Same recipe as last year… but I used sanding sugar from a party supply store instead of attempting to make the colors myself. We have a gas oven this year and it seems that the even distribution of heat prevented the yeast from turning the cake into a huge donut. It looks far more authentic and tastes so good!
It’s that time again. Today is the eve of King’s Day/Feast of the Epiphany/Twelfth Night/Little Christmas AKA the last day of Christmas. Tomorrow is when we take the Christmas trees and lights down and put up the Mardi Gras decorations. This year Mardi Gras is somewhat early (February 20th) so Carnival season is short and there’s less time to eat King cake. The following recipe is for a traditional King cake which is more like a sweet brioche than cake. I am no fan of the modern King cake which is at best treated like a glorified coffee cake. A few years back, we bought a king cake without knowing it was filled with cherry. Normally, I would have liked cherry coffee cake, but it was a bit like taking a drink of soda thinking it’s coke only to find out it’s root beer. I like root beer, but not when I want coke. When I was growing up, we always had the McKenzie’s or Schweggman’s King Cake which were made in the traditional style; I guess my mind is stuck on those cakes.
Traditionally the cake was baked on Epiphany Eve and served the following afternoon to family and friends. Nowadays the cake is made throughout Carnival season and served until Mardi Gras. By the Middle Ages, veneration of the three wise men had spread throughout Europe and Epiphany became known as The Feast of the Three Holy Kings. The cake was baked in honor of the Magi. According to Wikipedia, related culinary traditions are the tortell of Catalonia, the gâteau des Rois in Provence or the galette des Rois in the northern half of France. Latin Americans, like New Orleanians, place a figure representing the Christ child inside the cake. In other cultures, the king cake might contain a coin, bean, pecan or pea. In New Orleans, the person who receives the piece of cake containing a “baby” must provide the king cake for the next gathering of the season.
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
2 packages dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
4 to 5 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/2 cup warm milk (105 to 115 degrees)
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, cooled
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup finely chopped candied citron
1 pecan half, uncooked dried bean or King Cake Baby
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
Purple, green and gold sugar crystals
Combine the warm water, yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside to a warm place for about 10 minutes.
Combine the 4 cups of flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, nutmeg, lemon rind and add warm milk, melted butter, egg yolks and yeast mixture. Beat until smooth. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place the dough in a well-greased bowl. Turn once so greased surface is on top. Cover the dough and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 1/2 hours).
Preheat the oven 350 degrees. Punch the dough down and place on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle with the citron and knead until the citron is evenly distributed. Shape the dough into a log, about 30 inches long. Place the dough on a buttered baking sheet. Shape into a ring, pinching ends together to seal. Place a well-greased 2-pound coffee can or shortening can in the center of the ring to maintain shape during baking. Press the King Cake Baby, pecan half or dried bean into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough. Cover the ring with a towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the coffee can immediately. Allow the cake to cool. For the glaze: Combine the ingredients and beat until smooth. To assemble, drizzle cake with the glaze. Sprinkle with sugar crystals, alternating colors.
Warn your friends that there is a potential baby/bean inside so there are no broken teeth.
For whatever reason, this recipe is nowhere to found in most Louisiana Creole/New Orleans cookbooks (never mind the Internet). Legend has it that the cake dates back to 1872, when the Grand Duke Alexis of Russian visited New Orleans for Mardi Gras (the song “If I Ever Cease to Love” was written for the very same occasion). The trifle is made with leftover pieces of cake, pie crust, muffins, and cookies which are moistened with a binder (in this case seedless raspberry jam, anise flavoring and rum). I have heard that the original Russian cake used vodka and not rum, but I am not able to verify that.
If you’ve never had one of these, it’s quite an experience for the senses. My grandparents used to get one of these every year for their birthdays (they were 2 days apart) from Mr. Lawrence’s Bakery (Mr. Wedding Cake) on Elysian Fields. My grandmother would come home with one of those pink bakery boxes and out would come this fragrant and colorful cake. It smells vaguely of licorice and something almost tropical. It’s also this very bright almost garish ruby red and the top is covered with white frosting and colorful sprinkles, you can imagine how appealing that is to a kid. I was only allowed a very small piece as a kid (I’m not sure if actual rum was used in Mr. Lawrence’s recipe, but my grandmother seemed to think so) and I loved every bite of it. This past March, I was reacquainted with Russian Cake when we were shopping at Dorignac’s in Metairie. G. and I split one piece before bed and apparently I tossed all night like a rotisserie chicken. I think it was worth it.
