Kings Cake

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Look out prudes and teetotalers … here comes Mardi Gras! Fat Tuesday always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, which means all hell breaks loose on Feb 28th this year.  (We’re not even given time to recoup from our Valentine’s Day chocolate comas.)   Of course hard core revelers are already deep into it, the season having begun on the Epiphany, January 6th. If you are in the know, you will already be enjoying this recipe, or a version of it.

Traditionally prepared anytime between Twelfth Night and Ash Wednesday, the King’s cake is the center of every Mardi Gras celebration. Like many other celebration cakes around the world, there is a prize baked into the cake for one lucky partygoer. Toys, coins, beans, and nuts have been popular over the years. In the 1800’s, rich plantation owners would bake in a precious jewel. More commonly today, the surprise is a small toy baby. (Am I the only one that thinks this is a little gruesome?) The recipient is crowned king or queen, and is then obligated to host next year’s party (not unlike the Mexican Rosca des Reyes tradition). This seems like a scam by some burnt-out hostesses.

Many Bakeries offer a variety of flavored King Cakes, and you can easily add a filling to this dough such as nuts, raisins, or chocolate chips. You can also roll the dough into a rectangle, spread on a filling, then roll it up as with cinnamon rolls. Common fillings include cinnamon sugar or cream cheese.  I am not a fan of the colored sugar, but I’m a weirdy, so have at it.

INGREDIENTS

1 cup milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
3 eggs
4 yolks
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4-6 cup bread flour
1 small toy, china doll, coin, or dried bean
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3-4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Purple, green and gold (or yellow) colored sugars

METHOD

  1. Combine milk, 1 tablespoon sugar, yeast, stir to dissolve, and let stand 10 minutes, until foamy.
  2. Add eggs and yolks, remaining sugar, butter, nutmeg, lemon zest (reserve juice), salt, and enough bread flour to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead 8-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Add flour only as needed to reduce stickiness. Return to bowl, dust with flour, cover with plastic, and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 2  hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 325˚F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn risen dough out onto a floured surface, and roll into a 2 foot long rope. Form the rope into a circle on the prepared pan, carefully pinching ends together. Gently press the toy into the wreath, then cover loosely with plastic and rise again for 45-60 minutes. (Alternatively, the dough may also be formed into a long braid before being formed into a circle.)
  4. Whisk together egg, a pinch of salt, and a tablespoon of water, and brush gently onto the top of the risen loaf. Bake until golden brown and hollow sounding, about 45-60 minutes. Cool completely on a rack.
  5. Beat together reserved lemon juice, milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar, until thick and smooth. Spread icing on loaf, then decorate with the three colored sugars. Slice and serve.

FYI … The green, purple and gold sugars atop this famous loaf symbolize justice, faith and power.
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“Help me!”

Easter Kulich

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I am ready for Easter. I have the Peeps, the Cadbury Eggs, and the Star Wars Egg Dying Kit. Seriously, if you happen to pass by a Star Wars Egg Dying Kit how can you NOT buy it?

Next on the list is the Kulich. No one in the family is Russian, but my boss at Zola’s in SF asked me to make it once 20 years ago and I fell in love with it. Who could resist bread with saffron, rum, dried fruits, nuts, and citrus zest? Not me.

Bread is a symbolic, holy food in many cultures, and it is not uncommon to see the addition of eggs both in the dough, or baked into the loaves still in their shell. We see eggs at Easter (not usually decorated with Star Wars stickers) because the egg is an ancient symbol of re-birth and spring. Eggs are also a food traditionally forbidden during Lent. Even today, orthodox communities abstain from all animal products during this holy time of year, then let loose on Easter and make up for lack of these foods in one fell swoop.

This Russian Easter bread is tall and regal, and is commonly served with Pashka, a molded sweet cheese studded with still more fruits. If you are short on #10 cans, bake this dough in two traditional loaf pans.

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup dark rum
1 cup milk, warmed
2-3 threads saffron
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
3-1/2 teaspoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
4 egg yolks
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1/4 cup skin-on almonds, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup candied citrus zest
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
4-6 cups bread flour
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

METHOD

  1. Combine raisins and rum and set aside to plump overnight.
  2. Combine warmed milk and saffron, and set aside for 10 minutes. Add sugar, yeast, stir to dissolve, and let stand 10 minutes, until foamy.
  3. Add soaked raisins and liquid, egg yolks, butter, salt, vanilla bean, almonds, candied zest, grated zest (reserve juice), and enough bread flour to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead 8-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Add flour only as needed to reduce stickiness. Return to bowl, dust with flour, cover with plastic, and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1-1/2 hours.
  4. Use a church key can opener to make three holes in the bottom of a #10 can. Coat the can with pan spray, and line the sides with a cylinder of parchment paper. Turn risen dough out onto a floured surface and shape into an oblong loaf. Place end-first into prepared can, cover loosely with plastic, and set aside to proof for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
  5. Bake until golden brown and hollow sounding, about 45-60 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, remove loaf from the can, and cool completely on a rack.
  6. Combine powdered sugar with lemon juice and a pinch of salt, and beat until smooth and creamy. Add more sugar or a touch of water as needed. Drizzle icing onto the top of the cooling loaf, and let it drip down the sides. Decorate the top of the iced loaf as they do in the Baltics, with candied fruits.
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