For many of us our holy days are rooted in one food tradition or another.
Sometimes it is feast while other times it seems like famine as we abstain.
We are now at the beginning of Lent of which Shrove Tuesday or known in our house as Pancake Tuesday, is the prelude to. Shrove Tuesday is February 25th this year and we will be piling the crepes and pancakes on our plates as we gather together to fortify ourselves for 40 days of fasting during Lent.
Mardi Gras which is a French word meaning Fat Tuesday also starts on February 25 and is celebrated in different ways with carnivals, parades and, yes, lots of food. A specialty of Mardi Gras is the King Cake which is traditionally iced in green and purple and sometimes gold. Not too difficult to make and well worth the trouble. Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras are more family traditions than religious. Enjoy!
1 Cup whole Milk – warmed to 110º
½ Cup Sugar
2 Tbs Dry Yeast
3 ¾ Cups Flour
1 Cup Salted Butter – melted
5 Egg Yolks – beaten and frothy
1 ½ tsp Vanilla Extract
1 tsp Lemon Zest – freshly grated
3 tsp Cinnamon
A Pinch of Nutmeg – freshly grated if possible
Icing – recipe follows
FOR THE CAKE:
Pour the warm milk into a large bowl and then whisk in the sugar, yeast, and a full tablespoon of the flour. Mix until both the sugar and the yeast are dissolved. When bubbles have formed on the surface of the mixture and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest. When all is well combined, slowly add the remaining flour, cinnamon and nutmeg, folding into the wet ingredients with a rubber spatula. Remember to scrape down the sides.
When the dough comes together, pulling away from the sides of the bowl, gather it into a ball and place on a lightly floured board where you will knead the dough until it is smooth and rather elastic. If the dough does not come together, add just a little more flour and keep kneading. Be patient as this will take about 15 minutes.
Put the ball of dough into a bowl, cover with a plastic wrap and set aside in a place that will be draft-free and let it proof and rise. The dough should double in size and this will take about 80-90 minutes. While dough is proofing, preheat the oven to 375º
When the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece, using the palms of your hands on a lightly floured board, into long strips of equal length and width, as much as possible. (Not too long, as this decides the size and depth of the finished cake.) Braid the 3 ropes and then form the braid into a circle and pinch the ends together. Lay the braided ring on a non-stick cookie sheet and let it rise again until it again doubles in size – about 30-40 minutes. Once it has doubled, place the braid on the cookie sheet into the oven and bake for about 25-35 minutes or until the braid is golden brown. Remove from the oven, cool completely on a wire rack before icing.
2 Cups Powdered Sugar
¼ Cup Condensed Milk
1 tsp Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
Purple, Green and Gold Decorative Sugars
1 Fava Bean or small Plastic Baby – to hide in the cake after baking. (optional)
While the cake is cooling, prepare the icing. Whisk together the powdered sugar, condensed milk and lemon juice in a bowl. Keep whisking until the mixture is smooth and will be easy to spread. Adjust this by adding drops of milk until you are satisfied. If you add too much milk and it is too runny add more sugar. Before you ice the cake, slip the fava bean or plastic baby, if you are observing the tradition, into the bottom of the cake.
Once the cake has cooled, spread the icing over the top of the cake, letting a little drip down the sides. While the icing is still moist, (so the sugars will stick) sprinkle with the decorative sugars. Wait a few minutes to set and then slide the cake onto your serving platter.
NOTE: It is tradition to hide the fava bean or plastic baby into the cake and many theories abound for this practice. Some believe that the one who gets the trinket buys or makes the next cake and for others the theory is that that person will have good luck for the year. Either way, fun!
On Shrove Tuesday in our house we will be celebrating with crepes and pancakes (this was a tradition in our family started for us by my Grandmother who could whip up the lightest, largest crepes that we spread with her homemade prune butter) accompanied by bacon, sausage and an assortment of jams, jellies and Nutella.
However you celebrate, Enjoy and Buon Appetite!