Friday, February 24, 2006

Laissez les bon temps rouler


By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer

Always falling the day before Ash Wednesday, Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is traditionally the last time Catholics are allowed to celebrate in high style before the onset of the 40-day period known as Lent. At the end of Lent, Easter occurs.

Some legends have it that Mardi Gras, or Carnivale, was celebrated before Ash Wednesday for many years in Europe, while others maintain that Mardi Gras originated with early French settlers of Mobile, Ala. Today, only New Orleans celebrates the Mardi Gras season in grander fashion than Mobile. The day is known for street parades, formal balls and outlandish costumes. Celebrations, now primarily secular, take place in less extreme manner all over the country, even here in the Wood River Valley.

On Tuesday, Feb. 28, The Café at the Brewery on Main Street in Hailey offers its annual Mardi Gras Cajun dinner. And this Saturday, the Share Your Heart Ball becomes Mardi Gras central to benefit Camp Rainbow Gold and Idaho Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Whether attending a party or throwing one, there are traditions that must be adhered to. For instance, customarily there are costumes, face painting, masks and beads.

And what would Mardi Gras be without King Cake? Who knows, but recommendations are that you just don't try. The three colors of Mardi Gras are purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power.

A plastic baby is baked inside the King Cake, and the tradition is whoever receives the baby in his or her piece of cake must make the next King Cake or throw the next party.

Traditional New Orleans King Cake Recipe

Cake Ingredients

1/2 cup warm water

2 packages active dry yeast

1/2 cup plus 1 tsp. sugar

4 1/2 cups unsifted flour

1 tsp. nutmeg

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. lemon zest

1/2 cup warm milk

5 egg yolks

1 stick (plus 2 Tbs.) butter cut into slices and softened

1 egg slightly beaten with 1 Tbs. milk

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 1" plastic baby doll

Icing

3 Tbs. milk

3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

3 cups confectioners sugar

Colored sugar crystals

Directions

Pour the warm water into a small shallow bowl, and sprinkle yeast and 2 tsp. sugar into it. Allow the yeast and sugar to rest for three minutes then mix thoroughly. Set bowl in a warm place for 10 minutes or until yeast bubbles up and mixture almost doubles in volume.

Combine 3 1/2 cups of flour, remaining sugar, nutmeg and salt, and sift into a large mixing bowl. Stir in lemon zest. Separate center of mixture to form a hole and pour in yeast mixture and milk.

Add egg yolks and, using a wooden spoon, slowly combine dry ingredients into the yeast/milk mixture. When mixture is smooth, beat in 8 Tbs. Butter, one at a time. Beat until dough can be formed into a medium-soft ball, about 2 minutes.

Place ball of dough on a lightly floured surface and knead like bread. While kneading, sprinkle up to 1 cup more of flour, one at a time, over the dough. When dough is no longer sticky, knead 10 minutes more until shiny and elastic.

Using a pastry brush, coat large bowl evenly with 1 Tbs. softened butter. Place dough ball in bowl and rotate until entire surface is buttered. Cover bowl with a moderately thick kitchen towel and place in a draft-free spot for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in volume. Using a pastry brush, coat a large baking sheet with one Tbs. of butter and set aside.

Place dough on lightly floured surface. Using your fist, punch dough down forcefully. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top, pat and shake dough into a cylinder. Twist dough to form a curled cylinder and loop cylinder onto the buttered baking sheet. Pinch the ends together to complete the circle.

Cover dough with towel and set it in draft-free spot for 45 minutes, or until the circle of dough doubles in volume. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Brush top and sides of cake with milk and bake on middle rack of oven for 25 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Place cake on wire rack to cool. Hide the plastic baby in the cake.

Icing

Combine and stir ingredients to blend well. With a rubber spatula, spread mixture evenly over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with purple, green, and gold (or yellow) sugar crystals, alternating colors around the cake.

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