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King Cake
A delicious bread Machine recipe

Celebration! Hard to imagine one without its own special food customs. Officially, the Mardigras Carnival season can be short or long, depending on when Lent and Easter fall in a given year's calendar. Mardi Gras dates for the next few years are:
2010 February 16
2011 March 8
2012 February 21
2013 February 12
2014 March 4
2015 February 17
2016 February 9
2017 February 28
2018 February 13
2019 March 5
2020 February 25
2021 February 16
2022 March 1
2023 February 21.
The big day, Mardi Gras, is the day before Ash Wednesday and can fall on any Tuesday between February 3 and March 9. The start of the Mardigras season, however, is always Twelfth Night, January 6th, (12 days after Christmas), which commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem.

Here is a short history of King Cakes, the traditional Mardigras food, with a good bread machine recipe.

I make the dough for my King Cake in my large Oster bread machine, and this is the recipe for this brioche. The rest of the year it makes three fat loaves of wonderful toasting bread.

King Cake: A Bread Machine Brioche Dough

This makes a BIG King Cake, about 24 servings; or 3 loaves of delicious egg bread. Take a look around for your biggest serving platter and shape the cake to fit it.

3/4 cup water
2-4 tablespoons butter
5 large eggs
4 1/2 cups bread flour
2-6 tablespoons sugar (use larger amount for king cake)
1/2 tablespoon ground dried lemon peel
3 1/2 teaspoons SAF yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vital wheat gluten or dough enhancer

This makes a high-rising, soft but very springy dough. I use the sweet bread, not the dough setting, because it requires two full kneadings and risings before shaping. I take the dough out just before the baking cycle starts, punch it down and flatten it into a long 1" thick, 5" wide rectangle, sprinkle it with the cinnamon streusel or other filling and roll it up, shaping the long roll on a buttered cookie sheet. I pinch the ends together to make a full circle. Let rise in a warm place covered by a damp towel for about 50 minutes, then place in a cold oven, turn on to 375 degrees, and bake about 45 minutes until well risen and a deep golden brown.


4 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted (optional)
2 cups brown or granulated sugar
4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup flour or oatmeal

After it cools, glaze generously with a thin, lemony sugar glaze, then sprinkle with colored sugars in stripes. Use a traditional boiled white frosting with 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup of water and two egg whites, flavored with lemon, butter and vanilla, or try:


2 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice,
1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon rind,
a dash of salt
3 tablespoons hot water 2 tablespoons butter
Mix until mixture is smooth and can be drizzled onto the cake. A boiled icing recie with two cups of sugar is low fat and a good alternative.

Color sugar crystals (green, purple) by working in a few drops of food coloring and add gold dragées. As soon as the glaze is poured, sprinkle colored stripes on the glaze.
A tiny china or plastic baby doll or a red bean is inserted underneath before glazing- I put mine in AFTER I bake the roll!
Store the king cake covered at room temperature- it is really a bread, and dries out in the refrigerator. I use a food safe plastic trash bag (small white Glad).

International Background of King Cakes

Epiphany, celebrated in European countries, marks the coming of the wise men who brought gifts to the Christ Child. Epiphany is also called Little Christmas or the Twelfth Night, and is celebrated January 6, twelve nights after Christmas. People from all of the world celebrate Epiphany by exchanging gifts and feasting. A very popular custom that is still celebrated is the making of some kind of "King's Cake" in honor of the three kings. In ancient times in Russia, before Christian Easter was celebrated, the Spring Festival used the round blini, a thick, fried-flour concoction, "as a symbol of the sun's return after the long winter darkness," according to Ermann. The Spanish give gifts on Twelfth Night instead of Christmas, separating the birth of Christ from the gift giving, and in Italy the old woman who brings gifts comes on Epiphany, not Christmas.

Among the French, January 6 is petit fours Noel (Little Christmas), when balls are held. The opening celebrations take place in private homes and culminate in the eating of the Gateau du Roi (King's Cake), which is a sweet bread made of brioche dough. Folklore has it that in the 17th century, Louis XIV took part in at least one Twelfth Night festival where a bean or ceramic figure was hidden in the cake, which gave it the name "gateau des Rois" (kings' cake).

Appearance of King Cakes

The cakes are baked in many shapes now, but originally were round in shape to portray the circular route taken by the Kings to confuse King Herod who was trying to follow the wise men so he could kill the Christ child. Hidden away somewhere in the cakes was either a small bisque or china doll, a trinket, or a bean, usually a red bean and sometimes covered in silver or gold leaf. The finder became king or queen for the day. Today, a plastic baby is baked inside the King Cake, and the tradition is whoever receives the baby in their piece of cake must buy the next King Cake or throw the next party.

