Last year, I wrote a fairly popular article about Mardi Gras. In it, I talked about the HBO series Treme, my attraction to the city of New Orleans, the history of Mardi Gras celebrations there, and the story of my first attempt at making a New Orleans King Cake. It was really quite informative and pretty entertaining. (In case you missed it, that was a plug for you to go read it. Go ahead … you can get to it from here.) The article got a lot of hits this Mardi Gras season, too, apparently from people searching for the correct way to pronounce “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” — that infamous Cajun expression that absolutely no one says in France … except for Americans!
To be honest, last year’s attempt at making a New Orleans King Cake here in France bore almost no resemblance to the real thing. Since we didn’t have an oven, we had to depend on the local bakery for our brioche, and they just don’t make brioche here in Paris in the form of a ring or crown. On top of that, we couldn’t find colored sugar or the right food colorings at the local supermarket, so we improvised with candied fruit. And in place of the little plastic Baby Jesus, we used a ceramic Virgin Mary, the fève from one of our several galettes des rois from the Epiphany season. The result — as delicious as it most certainly was — looked more like a shrine to Our Lady of Candy Land than a King Cake.
This year, I tried my hand at it once again, and the result was a much better approximation of the real thing. Even though we have an oven now, we’re too lazy to make homemade brioche, so I just bought one from the supermarket — once again not in the traditional shape, but at least it didn’t look like a little mountain this time. I also decided that I would make my own colored sugar after my common sense kicked in and I remembered that I could make any color by combining red, blue, and yellow. (My first art teacher, Mrs. Horton, would have been so embarrassed last year when I gave up after not finding purple food coloring!) So, yesterday afternoon, after coming home from the supermarket, I went into my artist’s studio and came out with this:
Alright, so the purple doesn’t look very purple in that little pink bowl, but trust me, it wasn’t burgundy when it went on the King Cake. Hold tight. You’ll see.
In addition to coloring the sugar, I decided to get really creative and flavor it, too! The gold sugar was flavored with vanilla extract, the green with orange blossom water (fleur d’oranger), and the purple with cinnamon and nutmeg! The process is really quite easy, You simply add the coloring and flavors to the granulated sugar, mix well with a fork, and let it dry at room temperature for an hour or two.
When the sugar was ready, I got to work on assembling my masterpiece. I unwrapped our soft, golden brown brioche pur beurre (“pure butter” — it was Mardi Gras after all) and replaced the morsels of pearl sugar that had fallen off in the sack. Once again, I didn’t have a plastic Baby Jesus to pose on top of our King Cake, so I used another ceramic fève and, mixing traditions, carefully inserted it into the brioche at just the right spot, filling the hole with more of that pearl sugar. Next came a generous coating of powdered sugar glaze. (I promise, by the way, that I didn’t scoop up the glaze that pooled around the bottom of the brioche and eat it like soup.) Finally came the sprinkling of the colored sugar: purple, yellow, green … cinnamon-nutmeg, vanilla, orange blossom … just like the Mardi Gras flag.
See? I told you the purple was really purple.
So, with a 400-gram (almost 1-pound) frosted brioche between two people, you’re probably wondering if we even found the fève last night. A brioche like that would last for days! I mean, two people couldn’t eat all of that in one evening, right? Umm … well … let’s just say that our fève didn’t stand a chance hiding out in that brioche. It was, after all, one FAT Tuesday!
Maybe next year, we’ll even try to bake our own brioche. Stay tuned for how that turns out!
P.S. — A few days ago, I joked on Facebook: “Who decided to put Ash Wednesday the day before Valentine’s Day this year? … I suppose I’m just going to have to be Orthodox this year.” Really, that’s just no way to start off Lent. The fact is that, even after the frosted decadence of Mardi Gras, I’ve ordered a surprise for Michel that’ll insure this Valentine’s Day is … one FAT Thursday! <sigh> Lent can wait until Friday, I suppose …
© 2013 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved