After a wonderful several day stay in Devine, it was great to get back home last Thursday! Christmas was great; we started it off with part of my family at my home on the 23rd, and continued at my son’s home on Christmas Day, and still another stop off, celebrating with my son-in-laws family at his brother’s home near Moore. All in all, it was truly fun, if a little tiring. Of course, at my age, after getting up before 6:00 a.m., and driving for a couple of hours to get to Devine, maybe there was a reason for me to be tired by 10:00 that evening. The good thing about traveling on Christmas Day is that there is never very much traffic and no construction workers!
Tuesday morning, after a good night’s sleep, I was ready to go again. We went to my son’s home and visited for a while with the relatives that were staying there from Georgia, and Bryan, and then it was on to LaCoste to spend a little time with my cousin. We took BBQ sandwiches and had lunch with her and eventually wended our way back to the home of my daughter and son-in-law. The twin granddaughters, who will soon be eight years old, are in for the holidays from their home, (their Mama had to go back home for work as they are out of school until the 9th of January), and I had a wonderful time with them! They’re almost always willing to share hugs and even their treats most of the time. Between having family at my home and in the other homes as well, I got to see all five of my great-grandchildren, and it was great. The only person who was not able to be with us was the one who is a nurse and had been called in to work at 4:30 a.m. when they were ready to head south to be with us. We did miss her as she is always such fun to be with and always ready to help if needed.
Wednesday evening was bunco and out hostess had a wonderful meal of Mexican food for us, and in our gift exchange, everyone seemed happy with what they received. On Thursday morning, after a quick stop at my son and daughter-in-laws home to pick up the dog I was caring for while his owner is out of town, we headed to the newspaper office so he could tell Darla goodbye and to drop off keys and then on home. Other than some construction a few miles west of Stockdale, there was not much traffic and that was the only ‘follow me’ truck I had to deal with and it was actually pretty quick, compared to a few times last year when I had fifteen and twenty minutes waiting times for the cars!
Last Saturday, January 6, was the feast of the Epiphany. This word is from Greek and means appearance. It is also called the Feast of Lights, Feast of the Three Kings and Twelfth Night. It concludes the period allotted in the church calendar to the Feast of the Nativity. In the West, Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Three Kings, or Wise Men, to the infant Jesus. It is a major Christian feast commemorating the appearance of Christ. The Nativity itself was celebrated on this day, but, in the fourth century A.D, it was assigned to December 25. What began as a most solemn feast, Twelfth Night became a time of revelry, especially during the sixteenth century in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England.
It is the Feast of the Three Kings and Twelfth Night of Christmas that we are interested in, for this column!
The start of Mardi Gras, however, is always Twelfth Night (12 days after Christmas), which commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem. The Spanish give gifts on Twelfth Night instead of on Christmas. Amongst the French, it is Petit Noel (little Christmas), on January 6th, when balls are held. (The ending is six weeks later, on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which is on Valentine’s Day this year.) Officially, the Carnival Season can be short or long, depending on when Lent and Easter fall in a given year’s calendar.
The opening celebrations took place in private homes and culminated in the eating of the Gateau du roi (King’s Cake) that was made of brioche batter. Hidden away somewhere in the cakes was either a small bisque or china doll, or a bean, usually a red bean and sometimes covered in silver or gold leaf. Tradition says that the person, who chose the piece of cake with the doll or bean inside, would become king or queen of the ball. He or she was then held responsible for hosting the next ball in the next week. The balls continue until Mardi Gras itself. Among the wealthy, actual gold and diamond jewelry was sometimes substituted for the bean or doll.
The doll has come to be used almost exclusively because of the danger of someone biting down on the bean before they realized it was in their piece of cake. I have baked the King Cake using the dough setting on my bread maker and this seems to work really well. Cakes can also be purchased at some grocery stores and bakeries in San Antonio. After taking the dough from the bread machine, I rolled and shaped it into a 14-inch circle as per some directions that I found, and then inserted the baby in the bottom, so no one could tell where it was placed. The circle is then baked, cooled and frosted with a light powdered sugar glaze. After you have the glaze on, and before it hardens, you sprinkle purple, green and gold colored sugar in 2-inch wide stripes onto the frosting. Purple represents Justice, Green represents Faith and Gold represents Power.
The following is the simplest of several recipes for the cake that I found on the Internet. Personally, I prefer just to use the recipe for sweet dough in my bread maker cookbook, adding the nutmeg and lemon rind when the bread maker ‘beeps’.
Mardi Gras King’s Cake
½ cup water, (105ºF to 115ºF)
2 packages active dry yeast
3½ to 4½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
½ cup lukewarm water
4 egg yolks
½ cup softened butter
1 egg (lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon milk
1 ovenproof figurine
3 cups powdered sugar
¼ lemon juiced and strained*
3 teaspoons water (more if necessary)
Green, purple and yellow sugars
Soften yeast in water. Combine flour, sugar, nutmeg, salt and lemon rind in a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Add yeast mixture, eggs, egg yolks and combine completely. Beat in butter until dough forms a ball. Place on floured board; incorporate more flour if necessary. Knead until smooth and elastic. Place dough in a well-buttered bowl, turning over so all surfaces are covered. Cover with a towel and let rise 1½ hours or until doubled in bulk. Dough is doubled when you can gently poke two fingers in the dough and the holes remain. Brush a baking sheet with butter. (Your pizza stone is great for this!). Punch dough down on lightly floured board. Knead lightly, then roll and pat into a 15-inch cylinder. Place on baking sheet, and form into a circle, pinching edges together. Press figurine into bottom of dough, so that it is hidden. Set aside, covered with a towel and allow to rise 1 to 1½ hours. Before baking, brush top with the egg milk mixture. Bake in a preheated 375ºF until golden brown. Cool on wire rack. Beat icing ingredients until smooth. Spread over top of cake, letting it drip down sides. Immediately sprinkle sugars in alternating, 2-inch wide stripes of purple, green and yellow. Have fun! *I would use 1 or 2 teaspoon of lemon juice or use no lemon juice and a couple of tablespoons of milk, just as you would make a glaze for on top of a cake.