Yet again we celebrate the festiveness and variety of New Orleans cuisine, on the eve of their most famous holiday: Mardi Gras is pretty nearly synonymous with The Big Easy, but I confess I have yet to visit during the big party week. I did, however, get the chance to go during the Jazz Festival 5 years ago.
It was a bittersweet blast, as I was traveling with my then-boyfriend of six years – and we both knew our relationship was soon coming to a close. Still very fond of one another despite the circumstances, we still managed to do the city in style, taking in some memorable tours, tearing up Bourbon Street, and eating our way through the whole French Quarter – both at near-cliches like the beignets at Cafe du Monde and at hole-in-the-wall treasures that true locals recommended to us. In late spring of 2007, the city was also still recovering from Katrina – and doing an amazing job to say the least. Everywhere we went, tour guides and restaurant personnel and hotel staff implored us to let our friends kn0w they were ready, eager, and in need of visitors once again, and we happily obliged.
Cajun cuisine was already appealing to my palate, thanks to a Southern friend in college as well as the amazing Dixie Kitchen restaurant in our neighborhood (I was heartbroken to learn of its closing), but after visiting in person, it carries another layer of resonance for me.
With all that said, I’m happy to share this unique Mardi Gras sweet pastry, made into a dairy-free delicacy.
A very popular custom that is still celebrated is the making of the “King’s Cake” which represents the three kings who brought gifts. A plastic baby is baked inside the King Cake, and the tradition is whoever receives the baby in their piece of cake must buy the next King Cake or throw the next party. King Cakes are made of a cinnamon filled dough in the shape of a hollow circle. The cake is topped with a delicious glazed topping and then sprinkled with colored sugar. The three colors of the sugar are Purple (representing Justice), Green (representing Faith) and Gold (representing Power).
So kick off your Mardi Gras in style, and give this a whirl – Les Bon Temps Roulez!
GLUTEN-FREE, VEGAN NEW ORLEANS KING CAKE
1 cup light coconut milk
1/4 cup coconut oil
2 (1/4 ounce) packages active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)
1/2 cup plus one tablespoon sugar, divided
2 tablespoons golden flax meal, stirred into 1/3 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
5 1/2 cups flour
1 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup pecans, chopped (reserve a single pecan half intact)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup coconut oil
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon warm water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
A few tablespoons each in purple, yellow and green sugar sprinkles
In a small pot, bring coconut milk just to a boil, then immediately remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup coconut oil. Set aside to cool down to room temperature. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in the water with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Let stand approximately 10 minutes, until foamy.
Stir in the cooled coconut milk and oil. Whisk in the flaxmeal and water mixture. Add the remaining half cup of sugar, salt and nutmeg. Using a rubber spatula, mix the flour into the liquid one cup at a time. When the dough has formed into a cohesive ball, place on a floured counter and knead until stretchy, about 5 minutes. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with a cloth, and let rise for 2 hours. Dough should roughly double in volume.
While pastry dough rises, make the filling. Combine light brown sugar, cinnamon, chopped pecans (be sure to save one half intact to tuck into the dough before baking) and flour. Melt the half cup coconut oil and stir into sugar mixture, mixing until it’s the texture of crumbly wet sand.
Once 2 hours have passed and the dough has doubled, punch down the dough and divide into two. Roll the two halves into two large rectangles, about 10 to 12 inches long. Sprinkle each half with brown sugar filling, then roll up jelly-roll style (starting with the long side). Bring ends together to form two circles, pinching ends together to seal.
Using a sharp knife or scissors, make 2 inch cuts about every 3 inches around each circle. Hide the intact pecan half by tucking into the dough through one of the vents. (This is traditionally a small plastic baby, pushed up into the dough once baking is finished.)
Prepare two baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment. Let dough rise for another half an hour; preheat oven to 350 as you wait. Place each circle on its own sheet, and set a ceramic ramekin or baking ring in the centers to help hold their shape. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes (start checking at around 25 minutes; too long and the dough will get tough and hard on the bottom). Allow to cool just a bit before decorating and place plastic baby/pecan from underneath in one of the rings, if using.
Whisk the water and vanilla extract into the powdered sugar and drizzle each cake liberally with icing. Sprinkle alternating stripes of purple, yellow and green sparkles.
Remember, whoever gets the baby, whether in toy form or as represented by pecan half, is responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next Mardi Gras celebration!
— posted by Anne