Russian Cake (Creole Trifle)
6-8 cups of diced cake pieces
1 box yellow or white cake mix (plus ingredients needed to bake this; will vary from brand to brand)
8 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam
1 to 1-1/2 cups white rum (will depend on amount of cake pieces)
1 teaspoon anise flavor (look for the real stuff)
red food coloring (just in case, my jam wasn’t red enough)
pre-made (or homemade) buttercream frosting
colored sprinkles (the spherical kind)
Mix rum, anise, jam and (optionally) the food color with a wire whisk until everything is well integrated; the alcohol in the rum helps dissolve the jam quickly so it shouldn’t be more than 30 seconds. Pour evenly over your cake pieces and place bowl in fridge for a few hours or overnight (covered). The more cake pieces you use for the inside, the denser and heavier the cake will be. The Russian cakes I remember weighed several pounds and seemed very heavy for their size. When ready to assemble cake, bake your boxed cake according to instructions in a 9-inch cake pan. When cool split the cake evenly down the middle. Place one half in a 9-inch springform pan (one used for cheesecakes) and “fill” with your soaked cake pieces. Try to get this even as possible. Place top layer over “filling” and cover with saranwrap, the plastic touching the top of the cake. I placed my cleaned cake pan over the top of this and weighed it down with jars from the fridge. The reason I did this was to make sure that the cake was flat, number one, but also I wanted some of the “juice” from the middle to seep into the top and bottom layer, thereby binding the cake together. Place in fridge overnight (make sure it’s covered). The next day, frost the top and cover with sprinkles. Voilå!
I am going to be experimenting this weekend with something very New Orleanian and I’ll give you a couple of hints as to what it is (You can also tell by the categories what it might be.)
A) It’s impossible to find a recipe for it.
B) It’s going to be a pain in the ass to recreate.
C) It has an ethnic name (both names do, in fact).
Hopefully by Sunday, I’ll have something to report.
Got lots of figs? Make…
Fig Ice Cream
3 cups peeled, fresh figs
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 cup sugar, divided
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
In a small bowl, combine the figs with the lemon juice and 3/4 cup of the sugar. Stir gently and allow the figs to macerate in the juices for 2 hours. Strain the fruit, reserving juices. Mash half the figs. In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixer on low speed to combine the milk and remaining granulated sugar until the sugar is dissolved (if the figs are very ripe, don’t add the extra sugar, the ice cream will be too sweet.), about 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream, reserved juice, mashed figs, and vanilla. Turn the machine on; pour the mixture into freezer bowl, and let mix until thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes. Five minutes before mixing is completed, add the reserved mashed figs and let mix in completely. The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture. If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in freezer for about 2 hours. Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving.
My grandparents had a large fig tree at the back end of their yard in Gentilly. Each summer, when the fruit would be almost ripe, we’d go back there and pick loads of them. We could never get them all and most of them would just fall to the ground and rot in the hot New Orleans’ sun. What a smell! But I loved those figs and it seemed like everyone the neighborhood had one of these trees. The little old ladies would made jams, preserves, cakes and these cookies from them.
These cookies are like hard Fig Newtons. They come in bags of maybe 5 or 6 large planks, are usually iced different pastel colors, have sprinkles and can be found at most grocery stores in the GNO. G. and I had some on St. Joseph’s day this past Spring bought at Breaux Mart on Severn Ave. in Metairie (followed later that evening by a Hubig’s pie and half a piece of Russian Cake). Heaven.
Italian Fig Cookies
1 lb. dried figs
1/2 lb pitted dates
rind from 1/2 orange
1 cup glazed fruit
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup dark raisins
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
4 1/4 cups AP flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups butter
1/2 cup plus 5 tablespoons cold water
3 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. anise flavoring
Dash of salt
Remove hard stems from figs. Soak them in warm water for 20 minutes. Grind your figs, dates, orange rind, raisins and glazed fruit in a food processor. Add all filling ingredients into a large saucepan and heat thoroughly, you want everything to be incorporated well. Remove from heat and set aside.
Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add butter and cut in with a pastry cutter or knife until crumbly. Sprinkle the cold water in and toss lightly with a fork until mixed. Add remaining water, a tablespoon at a time, mixing until dough is smooth. Heat oven to 275 degrees and take half the dough on a lightly floured surface, roll it out into a 12 x 18 inch rectangle (it should be about 1/8“ thick). Cut into 3” wide strips and spread 4 tablespoons of filling down the center of each strip, leave about 1“ on either side. Moisten the bare sides with water, fold over and press lightly with a fork to seal. Cut each strip into 6-2” cookies, cut and slit in the fold side of each cookie, almost like giving it gills. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, bending each cookie into a slight curve. Bake about 20 minutes until bottoms are brown. While cookies are baking sift confectioner’s sugar into a mixing bowl, add milk, salt and anise flavor and beat until smooth. This is a runny icing that will dry hard. When done baking, remove from each cookie from cookie sheet and cool them on a wire rack, then ice. Repeat with remaining half of dough and filling.
It’s strawberry time! A sure sign that Summer has arrived is the smell of fresh strawberries at the grocery store or farmer’s market. and the best tool for finding fresh strawberries–your nose. Many farmed strawberries, even in season, are picked while they are still green in order to help them while shipping. Although these will continue to get redder and softer once they have been picked, they will not get any sweeter (although an overnight refrigerated bath in honey may help in that department–that’s cheating though!). The real test is in their smell. If you can’t detect a whiff of strawberries, you probably won’t get the taste of them either. If at all possible, buy locally grown strawberries.
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/2 scraped vanilla bean
1/4 cup dark rum (or 1/2 teaspoon rum extract)
1/4 cup Amaretto liqueur (or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
8 ounces sour cream
1 quart fresh, cleaned strawberries
Dark brown sugar
Mix one of the desired spices into sour cream. To serve, place sour cream mixture, sugar and strawberries in individual serving bowls. With fork or toothpick, dip strawberries into sour cream, then brown sugar.