February 4, 2012

CF129 – King Cake and Mardi Gras in New Orleans

CF129 – King Cake and Mardi Gras in New Orleans

We’re in the middle of Carnival season down here in New Orleans. Only one more week before the parades start to roll! Can’t wait!

You may have never been to Mardi Gras. You may not even have pleasant thoughts when you think of Mardi Gras… Maybe the only thing you know about Mardi Gras is what you have seen on MTV and the news channels. For those folks bad news is good news, so they like to portray the seedier side of things. But that’s not what Mardi Gras is all about. Believe it or not, Mardi Gras is Catholic through and through. And on today’s show, were going to talk about the Catholic roots of Mardi Gras and the delicious tradition of the King Cake.

Sarah Reinhard joins us with her Mary in the Kitchen segment, and today Sarah reflects on finding Mary in the hunker-down days of winter and discovering the kitchen as the heart of her home.

All this and more right here, at the Catholic Foodie, where food meets faith!

As we start this episode I want to thank our sponsor DivineOffice.org. Divine Office Catholic Ministry provides top-of-the line Catholic apps for your mobile devices… and for your Mac. The full Liturgy of the Hours, an app of Catholic prayers, a Bible app, and now an app of the Catholic Encyclopedia. These folks know what they’re doing and they do it so well. Not only are these apps beautiful to look at and easy to use, but they also help you to live out and grow in your faith. You can find out more about these apps at DivineOffice.org.

Today’s feedback:

  • Craig Poirier from Vancouver
  • Capt. Jeff of Catholic Weekend (and the Airline Pilot Guy podcast)
  • Fr. Mike Werkhoven from Tennessee

King Cake & Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Today we are talking about King Cake. Now I know what a King Cake is, because I eat and make King Cakes every year. But you might be wondering what exactly a King Cake is. Well I’m here to tell you all about it.

First of all, a King Cake is a brioche. Brioche is a simple yeast dough that is enriched with eggs and lots of butter. According the Joy of Cooking, “the high butter content gives the impression that the dough is wetter than it actually is, leading to the temptation – which you must resist – to add more flour.

Brioche is also very easy to braid, which is why some King Cakes you find are braided.

King Cakes are always round or oval, which is a sign of a crown. It is a symbol of royalty.

Some King Cakes are the basic cinnamon brioche, others are filled with anything from cream cheese, raspberry or strawberry filling, or even a praline type of filling. Some King Cakes are topped with colored icing, others are topped with a white icing and different colored sugar sprinkles. The colors are always the colors of Mardi Gras: purple, green and gold.

But what does all of this mean? Why the reference to royalty? Why the specific colors? And for crying out loud, what’s up with the plastic baby inside the cake?

Excellent questions!

If you go back to the origins of the cake (and there are similar traditions in Mexico, Spain and France… and other places too), the basic symbolism comes from the Catholic celebration of Epiphany, also known as King’s Day. Epiphany, the culmination of the twelve days of Christmas, is traditionally celebrated January 6th. The celebration commemorates the scene in Luke’s Gospel of the Magi from the East (also thought of as wise men or kings) coming to pay homage to the new King… the King of Kings. The celebration of Epiphany officially closes the Christmas season.

But for those of us who live in south Louisiana, the celebration of Epiphany also opens something up… it kicks off for us Mardi Gras season… or Carnival season.

“Carnival” comes from the Latin “carne vale,” which literally means “good-bye meat.” For centuries, Catholics did not eat any meat or meat products during the entire season of Lent. So, on Carnival day, they celebrated by eating up any meat that they could find. In French (including Creole French down here in Louisiana), Carnival is called Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. It’s always on a Tuesday because Lent always begins on Ash Wednesday.

Down here in south Louisiana, New Orleans in particular, we can come up with just about any reason to throw a party. We like to celebrate. So, we stretch out Carnival. For us, it is not just a day. It’s a season. Between January 6th and midnight Mardi Gras day we celebrate so that we can enter Lent “properly.”

Our modern celebration of the carnival season includes the baking of an estimated 750,000 King Cakes in the New Orleans metro area alone. During Carnival Season, King Cakes are bought or made and brought to offices to share with co-workers and to parties and family gatherings. The modern tradition dictates that whoever gets the baby has to provide the next King Cake. But where did that tradition start?

Well, in New Orleans at least, it began in 1871. The local newspaper, the Times-Picayune, ran this story back in September as it recalled the beginnings of some of our Mardi Gras traditions.

