Mardi Gras, Tutus, and Homemade King Cake
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an artist and live in Paris. Funny, looking back, I wasn’t too far off the mark; for me, living in New Orleans and baking delicious French pastry comes pretty close.
I have this vivid memory of my grandmother baking a cake for my sisters and me around Mardi Gras. At the time, she had us put a bean in the delicious batter. Whoever received the slice with the bean was the “princess” for the day! I was enamored by the whole thing, which makes sense as to why I’ve been so dearly drawn to the traditional French King Cake–the Galette Des Rois–this season. This traditional French King Cake is the northern France and Québec version.
Let me pause for a moment and explain how this whole thing started. A few weeks ago, my boyfriend, Dan, and I were celebrating the first full weekend of Carnival parades in New Orleans. In complete normal and routine Mardi Gras fashion, I dawned my best tutu and we rode our bikes to the Bywater neighborhood to catch the local ‘tit Rex and Krewe of Chewbacchus parades. Between parades, we were famished and headed to the newly opened Bywater pizza joint, Pizza Delicious, for some nourishment. Much to Dan’s delight, they had freshly baked galette des rois on the chalkboard menu. I was caught off guard – what is this galette you speak of, I thought, and I must have some now! We ordered a slice and, for a brief moment, waited with baited breathe, as the girl yelled to the back house to see if there was any galette left. To my delight, I heard, “more galette to come out of the oven in 10 minutes.” Before the girl could respond, I eagerly said, “We’ll take it!” The galette was delicate, warm, and completely different from the New Orleans style King Cakes I was used to consuming. (Don’t get me wrong – I love a good traditional New Orleans King Cake, see my list of favorites below!)
I decided to try my hand at making my very own Galette des Rois. Two important ingredients make up the Galette Des Rois – flaky, buttery puff pastry and rich crème d’amande, a delicate filling with almond meal as the shining star. I adapted my recipe for Galette des Rois from the wonderful blog, Chocolate and Zucchini. As for the puff pastry, you can go two ways with this. The first and most sane way is with frozen puff pastry.
Or, you can make it yourself. This was my first attempt at making the galette and deep inside, I had this feeling that I needed to try homemade puff pastry. Perhaps the spirit of Julia Child was coming through, so I pulled out my copy of Julia’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and quickly thumbed to the homemade vols-au-vent recipe. Now, I don’t know about you, but my time is limited and I was quickly disappointed to see how long it would take. Sure, if I was my 6-year old vision of the adult me I would have all the time to make this glorious flaky delight in my Parisian kitchen. Alas, I do have a full-time job and quickly went to the internet in search of a “quick” version. Ashley Rodriguez of the blog, Not Without Salt, has a great quick version. I love that she notes that you will think she has led you horribly astray in the beginning stages of the puff pastry dough. I was definitely cursing ever so slightly as I tried to do the first folds, but she was definitely right: Stick with it, and you will want to have this very versatile dough at your disposal at all times! Ashley’s recipe makes enough puff pastry for three galettes. You can divide into three servings and freeze what you are not planning to use right away.
I hope you enjoy making your very own galette des rois. If you are short on time, like I usually am, you can visit the following websites and order the traditional New Orleans version of the king cake. Happy Mardi Gras!
A note on King Cakes around New Orleans:
Cochon Butcher Pastry Chef Rhonda Ruckman adds a “Cochon” twist to the king cake, filled with local flavor from the traditional to the unique including: Cinnamon; Chocolate Peanut Butter; Apple and Creole Cream Cheese*; Lemon Doberge* and the “Elvis” filled with peanut butter, banana and house-cured bacon topped with marshmallow. In place of the traditional small plastic “baby,” all of Chef Ruckman’s cakes contain a petite pink pig as their signature “baby.” Custom dictates whoever gets the “baby” must provide the king cake for the next party, keeping the celebration rolling all season long!
King cakes are thought to have originated in France around the 12th century as part of the Feast of the Epiphany, which is held on January 6th, exactly twelve days after Christmas. This feast, also called King’s Day or Twelfth Night, honors the Three Kings who traveled a great distance to bring gifts in adoration of the Christ Child. The Feast of the Epiphany is the official beginning of the carnival season in New Orleans, which lasts from January 6th until Mardi Gras Day or Fat Tuesday– February 12, 2013 this year. French settlers brought the king cake tradition to Louisiana and king cake parties in New Orleans have been documented as far back as the 18th century.
Doberge Cake is a layered dessert originating in New Orleans made of multiple thin layers of cake alternating with dessert pudding. Very often the cakes are made with half chocolate pudding and half lemon pudding. They are normally made with six or more layers, but many amateurs make versions with fewer. Traditional flavors are chocolate, lemon and caramel. Doberge cake is adapted from the famous Hungarian/Austrian Dobos Cake, a cake made of nine génoise cake layers filled with buttercream and topped with a hard caramel glaze.
**Creole Cream Cheese is a form of farmer cheese that is common in the New Orleans area, made from skim milk, buttermilk and rennet. It has a mild, slightly sweet taste and is frequently mixed with cream, sugar and fruit and served as a dessert.
Other favorites: Hi Do Bakery, Randazzo’s, and Poupart Bakery in Lafayette.
Chef Michael Gulotta of Restaurant August in New Orleans grew up in Lakeview, so “the McKenzie’s on Harrison was always a favorite place to go, but my stepfather always drove out (and still does to this day) to Party Palace in Kenner to get their giant king cakes,” Michael recalls. “Theirs are buttery with cinnamon rolled in, and we always get the icing on top with sprinkles. I know the original is supposed to be just brioche with colored sprinkles, but I have a bad sweet tooth so I like the icing. It’s especially decadent when dipped into cafe au lait. When I was growing up there was always a King Cake on our kitchen counter during carnival so a little piece with some coffee in the morning is a personal tradition of mine. I will be honest and say that I am not a big fan of the filled king cakes, it becomes almost too much with the icing and the sprinkles. These days, my family still gets the ones from Party Palace and of course I’ve had the one Chef Lisa makes at Domenica which is just ridiculously good with the bananas and praline glaze, but I am still a New Orleanian in that some traditions are slow to change for me. So, my favorite is cinnamon king cake, icing, sprinkles, cafe au lait to dip it in, perfect.”
RECIPE FOR GALETTE DES ROIS.
Originally from West Virginia, Christa lives in New Orleans where she works as an environmental professional by day and avid cook by night. From Indian-inspired sweet potato tacos to rice krispie treats, she brings lots of smiles to everyone she encounters, including her mischievous but smart min-pin Miles. Follow her travels around New Orleans and beyond on Instagram.