With Fat Tuesday upon us we were thinking about King Cakes, the traditional sweet of the Mardi Gras season. It turns out they’re pretty hard to come by around here in the Bay Area. I wasn’t able to find a local bakery that makes them, so we thought we’d try baking one at home instead. If you haven’t had a King Cake, it’s a cinnamon-y brioche-type bread with icing and (this is the important part) a very generous heaping of purple, green and gold sprinkles. Inside the cake a small plastic baby is hidden and by tradition, whoever gets the slice with the baby gets to provide the next King Cake.
The King Cake recipe we chose is from Louisiana chef John Besh. It involves yeast, two rises, and braiding so it’s not all that simple and it’s definitely not quick. And at the end of the day I’m not sure I’m really in love with it, given the time and effort (and calories) involved. In the end, this traditional style of King Cake is actually rather plain (think Panettone without the dried fruit), so it’s the abundance of sugary icing and sprinkles that really defines it and gives it that Mardi Gras decadence. It’s no surprise that the sprinkles (especially the purple ones) were Luca’s favorite part about making and eating this cake and it was easy to predict that he would lick off the icing and sort of just nibble at the cake.
While the King Cake doesn’t quite match up to a luscious devil’s food cake or a gooey cinnamon roll, it does go quite well with a cup of coffee and it’s a fun food tradition as well as a chance to bring a little New Orleans to wherever you are. So put some Professor Longhair on your iPod, brew up some New Orleans-style coffee with chicory, invite a few friends around for a slice of Mardi Gras, and let the good times roll. Laisses les bon temps roulez!
You can find John Besh’s King Cake recipe here.