The holiday season has been wonderful for me; it was a totally enjoyable time. We began celebrating on Christmas Eve with the arrival in the morning of my daughter, her husband and grandbaby from Wimberley and their arrival was followed a couple of hours later by the arrival of my daughter and her husband from Galveston. A little later in the morning, my friend and her husband came over also, and we began gathering the various foods for our noon meal. We had a true feast, as the couple from Galveston brought us fresh oysters! Of course, some were quickly sautéed, as I don’t do them raw, my friend and her husband don’t eat them at all and the rest dug into them, dipping them into a special sauce and had a great time savoring them raw. When they were finished with their appetizer, we settled down to chili, beans, tamales, salads and other goodies, in other words, a pretty typical Texas Christmas meal!
That evening, we went to share Christmas Eve festivities with my sister and her husband, and eventually, several of us went to the 10:00 p.m. “Midnight” Mass at my favorite country church. Christmas morning, we had breakfast and eventually got around to opening gifts, sitting around visiting and finally my daughter and I played a couple of board games for a while and just relaxed, until my niece called and told us to head to my sister’s home for the noon meal with her extended family. This was fun, as I had not seen a couple of the visitors for quite a while, and was able to catch up on my visiting with them. Lots and lots of food yet again and more than enough desserts that would have served about another dozen or so guests.
That evening, the three of us drove over to Cuero, TX, our county seat, where they have the most beautiful Christmas in the Park lighted display to drive through that you can find. My daughter said it was more beautiful than the one they went through a couple of years ago in Dickinson, TX, as there are so many different scenes. It was wonderful and I think they were both pleasantly surprised at the extent of the displays, as they were not only on the sides of the road we followed, but also out into the lake that is there. After checking out lights in the city itself, we came home, fried the rest of the oysters for our dinner and as her husband was doing some reading, my daughter and I settled at the table to play games yet again. We both love doing that and we are generally pretty well matched. We had a great breakfast and my daughter got busy doing the things she always does before she leaves. She vacuumed the whole house, changed the beds, washed the linens and made sure the kitchen was spotless before they left and headed north and east to spend some time with their youngest son and his family before they head back home. Truly, this was a wonderful and memorable Christmas for me, as almost all my other ones have been, especially since both of my other children called me and several of my grandchildren called as well. I sincerely hope your Christmas was as great as mine was!
Sunday, January 6, is the feast of the Epiphany. This word is from the 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. However, it is the Feast of the Three Kings and Twelfth Night of Christmas that we are interested in, for this column!
Mardi Gras 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 on March 6, 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.
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 most grocery stores and bakeries and are decorated beautifully). After taking the dough from the bread machine, it is rolled and shaped into a 14-inch circle. The baby is inserted in the bottom, 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.
The following is the simplest of several recipes for the cake that I found on the Internet. Personally, I prefer 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 baking sheet with butter or line with parchment paper and set aside. Punch dough down on lightly floured board. Knead gently for two or three minutes, then roll and pat into a 15-inch cylinder. Place on prepared 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.
Place frosting ingredients in a small bowl and beat 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. May God bless you and give you a very healthy, happy and prosperous New Year!