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Celebrate Mardi Gras with a King Cake!

IMG 1955 Edited Celebrate Mardi Gras with a King Cake!

It’s Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, the last day of Carnival. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. In 47 days, it will be Easter Sunday. Is anyone else confused?

A couple of years ago, my friend Niki told me about a cake with a plastic baby inside commonly seen during Mardi Gras. Over the next year I proceeded to ask Niki about 16 times, “Hey, what’s that baby cake again?” To which she happily replied, “King Cake!”

A king cake is meant to be shared, and whoever finds the baby in their piece of king cake has to make a king cake to share next year. King cakes are named in honor of the three kings/wise men who brought gifts to Christ after his birth. It took the kings a few days to arrive in Bethlehem, and their arrival is celebrated as Twelfth Night (a.k.a. The Feast of the Epiphany). Twelfth Night represents the start of Carnival, a period of revelry, that lasts through Fat Tuesday (a.k.a Mardi Gras).

Twelfth Night is always January 6th and Fat Tuesday is always 47 days prior to Easter. Fat Tuesday is called fat because it is the last day to feast before the fast or self-denial that typically accompanies the period of Lent. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Less confused?

IMG 1953 Edited e1329534992202 Celebrate Mardi Gras with a King Cake!

I wanted to make a King Cake last year, but having no one to be accountable to (blog readers), the closest I got was eyeing a few in bakery windows.  This year, though I waited until the last minute, I baked my own King Cake.

I was somewhat concerned with how my King Cake would look because all I had seen were pretty ugly, and by ugly, I mean they had a really messy look. To make the prettiest king cake possible, I braided three ropes of dough rather than laying one rope of dough out like a ring. A tip I ran across suggested placing a clean, empty coffee can in the center of the ring to help the king cake hold its shape. I used a wide glass instead of a coffee can, which I then removed prior to baking, and I was happy with the results.

IMG 1958 Edited Celebrate Mardi Gras with a King Cake!

I selected a very simple king cake recipe fromNew Orleans chef John Besh. Recipes for more elaborate king cakes include cream cheese or other fillings spread across the dough, but I kept my first king cake simple, using only cinnamon and lemon zest to flavor the dough. The cake was fairly bland, but the sweet glaze created the perfect balance. One word of caution, this King Cake dries out fast! I baked the cake on Saturday and by Monday, it was terribly dry.

King Cake isn’t something I’d choose for a sweet dessert, but it is a delicious snack that pairs wonderfully with a cup of coffee or tea. If you can’t celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans, enjoy a piece of King Cake with friends where you are!

IMG 1963 Edited Celebrate Mardi Gras with a King Cake!

King Cake
Recipe type: Dessert
  • 1 cup lukewarm milk, about 110°
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 3¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 5 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • For the icing:
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • ¼ cup condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Purple, green, and gold decorative sugars
  • Plastic baby party favor (to hide in the cake after baking)
  1. Pour the milk into a large bowl.
  2. Whisk in the granulated sugar, yeast, and a heaping tablespoon of the flour, mixing until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved.
  3. Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest.
  4. Fold the remaining flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg and into the wet ingredients with a large rubber spatula.
  5. When the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, shape it into a ball and turn out on a lightly floured surface.
  6. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes.
  7. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside until the dough has doubled in volume, about 1½ hours.
  8. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough into 3 equal pieces.
  9. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope, making 3 ropes of equal length.
  10. Braid the 3 ropes around one another and then form the braid into a circle, pinching the ends together to seal.
  11. Gently lay the braided dough on a nonstick cookie sheet and again allow it to rise until it doubles in size, about 30 minutes. If desired, place a clean coffee can or wide glass in the center of the circle to help the dough keep its shape.
  12. Once the dough has doubled in size, place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake at 375 degrees F until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
  13. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes.
  14. While the cake cools, make the icing by whisking together the powdered sugar, condensed milk, and lemon juice in a bowl until the icing is smooth and very spreadable.
  15. Tuck the plastic baby into underside of the cooled cake.
  16. Spread the icing over the top of the cooled cake and sprinkle with purple, green, and gold decorative sugars while the icing is wet.
Through the dough requires quite a bit of kneading, it is better to knead by hand than to use an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. I found the dough tends to bunch up on the dough hook instead of getting a proper knead. If the icing is too thick, add more condensed milk. Though the original recipe called for ¼ cup, I used ½ cup of condensed milk for my King Cake icing.


