Christmas is over but my tree will still be up for at least a couple of weeks. The tradition at home was to leave it up until at least January 6, the feast of the Epiphany. This year, however, since I have a club meeting and pokeno on the 6th, a meeting and work the gift shop on the 7th and another meeting as well as an appointment on the 8th, and our Auxiliary banquet on the 10th, it may take me a little longer to get it down. I love looking at it and enjoying it as long as possible!
I had a great Christmas holiday season and got to see all four of my children, all but four of my ten grandchildren and seven or eight of my thirteen great-grandchildren, which I think is wonderful. We had our Christmas at Granny’s house on December 28, and all my children were able to be here and be together, as well as a friend and her husband and my sister and brother-in-law. We had a feast of chili, beans, rice and tamales, followed by about five or six different types of dessert! It was a fun day for all of us!
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 26, this year. (Easter will be late this year, as it is on April 12, rather than in March as it sometimes is.)
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 still lived in Devine, several of us in the choir usually went out for breakfast and one year, when we had a King Cake, I got the piece with the doll in it, so it was my turn to make the cake.
When I 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.
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
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!