Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The King of Cakes for Mardi Gras

I have to admit I have never been that interested in Mardi Gras.  It has always seemed like a made up excuse to drink way too much and behave badly.  Imagine my surprised when 18 pages into this month’s Saveur magazine I learned that Mardi Gras is really a celebration of of the Epiphany (the wise men’s discovery of Jesus).    Of course the article really didn’t expound on what the Epiphany has to do with consuming vast amount of Hurricanes and yelling for beads on Bourbon Street, so we will have to make our own speculations how we got from a pinnacle Christian event to the modern day Mardi Gras celebration.
Anyway, the article got me thinking about King Cake, the popular custom of baking a cake in honor of the three wise men.  This cake is traditionally a sweetened yeast bread (similar to a danish) stuffed with cream cheese and a tiny plastic baby then sprinkled with garishly colored cinnamon and sugar or drizzled with icinng.  The bright colors are not just because they match LSU and Tulane colors but rather that to represent justice (purple), faith (green) and power (gold).
For the past 2 years a dear sweet co-worker of mine has ordered a King Cake and had it shipped to our office to celebrate Mardi Gras.  It is such a sweet gesture, but truthfully the cake from the mail order company is not very good.  It taste a lot like the cellophane-wrapped sticky buns you get in a vending machine and convenience stores.  

I got to thinking there has got to be an easy short cut route for making a King Cake when you don’t live near the bakeries that make them fresh.  I came up with the below semi-homemade recipe.  It is not only simple it tastes really good.    So the only thing you may need to order in advance is the little plastic baby that is typically inserted in a King Cake (lucky recipient of the baby in their piece of cake wins the honor of providing the King Cake at next’s event).  

I started my recipe with three cans of 8 count uncooked cinnamon rolls.  The beauty of using these prefab cinnamon rolls is they are tasty, super easy and that each can comes with a little icing cup.  Three cans = three icing cups, which happens to be the exact number of colors of icing you need for King Cake.  I used gel food coloring get the really vibrant Mardi Gras colors.  The only other thing you need to add is the cream cheese filling.  I made the whole cake start to finish in under 45 minutes and that was with a toddler trying to “help” me cook.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

King Cake
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes

  • 3 cans of uncooked cinnamon rolls
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 (8 oz) packaging of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • a dash of vanilla
  • gel food coloring

Preheat oven to 400°.

Place cream cheese in a bowl.  Add sugar and a dash of vanilla.  Use a hand mixer to cream together the mixture and set aside until ready to add to cake.

Pop open the cinnamon rolls and set icing cups aside.  Use and rolling pin to roll each cinnamon roll out into an oval shape and about 1/4 inch thick.

Place two of the ovals over lapping end to end.  Brush the dough with the beaten egg where they over lap and roll again until 1/8 of an inch thick.

Place the pieces in an over lapping circle.  Brush the places where they overlap with egg and press together.

Spoon the cream cheese mixture in a ring around the center.  Fold the end of the dough back over the cream cheese.  Brush the place where dough over laps with egg and press together.
Bake for 25-27 minutes.  Check the cake after 15 minutes if it is starting to get to brown, loosely lay a piece of tinfoil over the cake and continue backing.
While cake is baking mix gel food coloring into icing cups to achieve desired color saturation level.

After baking, cool the cake completed.  Drizzle with alternating colors of icing and serve. (You may need to microwave the icing a few seconds to get it to drizzle.)

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