A few years ago about this time, in my exuberance, I volunteered to make King Cakes for Mardi Gras for my son’s school. I had no idea what was involved. I just raised my hand and said “King Cakes” because I knew they were associated with Mardi Gras. I left knowing I would figure it out later when the time came.
What is Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) is the time from the Epiphany culminating on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday which begins Lent, a time for penance and fasting. This year, Mardi Gras is on March 4. Here are some of the various names for the celebration. No matter where, it always involves a feast before the fast.
- New Orleans/France: Mardi Gras
- Brazil: Carnival
- Italy: Carnivale
- Germany: Fastnacht or Fasching
- United Kingdom and Ireland: Shrove Tuesday
The King Cake takes its name from the biblical three kings who visited the Christ child on January 6, the Epiphany. In the Gulf Coast region of the United States, the tradition was brought to the area by colonists from France and Spain. King Cake parties in New Orleans are documented back to the eighteenth century. The most traditional style of King Cake is a ring of twisted bread similar to that used in brioche topped with icing or sugar, usually colored purple, green, and gold, the traditional Mardi Gras colors. Purple for justice. Green for faith. Gold for power.
Each cake is baked with a tiny plastic baby representing the Baby Jesus, or some type of trinket or bean. In the south, whoever finds the trinket must provide the next King Cake or host the next Mardi Gras party.
Now, Back to My Problem
All I know is I had to produce 10 King Cakes in a short time and I had no idea how to do it. I did my research on the Internet and found the Louisiana-style King Cake — a cinnamon-roll-like cake inside with sugary icing and traditional Mardi Gras-colored sprinkles on the outside.
I found the KingsCakeShop.com and Haydel’s Bakers, both in Louisiana, who were long-time bakers of this authentic cake. Oh that’s easy, I’ll just place an order and they can be shipped right to the school. Job done. Wait…King Cakes ordered from Mardi Gras town, although wonderful and authentic, ranged from $35 to $60. Okay…that times 10 cakes equals around $500! What did I volunteer for again?
Making them myself was an option but, really, ten of them? Brioche-like? Twisted yeast bread with fillings of cream cheese and cinnamon? Cinnamon-roll-like? Ten King Cakes by when? Once again, I had gotten myself in over my head.
I had to think fast. No way would I back down on my promise so I started thinking. Soon my easy, inexpensive King Cake version was born! I call the recipe, Easy King Cakes You Can Make When You Have to Make 10 of Them. And you know what? They are delicious too. So, all you busy people, go ahead and make a King Cake this year and impress everyone. Enjoix and laissez les bons temps rouler!
“Easy King Cakes You Can Make When You Have to Make 10 of Them”
- Prep time: 8 minutes per cake
- Baking time: 25-30 minutes per cake
- Decorating time: 10 minutes per cake, if that
- Cost per cake: Approx. $7
- 3 cans cinnamon roll ready-to-bake dough (12.4 oz. can)
- 1 can cream cheese frosting
- Sprinkles – purple, green and gold
- One naked plastic baby (Can be bought at party stores or places that carry baking items. These are specially made to withstand high baking temperatures.)
Pop open all three tubes of cinnamon rolls and put in a bowl. Knead all the rolls together and on a lightly-floured surface, roll the dough into a tube-like form.
- Shape the tube into a ring. If you want your King Cake to be bigger, use more cans of cinnamon rolls.
Bury the naked baby deep into the dough.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the ring on the sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees.
Bury the naked baby in the dough before baking.
Let cool and when still slightly warm, ice the cake with the icing from the three cans. Supplement with cream cheese canned frosting.
Decorate the icing with sprinkles of purple, green and gold, the colors of Mardi Gras.