Now that was 1871. And, I should mention, that this stretches back to the very beginnings of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Some have said, and Capt. Jeff alluded to this last episode, that Mardi Gras actually started in Mobile, AL, not New Orleans. Well, that’s true… and false.

Here’s what happened.

The first Carnival krewe in New Orleans was founded in 1857 by former members of the Cowbellian de Rakin Society out of Mobile. [I can’t help but think that we need some cowbell sound effects right about now.] Anyway, the Cowbellian de Rakin Society was founded in Mobile in 1830… 27 years before New Orleans’ first krewe. However, Mobile’s parades were held on New Year’s Eve, not Fat Tuesday. Mobile did not switch to Fat Tuesday until 1866, 9 years after Mardi Gras was rolling in New Orleans.

Very interesting.

So what about the colors? Why the purple, green and gold?

Well, purple represents justice, green stands for faith, and gold stands for power. These colors were chosen by Rex (which means King) for his first parade in 1872. People must have liked the look of those colors together, because they stuck. They are now known as the Mardi Gras colors.

Ordering a King Cake

So how can you get your hands on some of these good goodies known as King Cakes? Well, in our age of online orders and overnight shipping, you can have a genuine King Cake in your hot little hands by tomorrow.

Of course, you can always make one yourself.

I’m going to tell you how to do both.

Epiphany comes every year and opens up for us a season of celebration… and argument. The argument being who makes the best King Cake. It’s seems like everybody is in one of three camps: McKenzie’s Bakery (even though they’re closed now… And Tastee Donuts supposedly has their original recipe. McKenzie’s must have been a great King Cake if people are still arguing about it!), Haydel’s Bakery is another camp, and finally there’s the Manny Randazzo’s camp. Now, some of these arguments can be heated. King Cake is serious business

I must confess that I am in the Randazzo’s camp. Besides homemade, Randazzo’s are the best in my opinion.

But they’re not cheap to order and ship. Randazzo’s basic “Traditional Medium” with shipping included is $46.95. Prices can go has high as almost $70.00. Wow!

It’s much cheaper to make it yourself. And it’s fun too! That’s why I am going to tell you how you can make your very own King Cake this year at home.

The recipe that I use is an adaptation of one by Chef Emeril Legasse. You can find it over at CatholicFoodie.com.

A Few Last Minutes Items…

We’ve come to the end of another show, folks. I just have a few things I want to tell you about before we close down the kitchen for the night.

First of all, I want to remind you that SQPN – The Star Quest Production Network – is in the middle of its annual giving campaign. Are you a Friend of SQPN? If not, become one! Go to SQPN.com and click on the donate button on the right side of the screen. It is so important for us to support good Catholic content online, and SQPN is committed to producing excellent Catholic content. Please do become a Friend of SQPN today.

#SaucySuperBowl #SundaySupper

Also, this Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday. Unfortunately the Saints are not in the game this year, but there’s still cause to celebrate! I have teamed up with a group of fine folks… home cooks and foodies who love to cook and eat and write about it… and we are going to host an online Twitter party. It’s calledl #SaucySuperBowl #SundaySupper. We are committed to getting folks back into the kitchen and cooking so that they can have a delicious supper to share with their families. So we all have contributed some delicious recipes that will hopefully inspire you and many others to do just that… Cook and dine together. If you’re on Twitter, just search for the hashtags #SaucySuperBowl and #SundaySupper.

Of course, you can head over to CatholicFoodie.com for more information and for links to the Super Bowl goodies. I’m bringing some special grilled beef jalapeño poppers that I cooked up just for this event. Check it out at CatholicFoodie.com.

Also, before I close out, I want to thank my friend Paul Camarata of the SaintCast for a delightful lunch the other day. Paul was in New Orleans on business and we were able to get together for lunch at Chef John Besh’s Restaurant Luke. It was great to see Paul again and to share a meal with him. And please do keep an ear out… on an upcoming episode of the SaintCast, you’ll be treated to some foodie talk that we recorded at the table while having lunch that day.

Paul, thank you so much! It was a pleasure to see you again!

Well, I think that pretty much wraps things up for us today, folks. Don’t forget to check out the show notes at CatholicFoodie.com. You can also find me on Facebook at Facebook.com/catholicfoodie and on Twitter at Twitter.com/catholicfoodie. If you are on Google+, just search for me. I’m there. Search for Catholic Foodie.

Thank you for joining me today. It’s been fun. And until next time… Bon appetit!
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