A new year is upon us!

The year of our Lord, 2022 is over and we are beginning a new one. It feels strange to write the numbers 2023, doesn’t it? This is my first time to use it as I write my very first column of a new year, and I am thankful that I am still around to do it, each day is a blessing to me.
On Friday, I attended the funeral of a very dear friend. She was buried on what would have been her 83rd birthday, and in the early hours of Friday morning, a new great-grandchild was born to one of her grandsons and his wife! The Lord works in wonderous ways!
My Christmas, even though broken into parts was wonderful. This year, on the day after Christmas, all four of my children were here in my home, along with two grandsons, (one of whom is in the service and had not been stateside for Christmas in 10 years), their spouses and children, as well the mother of one of the spouses, making for a total of 20. The great-grandchildren attending, ranged in age from not quite eleven down to six months, and yes, we got a few pictures, they were all so cute and loveable!
My youngest daughter and her husband came in on Christmas Day, and she helped me get some things done, (she also stayed an extra day and helped me clean up). We were having our favorite meal, Mexican food. My son-in-law brought all the fixings for both beef and chicken enchiladas, and they were delicious. His Chile sauce was wonderful, he used guajillo peppers, as well as a couple of other types and die a great job with all of it. Another daughter brought a gigantic bowl of guacamole, that is different than the usual recipe, (that I had requested), and as always, it was delicious, and we really enjoyed it. She also brought a great dessert, as well as other things. The other daughter brought tamales as well as numerous types of cookies and desserts, a grandson and his wife, brought a big bag stuffed with all sorts of sweets the children would like, my daughter-in-heart came in with a big casserole of Mexican style rice, which almost all disappeared, and both she and my oldest daughter came in with tables and chairs. We were able to seat some of the children in the kitchen and others in the living room and still others of us at the dining room table. It was a full house and we all enjoyed ourselves immensely. The grandsons had their children outside playing and shooting the fireworks that one of them brought in the middle of the day….it was so much fun. We had TV trays set up in my bedroom for desserts, and while we didn’t have one for each member of the family, we had lots! We added to our fun by opening our Christmas gifts, and I made out like a little bandit!
This coming Friday, January 6 is 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!
Officially, the Carnival Season can be short or long, depending on when Lent and Easter fall in a given year’s calendar. 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 the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which is February 22, this year.
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 continued until Mardi Gras itself. Among the wealthy, actual gold and diamond jewelry was sometimes substituted for the bean or doll.
The cake is frosted and then sprinkled with colored bands of sugar. Purple represents Justice, Green represents Faith and Gold represents Power.
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.
When I first baked the King Cake, I used the dough setting on my bread maker and this seems to work really well. After taking the dough from the bread machine, it is rolled and shaped into a 14-inch circle. The baby (we used the same one several times), is inserted in the bottom of the cake, so no one can 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, you sprinkle purple, green and gold colored sugar in 2-inch-wide stripes onto the frosting. Cakes can now be purchased at a lot of the grocery stores in San Antonio. (HEB handles them here, and I think it has sort of become standard that most larger grocery chains handle them).
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’ for additions.
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
3 eggs
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 1 ½ hours or until doubled in bulk. Dough is doubled when you can gently poke two fingers in the dough and the holes remain. Brush baking sheet with butter and set aside. 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 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 and 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!
Hope your New Year is a very good one, with lots of blessings!