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Cakes are used for celebrations as it adds more happiness to the occasion and makes the day extra special. There are a variety of cakes used for different occasions. But there are a few cakes that look amazing and have an interesting story behind them. One such cake is the King cake that is made to celebrate the calendar change at the beginning of the year and then can be found at the center celebrations through the early spring and start of lent. It is made as a sweet tradition by eating king cake and finding a baby inside it. But what is king cake and why is there a baby in king cake? 

king cake

It is eaten on the 6th of January in honor of Epiphany or the Twelfth night which historically marks the arrival of three wise men or kings in Bethlehem delivering gifts to baby Jesus. You can find this cake throughout the carnival season that runs from Epiphany to Mardi Gras which is known as Fat Tuesday, that comes the day before Ash Wednesday. This sweet dish has different names and varies in shapes and styles. Read to know about what is actually the king cake, and why is there a bay in king cake along with its history, tradition, and the recipe of making it.

What is a king cake? 

King cake is a sweet, cake, bread, or a circular pastry that is used mainly in the historical celebration Epiphany that falls on January 6th. This cake presently takes different forms and is found in a variety of similar celebrations related to religious origins. 

The king cake is made of rich, brioche dough which is a light sweet yeast bread in a form of a small round roll with an array of fillings like chocolate, cream cheese, and cinnamon. It is decorated with glaze, sprinkles, and sugars colored in gold, green and purple. These colors are considered the royal colors of Mardi Gras and each of them has a specific meaning. The gold color represents power, green represents faith and purple represents justice. The whole cake symbolizes the unity of faith. 

The bakers will offer a choice of fruit or cream cheese fillings and top it with decorations of  Mardi Gras. Especially the cake comes with a tiny plastic baby hidden inside it. 

Why is there a baby in king cake?

Why is there a baby in king cake

The thing that makes the cake interesting is the baby that is hidden inside the cake. Some believe that the plastic baby is a symbol of baby Jesus because of the religious connection to King’s day. 

While some believe another theory wherein the 19th century, a social group in New Orleans started the custom of hiding a bean or ring inside the cake. Whoever found the bean/ring in their piece of cake would be crowned as the king or queen of the Mardi Gras balls. In the later period, it was changed to a baby. And that one who founds it is also said to receive good luck and that person is supposed to host the next king cake party and take care of it. 

This tradition was started in the 1940s by a baker, Donald Entringer Sr.,  who operated in McKenzie’s pastry shop in Metairie, Louisiana. The baker was asked to produce king cakes with prizes and so he came across tiny plastic babies and got approval from the health department to add them into the cakes. 

The origin of king cake

Why is there a baby in king cake

Although the cake looks like an American tradition, the origin is traced back to France. The French settlers brought their festive traditions like Carnival, which became Mardi Gras to what is now Louisiana. France has their own version of King cake and it is different from Louisiana’s rainbow color king cake. It is a decorated puff pastry with almond cream. They use trinkets or charms as objects to hide. And similarly, many countries in the world celebrate them with their own versions. 

But the very original cake was plain yeasted loaves that had no filling and were barely sweet. With people’s taste, they have evolved with times. 

How do different countries serve king cake? 

In France, they make a flaky pastry cake made from puff pastry filled with almond cream. Before baking, they arrange the decorative pattern into the top or they top it with the paper crown after finishing baking it. 

In Spain and Latin America, they serve it as a ring-shaped sweet bread topped with candied fruit and a light layer of icing. The same version is used by the Portuguese. 

In Greece, they serve the king cake on New Year’s day and resemble the french version. They usually have a coin baked into them. In Bulgaria, they use it also at weddings and other festivals. They make it with sheets of phyllo dough wrapped around soft cheese and contains charms. 

King cake recipe

Mardi Gras King cake

King cake recipe

Make this interesting cake and enjoy. It takes 4 hours and 30 minutes to finish making this cake with 16 servings. 

Ingredients

To fill

Frosting

How to make

Scald the milk and remove it from the heat. Take ¼ cup of butter and stir in it. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. 

Take a large bowl, add some warm water and dissolve the yeast with 1 tablespoon of white sugar. Wait for 10 minutes until it becomes creamy. 

When the mixture of yeast is bubbling, add the cool mixture (milk and butter mixture). Take the eggs and whisk in them. Stir the remaining white sugar, nutmeg, and salt. Add the flour 1 cup at a time into the mixture and beat. 

When the dough is made, turn it out into a lightly floured surface and squeeze until it becomes smooth and elastic about 8 to 10 minutes. 

Take a large bowl and lightly add oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat it with oil. Cover it using plastic wrap and a damp cloth. Keep it in a warm place for 2 hours to let it rise until it becomes doubled in volume. 

After the dough has risen, divide the dough in half. 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and line it with parchment paper or grease it with two cookie sheets

Now make the filling by mixing brown sugar, chopped pecans, ground cinnamon, ½ cup flour, and ½ cup raisins. Over the cinnamon mixture pour the ½ cup melted butter and mix it until it becomes crumbly. 

Roll the dough halves out into large rectangles that are 10 x 16 inches. Then sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough and roll up each half tightly. The ends of each roll should be brought together to form 2 oval-shaped rings. 

Place the ring on the prepared cookie sheet. Make cuts with scissors ⅓ of the way through the rings at 1-inch intervals. Let it for 45 minutes to rise in a warm place until it doubles its size. Bake it in the preheated oven for 30 minutes and push the doll into the bottom of the cake.

While the cake is warm, frost it with confectioners’ sugar blended with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.

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