Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Tale of the King Cake That Wasn't

Once upon a time I used to live in Louisiana. It wasn't for a terribly long time, just a few years. Until then, Mardi Gras was not a holiday I had ever celebrated or even knew much about, other than it looked like some wild party and involved wearing a lot of colorful beaded necklaces. I never got into the party aspect of Mardi Gras, but while I was there, I did learn to love the food. And of course for me, with my love of baking, my favorite part of Mardi Gras food has to be the King Cake, a tricolored sweet bread flavored with cinnamon sugar, often filled with sweetened cream cheese and sometimes fruit. Chunks of King Cake go great with a cup of morning coffee. Typically, a tiny plastic baby or a dried bean is inserted into the cake before baking, to bring good luck to the person who gets the slice and to determine whose job it is to bake the cake next year.

There is a neat little place in southwestern Louisiana called Vermilionville, which is one of those re-enactment type museum villages.. the sort of place where they restore or at least replicate buildings from some historical period reflecting the past of the region. Employees dressed in clothing of the time period, etc. I had been drawn to the kitchen area when I visited, where a lady was demonstrating a quick and easy version of King Cake. She gave me a little pamphlet with the recipe, but explained that the recipe wasn't really terribly accurate. I jotted down a few notes and enjoyed a sample of the cake. Unlike the usual yeasted versions, the Vermilionville recipe was based on a biscuit dough. It was good, a bit sweet, and definitely had a different taste, a bit more flaky.

Unfortunately for me, I did not try out the recipe while the employee's improved instructions were fresh in my mind. I instead tucked the recipe pamphlet into my jammed box of recipe clippings and forgot about it. After all, when I lived in Louisiana still there were plenty of bakeries selling gorgeous and delicious ready made King cakes. I meant to try the recipe out, but didn't get around to it until after I moved away from the area.

Since I was just testing out the recipe and the only person who would be sharing it with me is my daughter, I decided to leave out the plastic baby. It wasn't as if she'd be making the cake next year for me if she got the slice with the baby since she is, sadly, completely uninterested in learning how to bake. The dough seemed at first to come together nicely .. it was fast to make, there was no rising time since it was not yeast based, and it rolled out smoothly without being sticky. One of the things I had been warned about was to cut down the filling in half from what was printed on the pamphlet, which I did. However, even that amount was far, far too much. It oozed and cracked the surface of the dough, preventing the cake from ever fully cooking inside. My results were a gummy, gooey, inedible mess. I did try baking it longer, but that just seemed to make matters worse. Disgusted, I promptly tossed out my cake and picked up a version at the local grocery store.

This is what I get for leaving out the traditional bean/baby that gets inserted into the dough before baking!

What you see pictured above is my cake, which at least least looked pretty.. on one side only. I might try to work with the recipe again and see if I can get it right, maybe for next year. For now, the shop bought variety will have to do.


  1. Ohh, I hate it when something doesn't work out for me Heather. It does look pretty though! If I know you, you will tinker with it until it is perfect! xxoo

  2. That brings back memories. My mom always made that special cake many many years ago. So sorry I didn't keep up with that tradition.

  3. Hi Heather, your cake looks very festive. I hate to admit it, but I've never tasted a king cake much less made one. Now you've spiked my curiosity about them.

  4. The king cakes are really very good - great with coffee. Thank you all for your comments - sorry for the delay in new posts, my life has been a bit hectic recently.