Many fillings and combinations can be found today, though traditional King Cakes are made of a cinnamon- filled dough in the shape of a hollow circle. Apple, cheese, bourbon, and praline cakes are just a few of the many varieties now available. The New Orleans cake is topped with a glazed topping and then sprinkled with colored sugars. Selected by the Krewe of Rex in the 1870's, the three colors of the sugar are Purple (representing Justice), Green (representing Faith) and Gold (representing Power). King Cake with a cup of dark New Orleans coffee is the preferred dessert and snack in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Hundreds of thousands of King Cakes are eaten in New Orleans during the Carnival season. Many are shipped throughout the U.S. for those displaced New Orleanians longing for a taste of Mardi Gras. In fact, a Mardi Gras party wouldn't be a Mardi Gras party without a King Cake.

History of the New Orleans King Cakes

The Twelfth Night cake custom is still widely observed in France, where families and friends gather around one of the different cakes served at King cake soirees. In some regions the couronne, made from brioche dough topped with a fruit-festooned sugar glaze, is favored. In Paris and other major cities, a fancier galette filled with frangipane (almond cream paste), prevail.

France’s brioche-like couronne became the forerunner of New Orleans’s king cake when Creoles, colonials of French and Spanish descent who settled in New Orleans, adopted the French Twelfth Night cake and blended it with the Spanish tradition of mounting a grand ball on Twelfth Night. By the end of the 17th century, writes Mary Fonseca in Americana magazine, there was an entire season of balls called "les bals des Rois"(the balls of kings), which started on Twelfth Night and ended on Fat Tuesday. According to Fonseca, "The king and queen chosen at the first ball by finding the bean in the cake were responsible for holding the next ball, when the luck of the bean would decide their successors."

The role of the king cake in divining Carnival royalty is most closely associated with The Twelfth Night Revelers. At the elite krewe's Twelfth Night Ball in 1871, recounts Henri Schindler in his book Mardi Gras New Orleans, "an enormous Twelfth Night Cake was cut and its slices distributed to the young ladies by the Revelers; whoever received the gold bean (a bean-shaped locket) in her cake was named queen. At their first ball in 1870, court fools and jesters made a clumsy show of serving cake on their spears, and the finder of the bean did not step forward. However, the following year the Lord of Misrule [the Revelers' monarch] knew which slice contained the bean, and when he saw the young lady receive it, he strode to her and before the assembled guests, crowned her Queen of the Ball."

The first king cakes Donald Entringer ever made were for the Twelfth Night Revelers. In 1935, his father, a baker in Biloxi, Miss., had bought a bakery on Prytania Street in New Orleans, keeping its original owner, Henry McKenzie, on as manager. That same year Donald, then 19, arrived from Biloxi to work under McKenzie. When McKenzie died a year and a half later, Donald took over the business.

The Revelers procured trinkets from a jeweler and supplied them to McKenzie's. Every year, the shop would bake five or six cakes, each containing several trinkets, for the ball. "All the things that went in [the cakes] were very, very nice- nothing cheap about it," says Mr. Donald. An additional half dozen or so cakes would go in the store, "and that was about it."

Around 1940, a friend of Mr. Donald's who worked in the ornament business began supplying him with porcelain dolls from China to put in the cakes. It was a nifty gimmick, "except they [the dolls] were hard," says Mr. Donald, "and once in a while somebody'd bite on one, and we'd have a problem."

Then in the early 1950s, another friend of the baker's happened across a plastic baby in a French Quarter trinket shop. " 'Why don't you use that instead of the doll,' " Mr. Donald recalls the friend saying, " 'because it looks so much nicer; it's cute; and when you bite on it, you got less chance of breaking your tooth.' " Also, the plastic babies were less expensive than the porcelain dolls.

Taking his friend's advice, the enterprising baker initiated a practice destined to become so widely imitated that, today, a king cake without a plastic baby is like a birthday cake without candles. Even the phrases "Contains one plastic doll" or "Plastic baby in cake"-seen on commercial king cake packaging-and "I got the baby!"-the cry announcing that a party goer has received the slice of cake with the baby-are now as much a part of the collective Carnival consciousness as "Throw me something, Mister!" (the traditional cry of paradegoers coaxing trinkets tossed by riders from floats).