Jambalaya Pizza

IMG 1882 Edited Jambalaya Pizza

My favorite southern food is grits. They have been my breakfast of choice since childhood, and nowadays I mix in a little cheddar and eat them for dinner. Boring, I know.

Much less boring is my second favorite southern food, jambalaya. A native Midwesterner, I had a slightly difficult time understanding the differences between jambalaya and gumbo. Both require a trinity of vegetables – onions, celery and green peppers – as well as a meat and a seafood, usually spicy sausage and shrimp. Tomatoes and rice usually make an appearance in each dish too. So what gives?*

Gumbo requires a roux, where jambalaya does not. A mixture of butter and flour cooked over low heat, the roux is the base of the gumbo and sets up the flavor of the entire dish. Gumbo made with a blond roux will taste different than gumbo made with a dark roux. Other notable differences?

Okra, which is probably my third favorite southern food, is typically found in gumbo but not in jambalaya. At two to three hours, gumbo must simmer much longer than jambalaya, which can be ready to eat after twenty to sixty minutes of simmering. And the way the rice is served differs too. Gumbo is poured over rice or served with rice as a side, but the rice is mixed right into the jambalaya.

IMG 1867 Edited Jambalaya Pizza

This recipe is not about gumbo (though coincidentally, I have made gumbo in the past week), but instead a twist on a traditional jambalaya recipe in the form of  pizza. I love this recipe for jambalaya pizza, and I make it a little differently every time.

Sometimes I use ham instead of sausage, and I typically switch up the cheeses in the crust and on the top. The original recipe called for pepper jack cheese in the crust and mozzarella cheese on the top. That combination is delicious, though cheddar or other blends work equally well.

Despite the many ingredients and two bake times – once for the crust and once for the assembled pizza – jambalaya pizza does not take too much time to prepare. I can typically make the pizza, clean up and serve in under an hour, which is perfect for a weeknight dinner or a weekend treat. Enjoy!

*I extend my apologies to any native southerner whom I’ve offended with my radically simple and probably fairly ignorant explanation of the differences between jambalaya and gumbo.

IMG 1891 Edited Jambalaya Pizza

Jambalaya Pizza
Recipe type: Entree
  • 3 cups rice, cooked
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups shredded cheese, divided
  • ¼ cup chopped celery
  • ¼ cup onion
  • ¼ green pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ cup sliced smoked sausage
  • ½ cup chopped cooked shrimp
  • 1⅓ cups salsa, drained
  1. Combine the cooked rice, eggs and one cup of the shredded cheese in a bowl.
  2. Spread the mixture evenly over a 12-inch pan lightly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. Bake the crust at 450 degrees F for 20 minutes, then remove the crust and reduce the heat to 425 F.
  4. While the rice crust bakes, heat the butter or olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  5. Add the celery, onion, and green pepper and cook for 8-10 minutes or until tender.
  6. Stir in the garlic, sausage and shrimp.
  7. Spread the drained salsa over the baked crust, then spread the vegetable and meat mixture over the salsa.
  8. Sprinkle with the remaining cup of shredded cheese.
  9. Bake 10-15 minutes until heated and cheese is melted.


Fondant Friday: Homemade Fondant

IMG 1898 Edited Fondant Friday: Homemade Fondant

Some of you may recall the Fondant Friday posts that appeared during this blog’s infancy. They weren’t too good but at the time, I had big aspirations to practice, practice, practice and become really adept at working with fondant. But aside from making a few fondant flowers to top cupcakes near the Fourth of July, I didn’t touch fondant again until this past week. As mentioned in Tuesday’s post, I topped red velvet shortbread cookies with a layer of icing and homemade fondant.

