up each half tightly like a jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of each roll together to form 2 oval shaped rings. Place each ring on a prepared cookie sheet. With scissors make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1-inch intervals. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. Push the doll into the bottom of the cake. Frost while warm with the confectioners' sugar blended with 1-2 tablespoons of water.