Sunday, February 5, 2012

Homemade King Cake

Mardi Gras season is a wonderful time in Louisiana. It is a time for family and friends to get together, eat good food, and catch an exciting parade. Having lived in Louisiana for seven years, our family has gotten to experience all of this first-hand... it's a shame more places don't celebrate this time of year with the joy and happiness that the people of Louisiana express.

No, Mardi Gras is not just about Bourbon Street! In fact, most of the people you meet on Bourbon are tourists- I believe the tourists have given this celebration a bad reputation.

"Mardi Gras", in French, translates to "Fat Tuesday". It is the last chance for feasting before the holy Lent season- a time of praying and fasting that leads up to Holy Week and Easter. This tradition of feasting can trace its roots back to medieval France.

The French traditionally celebrate on the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th) with a "gateau des rois", or king cake. At the feast, the cake would be cut into the number of guests plus one. The extra piece would be called "God's portion". This would be saved for any beggars that might come to the door during the feast. The rest would be split among the guests by the youngest member of the family calling names from under the table- this is to ensure that there is no cheating, because hidden inside the cake is a bean. The person who gets the bean becomes the king of the party.

When the French settled in Louisiana, they brought along their tradition of Mardi Gras and king cakes. If you go there any time between The Feast of the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, you are sure to find king cakes in every store! Today, instead of hiding beans in the cake, you are likely to find a plastic baby, meant to represent the infant Jesus. I am told that the circular shape of the cake is to represent the route which the wise men took when visiting Jesus. When they were told by angels not to return to Herod, they went another way home...

So, now that we are far from Louisiana, I make my own king cakes! They are a small reminder of the wonderful times we had with our great friends there. Mardi Gras is a time to celebrate life, family, friends and faith. Laisez les bons temps rouler!

Here's what you'll need to make your own delicious king cake:
1 c warm milk
1/8 c butter
2 1/2 t yeast
1/4 c sugar
1 egg
3/4 t salt
1/4 t nutmeg
2 3/4 c flour
filling of choice
glaze and toppings

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until incorporated, then turn onto a floured surface. Kneed until dough is elastic, add more flour if dough is too sticky. Place in clean bowl and cover with a wet towel. Let rise for about an hour. Turn onto floured surface and roll out to a large rectangle (about 10" x 16"):

Next, you need to prepare your filling! The traditional cinnamon filling is easy- just mix 1 cup brown sugar with 2 T cinnamon. I was feeling creative today and mixed 12 oz cream cheese with about 1 pt strawberries (you could also use blueberries). You could use lemon custard as a filling, or even use homemade preserves! The possibilities are endless!

When your filling is made, lightly brush your dough with butter, then spread the filling in a 5" strip right down the center of the rectangle. Then, taking the long end farthest from you, roll the dough in jelly-roll fashion until it's a long tube. Move the dough to a greased cookie sheet. make an oval and pinch the end together. With scissors, cut slits in the dough every few inches:

Pre-heat the oven to 375. Let the dough rest while the oven heats up.

Bake for about 30 minutes.

When the cake is done, let it cool slightly then glaze with a mixture of 1 c powdered sugar and a couple T water. Make the glaze pourable, but not too runny. If you want to insert a plastic baby (found at crafting stores) or bean into one of the slits, feel free! Just warn everyone to look for it so they don't choke. The one who finds the prize should be crowned king or queen of the party :)

Add sprinkles or colored sugar to the top to make it more festive! Enjoy this sweet treat with your family and friends.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Homemade Play Dough

When the weather isn't ideal for playing outside, play dough is a good alternative :) I do not buy play dough anymore- not after getting a recipe from a homeschooling friend of mine in Louisiana! This play dough is soft, long-lasting and edible (although I wouldn't recommend it!).

The play dough in the picture is over a month old and shows no signs of age, no drying and is as pliable as the day I made it. My daughter likes to add colors to her play dough- this batch started out a cream color and very quickly became a dark green/black!

To make this wonderful sculpting medium, you will need:

1 c flour
1/2 c table salt
2 t cream of tartar
1 c water
1 T cooking oil

Combine all ingredients in a skillet and heat on medium-high heat.

Stir constantly until mixture pulls away from pan and can be formed into a ball.

Turn out onto counter top or cutting board and let it cool a bit, then kneed it until it reaches desired consistency- this won't take more than a minute or two.

You can add essential oils, food coloring, sparkles, etc. anything that might tickle your fancy!

Make sure to store your play dough in an air-tight bag or container to prolong its life.

Enjoy a breather and a cup of tea while the kids use their imaginations :)