Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. I know that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday because I know today is Fat Tuesday.
And why do I know today is Fat Tuesday? Because here in East Texas, bordering Louisiana as we do, we’ve been seeing King Cakes in the grocery stores — and King Cakes mean Mardis Gras!
As Wikipedia tells us, King Cake is
a cinnamon-roll like cake inside with sugary icing with traditional Mardi Gras colored sprinkles on the outside. The cake has a small trinket (often a small plastic baby, sometimes said to represent Baby Jesus) inside, and the person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket has various privileges and obligations (such as buying the cake for the next celebration).
And if you’re unfamiliar with Mardis Gras, never fear, it’s Wikipedia to the rescue again!
The terms “Mardi Gras”…”Mardi Gras season”, and “Carnival season”,…in English, refer to events of the Carnival celebrations, beginning on or after Epiphany and ending on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” (in ethnic English tradition, Shrove Tuesday), referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday. Related popular practices are associated with celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitential season of Lent. Popular practices include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, etc.
King Cakes + Mardi Gras festivities = Cajun food. 🙂
Not that Cajun food is only for Mardi Gras — it is tasty year ’round — but I like to use Fat Tuesday as a reason to turn on the Zydeco music, put on some colorful beads, and cook up something Cajun-style.
This year, I’m going to cook us up a big ol’ pot of Sausage Gumbo based on a recipe I came across a couple of years ago printed by one of our local grocery stores, Brookshire’s (http://www.brookshires.com/), in an edition of their monthly “Celebrate Cooking” magazine.
However, I must admit that I have never, ever eaten a King Cake. *hangs head in shame*
So this year, I decided to try and bake up my own King Cake — but, of course, me being me, I wanted to make it sugar-free.
From what I’ve read, King Cake is rather like a coffee cake. For my first foray into making my own King Cake, I decided to fill it as I would cinnamon rolls, with Splenda, cinnamon, hints of nutmeg and allspice, and I also thought some chopped pecans would be festive. 🙂 One could get quite creative with the fillings, depending upon what you have on hand and what your personal tastes are. Some things I think might be yummy include the following:
- Some reduced-fat (Neufchâtel) cream cheese mixed with some Splenda or other favorite sweetner, and/or with some no-sugar-added fruit preserves of choice
- If you’re a raisin person (I’m not), a sprinkling of raisins would be tasty
- Brown sugar instead of white, along with some cinnamon and such, would give a more caramel taste
One could really get quite creative, if you like.
As stated earlier in the post, it is traditional to include a small baby in the King Cake. Depending upon the local custom, whoever gets the baby is declared King (or Queen!) for the day and is also usually obligated to provide the King Cake for the next gathering.
And as we all know, “It’s good to be the king!” (Go on, watch it — I PROMISE you these 4 minutes and 19 seconds will make you smile. 🙂 You know you want to!)
I didn’t know where to find a food-safe infant trinket. However, in my research, I’d read that using a bean or a nut as the “baby” had been the custom before glass or plastic trinkets were available. So, I hid a pecan half in my King Cake to represent the “lucky” piece. 🙂
It is also traditional to glaze a King Cake in the Mardis Gras colors of gold, green, and purple. Why these colors, you may ask? Well, I wondered the same thing, and according to http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com, purple represents justice, green represents faith, and gold represents power.
In addition to the glaze on a King Cake, one also usually dusts it with colored sugar (this kind of enhances the color). However, I couldn’t get the Splenda granular to accept any color, so ours just has a colored sugar-free glaze on it.
I also wanted to bake our King Cake in the morning, as a breakfast treat, so I made it up the night before, kept it in the fridge overnight, and let it do its second rise this morning, then baked it.
I’ve based my recipe on a recipe from Southern Living for King Cake that I found at Allrecipes.com. Seeing as I’ve never eaten King Cake, I don’t know how this stacks up against others, but hubby and I both think it tastes as yummy as it smells! Don’t let the number of steps intimidate you — it really is quite easy and fun to make!
And we haven’t come across the “baby” (the pecan half) yet, so no King (or Queen) has been determined as of yet. 😉
King Cake (Makes 1 cake)
For the cake:
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
- 8 ounces (1 cup) reduced-fat sour cream
- 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 package (2 and 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 teaspoons white sugar
- 1/4 cup warm water (100F-110F)
- 1 egg
- Approximately 3 to 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (divided
For the filling (see other suggested fillings in the discussion above):
- Softened butter or margarine (I used Shedd’s Spread with calcium)
- Splenda granular (measures-for-measure like sugar) to taste
- Cinnamon to taste
- Nutmeg and allspice to taste (optional, but I like it)
- Sprinkling of diced pecans (optional)
For the glaze:
- 1 1/2 cups Splenda granular (measures for measure like sugar)
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- Vanilla extract to taste (or lemon juice, if you prefer)
- Water as needed to achieve desired consistency
- 1 – 2 drops green food coloring
- 1 -2 drops yellow food coloring
- 1 – 2 drops red food coloring
- 1 -2 drops blue food coloring
1. Cook the first four ingredients for the cake in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently, just until butter is melted. Let cool to 100F-110F.
2. In a medium to large bowl, mix together yeast, the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, and the warm water. Let rest for five minutes or so (mixture will turn creamy).
3. Add in butter/sour cream mixture, egg, and 1 cup of flour. Mix with an electric mixer until smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft, pliable dough (about another 1 1/2 cups or so).
4. Turn dough out on a lightly floured board and knead until no longer sticky. Place in a warm bowl lightly oiled/greased or sprayed with cooking spray. Turn dough so all sides are slightly oiled. Cover with a clean, lint free cloth and let rise in a warm place for one hour.
5. Punch dough down. Roll out into a thin square or oblong (I rolled out mine to the approximate size of my marble cutting board — 18″ X 18″ — next time, I think I may roll it out on a different surface and try to get a more oblong shape).
6. Spread lightly with softened butter or margarine. Sprinkle to taste with Splenda granular, cinnamon, allspice (optional), nutmeg (optional), and chopped pecans (optional). (See also other suggested fillings in the discussion above.)
7. Roll up, jelly-roll style. Pinch edges as necessary to seal. Form into a ring shape and pinch ends together to make a smooth ring. Place on a baking sheet that’s been lightly oiled/greased or sprayed with cooking spray. TO BAKE LATER: Cover lightly with a clean, lint-free kitchen towel and place in your refrigerator for no more than 24 hours.
8. If you want to include a “trinket,” press the (food-safe!) baby, bean, or pecan half into the bottom of the dough and pull dough around it to seal it in. Let cake rise in a warm place for 20 to 30 minutes (allow another 10 minutes or so if cake has been refrigerated). (I almost forgot the trinket and poked it into the cake just before baking and it did just fine.)
9. Preheat oven to 375F. Bake cake until done (sounds hollow when tapped) and golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.
10. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
11. To make glaze: in a blender or food processor, blend together 1 1/2 cup Splenda granular and 1/4 cup cornstarch until smooth. Divide among 3 small bowls. Add a splash of vanilla (or lemon juice) to each. GRADUALLY add water until glaze reaches desired consistency. Color one bowl with 1 -2 drops yellow food coloring; color the second with 1 -2 drops green food coloring; and color the third with 1 -2 drops EACH of red and blue food coloring.
12. Drizzle the glaze on the cake in alternating sections.
This smells — and tastes! — so yummy that you’ll be wearing beads, dancing ’round your kitchen while you’re blasting out some Zydeco!
If you don’t know what Zydeco is, you will after you watch the video — I guar-an-tee! (Go on, watch it — it’s the Muppets!)