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Let them eat King Cake

My mom was born in the heart of Louisiana: New Orleans. 

She grew up in a city filled with music, parties and people. But what’s always been some of her fondest memories, or maybe just the ones she recounts most often, are those of Mardi Gras parades. 

Mardi Gras takes place the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Christian liturgical season of Lent. In a typical year, New Orleans would be flooded with thousands of people dressed in purple, green and gold. Giant floats would parade through the streets, while those driving and riding them would throw beads and medallions. 

Although my mom moved to Ohio in college and started our family, we still celebrate Mardi Gras every year. A big part of our tradition is sharing King Cakes — a giant cinnamon roll iced in the Mardi Gras colors of green, purple and gold — with our families and friends. 

But COVID-19 changed all of that. 

So this year, instead of buying multiple King Cakes from our local bakery to give to friends, co-workers and family, my mom and I decided to create our own. 

For the actual cake, the recipe calls for:

  • 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast

  • 3 tablespoons sugar

  • 1 cup of warm milk

  • ½ cup buttermilk - room temperature

  • 1 egg

  • 3 tablespoons melted butter

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 4 cups of flour

For the inside filling, the recipe calls for:

  • 1 cup of brown sugar

  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon

  • ¼ teaspoon allspice

  • 2 tablespoons of melted butter

First, mix the yeast, sugar and ½ cup of milk. 

While we waited for the yeast to bloom, my mom and I sorted through old Mardi Gras beads. We threw them on, and she showed me her old medallions from Mardi Gras parades in years past. Wearing our beads, we moved on to the next step.

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Combine the rest of the milk, buttermilk, egg, butter, salt and half of the flour into a blender. Slowly, add the rest of the flour until the dough is pulling from the outside of the bowl. 

Take the dough out of the bowl and knead for about five minutes. Note that if the baker is wearing long, dangly beads while leaning over dough, they’re bound to get some flour on them. 

After kneading the dough, find a warm place for the dough to rise for about an hour and a half. 

While the dough is rising, mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and allspice together. In a large baking pan, about 16 by 12 inch, set a cookie sheet down. 

When the dough is about twice the size it was before rising, move it to the pan and roll it out into a large rectangle. Melt the remaining butter and spread it across the dough. Sprinkle the spice mixture over the dough evenly. 

The next part was definitely a two-man job for my mom and me. Together, we rolled the dough into a large cylinder starting on the long side. After some strategizing and two failed attempts, we were able to lift the end of them and connect them into a large circle. 

We put the dough into an oven preheated to 375 for about 25 minutes. Our dough was so thick when we took it out we had to flip it and bake it for another 10 minutes. 

After it was fully cooked, we took some icing and dripped it over the top until it was fully covered. As the finishing touch I added some colored sugar to give it that Mardi Gras style. 

My mom and I decided, after some generous taste tests, it had the exact same feel of New Orleans King Cakes. But honestly, to me it didn’t matter what it tasted like. 

Because after a year of isolation, fear and uncertainty, sometimes it’s nice to don some colorful beads, dance in the kitchen and enjoy a slice of King Cake with one of your favorite people.