" The history of the King Cake has its roots in pre-Christian religions of Western Europe. Part of the Harvest celebrations that the pagans practiced was the sacrifice ritual. It was customary to choose a man to be the "sacred king" of the tribe for a year. That man would be treated like a king for the year, then he would be sacrificed, and his blood returned to the soil to ensure that the harvest would be successful. The method of choosing who would have the honor of being the sacred king was the purpose of the "King's Cake". Several men of the tribe, would eat of the cake A coin or bean would be placed in the cake before baking, and whoever got the slice that had the coin was the chosen one.
When Christianity extended its influence and began overshadowing the religions that came before it, many of the local customs were not outright abolished, but instead were incorporated into Christian tradition and given a new spin. Catholic priests were not predisposed to human sacrifice, so the King's Cake was converted into a celebration of the Magi, the three Kings who came to visit the Christ Child.
French settlers brought the custom to Louisiana in the 18th century where it remained associated with the Epiphany until the 19th century when it became a more elaborate Mardi Gras custom. In New Orleans, the first cake of the season is served on January 6. A small ceramic figurine of a baby is hidden inside the cake, by tradition. Whoever finds the baby is allowed to choose a mock court and host the next King Cake party the following week (weekly cake parties were held until Mardi Gras).
The classic king cake is oval-shaped, like the pattern of a racetrack. The dough is basic coffee-cake dough, sometimes laced with cinnamon, sometimes just plain. The dough is rolled out into a long tubular shape, then shaped into an oval. The ends are twisted together to complete the shape. The baby hidden in the cake speaks to the fact that the three Kings had a difficult time finding the Christ Child and of the fine gifts they brought.
The cake is then baked, and decorated when it comes out. The classic decoration is simple granulated sugar, colored purple, green, and gold (the colors of Carnival)."
The colored sugars on the cake also have meaning. The purple represents justice, green represents faith and gold represents power.
The girls saw a picture of a king cake in a magazine and got excited and told me that we had to make one. Since we were snowed in again yesterday, the girls and I made our very first king cake. We all had a lot of fun making the cake, but it took us all day!
Since this was my very first king cake, it came with a learning experience. There are some things I will do differently next year. I think that the cake baked a little too long, the top was a little hard and we didn't care for the icing. I also changed the amount of cinnamon/sugar mixture that went into the filling and omitted the raisins.
The recipe listed is WITH my changes. **As a tip: Anytime the recipe says to "let rise in a warm place free from drafts", put the dough in the oven with just the oven light on. The oven keeps the dough free from drafts and the light adds the warmth the dough needs to rise. (thanks to my friend Tiffany for this tip!!)**
1 c. milk
1/2 stick margarine
2 (.25) pkgs. dry active yeast
2/3 c. warm water (110*F/45*C)
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
5 3/4 c. flour
1 stick plus 2 Tbl. margarine, melted
4 c. powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
4-8 Tbl. hot water
1 1/2 c. sugar, divided
red, green, blue and yellow liquid food coloring
1. In a medium sized bowl, dissolve yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar, and warm water. Let rest for 5 minutes.
2. After 5 minutes, whisk the yeast to mix it until it is completely dissolves. Let stand in a warm place for 10 minutes.
3. Scald milk. remove from heat and add butter. Allow to cool slightly.
4. Place dry ingredients in mixing bowl. Add eggs. Using the dough hook, being mixing the dough. Very slowly, add the milk and the yeast mixture. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.
5. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2hours.
6. When risen, punch down and divide dough in half.
7. Roll dough halves out into large rectangles, about 1/2". Brush with melted butter.
8. Mix cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle over each dough rectangle.
9. Roll up each dough, like a jelly roll. Place on a greased cookie sheet, using each roll to form a half circle. Pinch the ends of each roll together.
10. With sharp knife, make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals.
11. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
12. Bake at 350*F (175*C) for 20-25 minutes.
13. When cool, push the doll into the bottom of the cake and ice.
14. To make icing: In medium bowl, mix melted butter, powdered sugar and vanilla; add hot water 1 tablespoon at a time until glaze reaches desired spreading consistency.
15. For colored sugar: In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup of sugar with yellow food coloring. Whisk to incorporate the coloring. Repeat with the green, and the red and blue(purple). If you mix yellow first, then green, then purple, you can use the same bowl and whisk.
16. Sprinkle sugars over the icing.
17. Sit back, relax, and eat a piece of cake, you deserve it!!