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Published February 26, 2014, 07:16 PM

The Great Indoors: Celebrate Mardi Gras with King Cake

If you’ve ever had “Go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras” on your bucket list, better get a move on. This is the weekend to do it. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” which is next Tuesday. It’s a day to indulge prior to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season. New Orleans marks Mardi Gras with parades, parties and photos you wouldn’t want to share on Facebook.

By: Tracy Briggs, INFORUM

If you’ve ever had “Go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras” on your bucket list, better get a move on. This is the weekend to do it. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” which is next Tuesday. It’s a day to indulge prior to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season. New Orleans marks Mardi Gras with parades, parties and photos you wouldn’t want to share on Facebook.

But for Vanessa Bourgeois, Mardi Gras also means a chance to make countless King Cakes. This New Orleans native, now living in Fargo, has fond memories of eating King Cake in school during Mardi Gras and later making the cinnamon filled braided cake on her own. She’s brought that tradition to North Dakota and will share it with her Northern friends this week.

She invited me to her apartment to whip up a few cakes and answer a few pressing questions I had about the unusual treat.

1. Why is it called “King Cake?”

Mardi Gras officially begins on Epiphany or King’s Day. The 12th day after Christmas, it is a day to honor the Kings who came bearing gifts to the baby Jesus. The King Cake is for them.

2. What’s up with the little plastic baby?

There’s actually a little plastic baby inside the cake. Bourgeois says whoever has the plastic baby in their piece of cake is responsible for bringing the cake next year. Others say “getting the baby” means you’re the king or queen of the party or that you’ll be blessed with fertility. Most importantly she says don’t bake the cake with the plastic baby, rather insert it into the cake after it’s baked.

3) Why is it purple, gold and green?

Most King Cakes are glazed with a simple powdered sugar icing, then topped with colored purple, gold and yellow sugar. These are the colors of Mardi Gras and each mean something different: purple is justice, gold is power and green is faith.

Mardi Gras King Cake

Recipe from: “Jambalaya: The Official Cookbook of the Louisiana World Exposition”

Cake:

1 stick plus 1 tablespoon butter

2/3 cup 99 percent fat free skim evaporated milk

1/2 cup sugar

2 tsp salt

2 packages dry yeast

1/3 cup warm water

4 eggs

1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

2 tablespoons grated orange rind

6 cups all-purpose flour

Filling:

1/2 cup dark brown sugar (packed)

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 stick butter, melted

Topping:

1 egg, beaten

1 cup sugar, colored (1/3 cup each of yellow, purple and green)

2 plastic babies (3/4 inch) or 2 beans

Directions:

In saucepan, melt 1 stick butter, milk, 1/3 cup sugar, and salt. Cool to lukewarm. In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 tablespoons sugar, yeast, and water. Let stand until foaming, about 5 to 10 minutes. Beat eggs into yeast; then milk mixture and rinds. Stir in flour, 1/2 cup at a time, reserving 1 cup to flour kneading surface. Knead dough until smooth, about 5 to 10 minutes. Place in large mixing bowl greased with 1 tablespoon butter; turning dough once to grease top; cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

For filling, mix sugars and cinnamon. Set aside.

For topping, tint sugar by mixing food coloring until desired color is reached. For purple, use equal amounts of blue and red. A food processor aids in mixing and keeps the sugar from being too moist. (Colored sugars are also available at specialty baking shops).

When dough has doubled, punch down and divide in half. On a floured surface, roll half into a rectangle 30 inches by 15 inches. Brush with half of melted butter and cut into 3 lengthwise strips. Sprinkle half of sugar mixture on strips, leaving a 1-inch lengthwise strip free for sealing. Fold each strip lengthwise toward center, sealing the seam.

You will now have 3 30-inch strips with sugar mixture enclosed in each. Braid the 3 strips and make a circle by joining ends. Repeat with other half of dough. Place each cake on a 10-inch by 15-inch baking sheet, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Brush each with egg and sprinkle top with colored sugars, alternating colors. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes. (Bourgeois says if you like a powdered sugar glaze on your King Cake, simple brush egg onto dough and bake for 20 minutes without the colored sugar. Let cake cool. Drizzle with powdered sugar glaze made from powdered sugar, vanilla and water to desired consistency. Then top with alternating colored sugars.) Once cake has cooled, insert the baby into the cake from the bottom.

Watch ‘The Great Indoors’ with Tracy Briggs every Thursday on www.InforumTV.com

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