“King Cake” is the Louisiana term for the sweet bread served on Epiphany. This is the day that opens up Carnival or Mardi Gras. Epiphany used to be a fixed date on January 6, and known as Twelfth Night. Here’s an interesting explanation of the King Cake origins.
It seems almost every country has their own version of an Epiphany cake or bread. I couldn’t find all the names or types for all the countries, but here are some highlights:
Hispanic Countries: Rosca de los Reyes (Cake of the Kings). This is a fruit and nut filled ring or crown topped with icing and decorations, and bean or tiny doll inserted.
France: Galette (or Gateau) des Roi (or Rois) (Cake of the Kings). Usually this is a round and flat cake, honey-spice or sponge inside. It is decorated with pastry, fruits, or sugared frills. Each cake has a bean, small token or miniature doll inside. A nice tradition: there should be one more piece than the number of guests. The extra portion, la part a Dieu–God’s share–is for the first poor person who knocks at the door. The day of the Kings means sharing as well as receiving. Nobody who asks for food or alms will leave empty-handed that day.
England: Twelfth Cake is eaten with Lamb’s Wool (mulled ale with roasted apple pulp). Inside the cake are a bean and a pea. The man to find the bean was the King of the part, and the woman with the pea is the Queen.
I found this great cookbook called The Festive Bread Book by Kathy Cutler. In her book she has 7 different types of bread or cakes for Epiphany, including ones from Spain, Brazil, Holland and a Twelfth Night Bread of Lady Carcas. This book is OOP. The other book I keep recommending, Celebrations of Bread by Betsy Oppenneer, only has one recipe for Epiphany, Rosca de Reyes.
The Epiphany Cake I posted previously will be a new addition to our Epiphany celebration. We usually serve this King Cake as part of our family celebration. This recipe is from from La Cucina Egeriana. by Eleanor Bernstein, Ferraro, CSJ and Maria Bettina, from Notre Dame Centre for Pastoral Liturgy.
It makes two 9×12 bread rings. The rolling and braiding is a little tricky and time consuming, but it is so delicious and beautiful. My family likes a sweet icing, so I put it on top and sprinkle with colored sugar (purple, green, and gold). The recipe calls for an egg wash with a colored sugar sprinkle.
1 stick butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 packages dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons grated orange rind
5 cups flour plus 1 cup for kneading surface
Melt 1 stick butter, milk, 1/3 cup sugar and salt in a saucepan. Cool to lukewarm. Combine 2 tablespoons sugar, yeast and water in a large mixing bowl. Let stand until it forms (5-10 minutes). Beat eggs into yeast mixture. Then add milk mixture and lemon and orange rinds. Stir in flour, 1/2 cup at a time, reserving 1 cup for the kneading surface. Knead dough until smooth (about 5-10 minutes). Place in large mixing bowl that has been greased. Turn dough once to grease top; cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 stick butter, melted
Either 1 egg beaten or Confectioner’s Sugar Icing
Then 1/3 cup each colored sugar of purple, yellow and green
2 plastic babies (3/4 inch) or 2 red beans
For filling, mix pecans, brown sugar, granulated sugar and cinnamon. Set aside. For topping, tint sugar by mixing in food coloring until desired shade is reached. For purple, use equal amounts of blue and red. (Use just a drop or two at a time).
When dough has doubled, punch down and divide in half. On a floured surface, roll half into a rectangle 30 x 15 inches. Brush with half of the melted butter and cut into 3 lengthwise strips. Sprinkle half of sugar mixture and pecans on strips, leaving a 1-inch lengthwise strip free for sealing. Fold each strip lengthwise toward the center, sealing the seam. You will now have three 30-inch strips with sugar and nut mixture enclosed in each. Braid the 3 strips and make a circle by joining the ends. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
Place each cake on a 10″x15″ baking sheet, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Brush each egg and sprinkle top with colored sugars, in sequence.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 20 minutes or until cake tests done. Remove from baking sheet immediately so that sugar will not harden. While still warm, place 1 plastic baby or bean in each from underneath the cake.
To freeze, wrap cooled cake tightly in plastic wrap. Before serving, remove plastic and thaw. The cake is best if heated slightly before serving.