January 1, 2021…do any of you really think that just because we are now in a different year that a whole lot is going to change? I truly don’t, we will continue wearing masks in public (or not, I do), we will continue putting up with being told to keep a social distance, small businesses will continue to suffer and people will be in nursing homes and hospitals and not be able to have their loved ones with them.
However, everyone is doing the best they can with all of our restrictions and limitations, I’m very spoiled, several friends and I would go out to breakfast every Sunday morning after we attended early Mass, that has gone down the drain, serving food and other goodies at meetings, down the drain, getting together for a party, down the drain. Of course, there have been good things that have come of this, families have had to stay at home and interact with one another for the first time in a very long time, and if we’re lucky, our immediate family is safe to be around, and guess what, life goes on, even if it’s not quite the way we planned to live it. Many ladies (and probably some men), stayed busy sewing masks for various places that needed them, I made quite a few, as did lots of the ladies in this area. Elastic became difficult to find, but most of us found some, going through older storage containers and our Mother’s sewing baskets. One of the organizations that I made some for, need more, because since they have to be worn daily, you need more than one or two, and these are for children. Stay safe and well my friends, and have the very best New Year you can. (Some of the stuff going on reminds me of how super excited and worried everyone was when we began the 21st century; remember all the stuff that went on then? It almost seemed as if everyone thought the world was going to end, right then and there, and then were amazed when nothing untoward happened.)
My New Year’s Eve was great, as my daughter, her son and his family came to see me for the day, we had a really great time playing and visiting together, as I hadn’t seen the little boys in over two years, they are totally sweet and well behaved, and I managed to get lots of hugs and lap sitting! It was a really wonderful day for me and I totally enjoyed it.
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. The Epiphany was celebrated in the church this past Sunday.
It is the Feast of the Three Kings and Twelfth Night of Christmas that we are interested in, for this column! (And, remember, Mardi Gras is celebrated from now until Ash Wednesday, February 17, when Lent begins. We celebrate Mardi Gras in our area as much as it is done in Louisiana and some other places. Mardi Gras is totally a time of celebration and on-going parties. there. Who knows how it will be handled this year!).
The start of 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 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/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 some grocery stores and bakeries in San Antonio. 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 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 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. 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 towl 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!