I was very curious about how to make fondant at home and how the taste of homemade fondant would compare to that of store-bought fondant. My friend Niki once told me she prefers to look at cakes decorated with fondant, but prefers to eat cakes covered in icing. I thought that was a very eloquent way to say fondant just tastes bad!

Since the homemade fondant recipe I used called only for sugar in various forms – marshmallows, corn syrup, and confectioner’s sugar – and flavorings, the taste was superior to the two store-bought fondants, Duff and Wilton brands, I had tasted. While Duff’s fondant tastes pretty good, Wilton’s fondant is terrible. Wilton offers a lot of great baking-related products, but fondant is not one of them.

Making homemade fondant is a sticky process that requires a lot of kneading. I can’t stress enough how important it is to lightly coat the mixing bowls and utensils you will use with non-stick cooking spray or shortening. Since fondant is so thick, more like modeling clay than Play-Doh, you will likely need to knead by hand at some point. Adding a bit of confectioners’ sugar to fondant, just like adding flour to bread dough, while kneading helps alleviate the stickiness.

IMG 1903 Edited Fondant Friday: Homemade Fondant

My number one tip for working with fondant is to make sure your work surface is clean. Wipe off the counter, or mat if you have one, and then wipe it off again. Fondant picks up crumbs and dust like a magnet, and it’s no fun to roll out a sheet of fondant and then see flecks of non-fondant stuff all over it. Seriously, someone should start to market fondant as a perishable lint roller.

Other suggestions include rubbing a thin coat of white vegetable shortening on the work surface and your hands before rolling out the fondant, but I’ve always just used my dusting pouch filled with equal parts confectioner’s sugar and cornstarch to prevent the rolled out fondant from sticking to the work surface.

To color fondant, I dab a small ball of fondant with a toothpick dipped in gel food color until the fondant is speckled. Then I knead the color into the fondant until it is consistent throughout. As for kneading, I work an entire batch of fondant likeI would knead bread dough, pressing it out with my hands and folding it over.  When kneading in color, I pull the smaller ball of fondant like I imagine I would pull taffy.

If you have never worked with fondant before, I would suggest buying a cheap package of fondant (that’s where the Wilton brand comes in handy) simply to get a feel for the texture and its properties.  Working with fondant takes time and patience, but with practice, you can do some pretty cool things.  See the Cake Journal blog for all of my favorite fondant tutorials. Happy (Fondant) Friday!

IMG 1901 Edited Fondant Friday: Homemade Fondant


Homemade Fondant
  • Non-stick cooking spray or shortening
  • 15 ounces marshmallows
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon lemon or almond extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6-8 cups confectioner’s sugar
  1. Grease a microwave-safe bowl, a stand mixer bowl, dough hooks, and spatulas with a thin layer of non-stick cooking spray or shortening.
  2. Combine the marshmallows and water in the microwave safe bowl.
  3. Microwave the mixture for 30 seconds, stir, then repeat until the marshmallows are melted and the mixture is soupy.
  4. When the mixture is melted and soupy, stir in the lemon juice, corn syrup, flavoring extracts, and salt.
  5. Place 5-6 cups of confectioner’s sugar in the stand mixer bowl and form a well in the center.
  6. Pour the marshmallow mixture into the well and knead on low speed with the dough hook until the sugar is mostly incorporated.
  7. When the mixture begins to stick to the bowl, add an additional 1-2 cups confectioner’s sugar and continue to knead until the fondant is smooth, thick, and loses it’s stickiness.
  8. Form the fondant into a smooth ball, very lightly coat with non-stick cooking spray or shortening, and wrap in a double layer of plastic wrap.
  9. Allow the fondant to rest 3-4 hours or overnight before using to decorate.
  10. Store wrapped in plastic wrap and in an air-tight container.
Fondant is very thick, so if the stand mixer starts to work too hard (which is likely), remove the fondant and knead by hand on a clean work surface.You may want to coat the work surface with non-stick cooking spray, shortening, or a mixture of equal parts confectioner’s sugar and cornstarch.